Posted by: lrrp | May 14, 2008

History of Madhu – the place name and the shrine

Madhu is a variation of Madu a common place-name, particularly in the Dry Zone jungles. The place-name-end ‘madu’ is explained as a “waterhole, tank, pond, (or) stream” (Ceylon Gazetteer published by the United States Board on Geographic Names p. iii). It will be noticed that all four items to which the term ‘madu’ applies, are associated with water. This is because ‘madu’ (modern S. maediya and T. Mandukam E. frog) are animals that breed in pools of water.

Water is as important to the wayfarer in the and forests of this country. The jungle paths traced by the elephant, the wild boar, buffalo or bear criss-cross each other so often that the traveller finds it extremely difficult to choose the one that leads to a place where he can have a drink of water. This is where the ‘maduvo’ or frogs become his guardian angels. Frogs are gregarious in the water and they set up such a din by their croaking that the thirsty pedestrian easily led to the source of water by the ear, and saved from dying of thirst. Thus, the word madu has become synonymous with water. Hence, Payimadu (Payimadoo) is a pond with ‘payi’ or “potable’ water. Tamil Marutha Madu is the same as Sinhala Kumbuk Maduva (Terminalia arjuna Pond).

Locating the Madhu Church even in the one-mile to-an-inch maps (Murunkan Sheet) of the Survey Department is not an easy task. The 1939 reprint of the survey map of 1899, as well as the 1956 revision, marks the church of the ‘Statue of St. Mary’ close to the “Madhu Road” Railway Station at the turn off from the Mantai-Anuradhapura main road, to “Madhu Camp’ (Maruthamadu) six miles somewhat to the north. However, no sign of a church is marked at the “Madhu Camp’ where the famous shrine is said to be located. The new metric scale maps (Madhu Road and Palampiddi Sheets revised in 2002) do not show any church either at Madhu Road Railway Station or at Maruthamadu (S. Kumbuk Maduwa).

The Bishop of Jaffna supplied the following information to E. B. Denham, the Superintendent of Census Operations in 1911:

“Tradition says that the original home of the statue at Madhu was Mantai, once an important town with a large Catholic church built by the Portuguese, who had, during their rule converted the whole of Mannar island and Mantote to the Faith. When the Dutch took possession of Mantai and converted it to their meeting-house (in 1670), some Catholics emigrated into the Kandyan territory.” (Note the reference to “1670” and “Kandyan territory.”)

“They numbered, says the tradition, twenty families, and settled themselves in Marutha-Madu, which was then a small village on the Royal Ramessaram-Kandy route and a custom house for the Kandyan King.”

This shows where the section “History of the, Shrine”, in the article “The Madhu Shrine” by Mr. G. B. Aelred Fernando (The Island modification. The installation of the statue at a newly built church did not take place during the Portuguese Period, but the Dutch Period (1670). That new church was not in the Kingdom of Kotte (for it was defunct by then,) but in “Kandyan territory” as stated by the Bishop of Jaffna. Therefore, there is some truth in the alleged BBC statement that persecution of Roman Catholics by the Protestant Dutch ‘resulted in the Madhu Shrine.’

As the Survey Dept. maps referred to above show that the new church for the Statue of St. Mary had been built, not at Madhu, but at the “Madige” or Customs House of the Kandyan King (on the trunk road between Mantai and Anuradhapura) near the present “Madhu Road” Railway Station (near the 23rd mile post). The place called Puliyadi Irakkam (S. Siyambalape Raekma or Raekawala), an ancient guard house and check point (near the 24th mile post) shows that the Kandyan King’s Madige was here, and not on the minor road passing through Marutha Madu as well as this place. The main trade centre of the Muslims was at Mannar where the Bangasala (Vankalai) warehouses were situated. Ramessaram, on foreign soil, is irrelevant in this context.

According to the Bishop’s report mentioned above, an annual festival “to be celebrated on the 2 d of July” was established at Marutha Madhu in 1870. In 1878, the comer stone for the present substantial building for the Madhu Church was laid. Even in 1891 the Madhu Church was still being built (J. P. Lewis, A Manual of the Vanni Districts p.51

According to Denham “Mr. Levers, says in his “Manual of the North Central Province,” states that “St. Mary’s Church at Madu is considered by the Buddhist and a great many of the Tamil pilgrims, who resort there, as the Temple of Pattiniamma (‘Amman Kovil’). This seasonal influx of large numbers of other religionists on pilgrimage to Marutha Madhu would have favoured the idea of shifting the Catholic Church to its present location. That is how the Madige Church became the Madhu Church, by moving its annual festival to a long established, but “pagan”, pilgrimage site.

“The great feature of the pilgrimage has been the feeding of all the pilgrims in front of the church on the last day of the festival-known as the pitche choru. After the food had been blessed by the Bishop of Jaffna, who presides at the festival, the vast crowd clap their hands, rise to their feet, and in a few hours the practically empty.” The Census Report states that Marutha Madhu was sacred to the Muslims also, because they believed that it was the burial place of two of their martyrs.

The Madhu Church is a desolate place during the off-season. Thus, the ‘Madige Church of the Statue of St. Mary’ continued to be the sanctum where the Holy icon was placed in safekeeping. It was taken to the Marutha Madhu Church only during the short festive season. This practice seems to have continued up to the closing years of the 20th century.

According to the evidence of the Bishop of Jaffna himself, there would have been no Madhu Church today, if not for the benevolence and tolerance of the to one of their very important customs houses. There it had the protection of its armed guards and of the sentries placed at Siyambalape Raekawala (Puliyadi Irakkam), against the danger posed by the Dutch Protestants of Mannar.

The present custodians of the Church have demonstrated that the sanctity of .the Holy Statue is independent of its location at Madhu. They have also made it a political tool by taking it to a place somewhere behind the enemy lines. Like the Holy Mountain Sri Pada, Madhu is a place of popular pilgrimage to all religious groups, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian. It is the duty of the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that Madhu continues to remain as a place of common worship for all Sri Lankans.

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