Devotees and religious practitioners at Thambiluvil Kannaki Amman temple (who consider this temple to be the most ancient) claim that King Gajabahu brought three sandalwood statues of Kannaki, made under the supervision of the ruler of the Chera Kingdom, King Senguttuvan, and landed at the port of Tirukkovil which in those days was called Naga Munai as it was thickly forested and peopled by the Naga tribe. He built a shrine for Kannaki at Urakkai (a short distance from Thambiluvil) and gifted one of the statues to this temple. Gajabahu picked this location because a pigeon rose from the underbrush calling out ‘kannaki, kannaki’ when he was walking in the forest. The shrine at Urakkai, along with the statue, was later moved to Thambiluvil.
Some scholars argue that King Gajabahu also ordered the building of temples to Kannaki all over Lanka and that is the reason for the proliferation of her cult across the island, be it in the form of devotion to Kannaki or Pattini (Rasanayagam 1926; Satkunam 1976). Indeed, the Thambiluvil Ursuttri Kaviyam mentions that there is a Kannagi Amman kovil in every village in the Batticaloa district (Satkunam 1976; Sittrambalam 2004). Currently, there are more than 60 Kannaki Amman kovils in the Eastern Province. Thirty of these are mentioned in the Thambiluvil Ursuttri Kaviyam (however, the first one that is mentioned, Anganam Kadawai, is located in the Jaffna peninsula) while an additional six are mentioned in the Pattimedu Ursuttri Kaviyam. Many of these temples are perceived to have been built in the latter part of the 18th century and early 19th century (Virakesari, June 2 2012).
However, Gananath Obeyesekere has disputed many of the above-mentioned claims and assumptions. We will not re-hash here all the detailed arguments he made in the article, ‘Gajabahu and Gajabahu Synchronism: An Inquiry into the Relationship Between Myth and History’ (1978), but only wish to highlight two interesting points:
(1) While an older tradition such as the water cutting ceremony may have become associated with Goddess Pattini, in later years, the bringing of the anklet to Sri Lanka by King Gajabahu is more likely a myth, rather than a historical fact, that was improvised in later years to explain the prevalence of South Indian settlements in the hill country – the Rajavaliya ends the account about Gajabahu by mentioning how he “caused the supernumerary captives to be distributed over and to settle in these countries, viz., Alutkuruwa, Sarasiya pattuwa, Yatinuwara, Udunuwara, Tumpane, Hewaheta, Pansiya pattuwa, Egoda Tiha, and Megoda Tiha” (1900: 48-9).
(2) While King Gajabahu is mentioned in the 4th century historical chronicle, Dipawamsa, and the 5th century historical chronicle, Mahawamsa (both written in Pali), there is no reference to him making such an important visit to the Chera Kingdom as mentioned in the Silappadikaram. The Mahawamsa also makes no mention of a Pattini cult in Lanka which suggests that it was only introduced some time after the 5th century as later historical texts written in Sinhala such as the Rajaratnakara (16th century) and Rajavaliya (17th century) mention such a cult. Therefore, a more plausible inference is that the Pattini cult was introduced to Lanka, some time after the 10th century, by colonists from Kerala.
Obeyesekere further consolidates these arguments in his tome, The Cult of the Goddess Pattini (1984). Surprisingly, such a startling refutation of such long-held assumptions seem to be unknown to, have been ignored or misunderstood by most scholars, ritual practitioners and devotees.