Weekly Deity: Pattini


Pattini is an important goddess in Sri Lanka and is a part of the Theravada Buddhist pantheon.

Attributes

Pictured alone, standing, with her right hand upraised and shown palm-out.  She is shown in finery, with a crown on her head, and a circle like the rays of the sun behind her head.

Mythology

Pattini is said to be the incarnation/deification of a legendary Tamil woman named Kannagi, who is the central character in the epic Silapathikaram.  Pattini was born from a mango fruit that had been struck by a divine arrow shot by the god Sakra.  In Sinhala myth, Pattini was incarnated in order to rid the Pandya kingdom of its evil king.

The spheres of Pattini’s governance are marriages and epidemics.  Pattini looks after marriages and is said to keep epidemics at bay, especially small pox, which was/is a particularly rampant and deadly disease in that part of the world.  The Buddhists believe that while Pattini holds disease at bay, she also infects people, and so they pray to her to take the disease away– in other words, keep it at bay.  Another myth tells how she introduced rice cultivation to Sri Lanka, making Pattini one of the most important figures of Singhalese myth since rice is such a staple food.  Pattini was honored during annual fertility rites.

Light and Dark Sides

To sum up, Pattini is a goddess of marriage, health/epidemics, and rice, as well as fertility.  She seems to be an interesting mix of benevolent influence and potential harm.  Yes, Pattini keeps the epidemics at bay, but she also brings them with her, and she doesn’t have to keep the sickness back.  As a fertility goddess, she grants fertility and thus life, which almost seems in direct contradiction to her role as epidemic bringer/keeper.  The marriage aspect is connected to the fertility aspect, I suspect, since otherwise marriage sort of seems to be thrown in at random to the mix.  And the rice cultivation is linked to the underlying fertility aspect, since the people would want the rice crop to be fertile and plentiful.

On her Light side, I would say that Pattini is a fertility and health goddess, who aids in giving life and keeping life going in good health.  But on the Darker side, Pattini could make a person fall ill with an epidemic, or withhold the fertility of people and crops, or I suppose make a marriage fall sour. On the whole, however, she seems to have the personality of doing more good than harm.

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One response to “Weekly Deity: Pattini

  1. Just to throw some light on why Pattini presides over life / fertility and at the same time illness and epidemics – although Pattini is worshipped by the Buddhist she is essentially from the Hindu tradition. The Supreme Goddess, the Devi has declared “I am Great Nature”. So She governs all aspects of nature — life, birth, death, destruction, regeneration…. Pattini is an aspect of the Great Goddess, so she not only cures but she can bring on illness, She gives life but also can take it. To truly appreciate the Goddess one must look beyond the dualities. 🙂

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