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From all corners of this enchanted isle they come, clouds of small yellow butterflies, drawn as if by magnet to the hill country of southwestern Sri Lanka. Drifting above thousands of pilgrims as they toil up the mountain, the butterflies eventually reach the summit where a sacred footprint is embedded in a rock. Here, the butterflies die. Or, as Buddhists believe, have been reincarnated into another form. Their final flight of pilgrimage is to awe-inspiring Adam’s Peak, a shared icon of four great faiths.
More about Adam’s Peak
Known in English as Adam’s Peak, this 2,234-metre (7,329-feet) mountain has the remarkable distinction of being sacred to all of the major faiths in Sri Lanka. “Sri Pada is the only mountain in the world receiving veneration of devotes belonging to different faiths". To the Buddhists, this is Sri Pada, where Lord Buddha left his footprint on the summit during his third and final visit to the island. Hindus call the peak Shivan Adi Patham, “the creative dance of Lord Shiva”, believing that the footprint was left by Lord Shiva as he danced the world into existence. In clear weather, the distinctive shape of Adam’s Peak is visible far out to sea, and was used as a navigational aid for vessels sailing the Indian Ocean. Arab traders, seeing the mountain from afar, believed that its summit was where Adam first set foot on earth after being cast out from Paradise. To make his expulsion less of a shock, God chose the place on earth that most resembled Paradise. Thus it was that Adam was set down in Sri Lanka, on the summit of this beautiful mountain. Sri Lanka’s Muslims, for whom Adam is regarded as a prophet, therefore hold the mountain as sacred. Christians also revere what they call Adam’s Peak, believing that St Thomas, the apostle who brought Christianity to southern India in 50 AD, left his footprint on the summit.
Although there are three routes to the final summit trail, most visitors to Adam’s Peak join pilgrims taking the shorter (but nonetheless arduous) seven-kilometre (4.3 mile) climb not far from Maskeliya. Most pilgrims climb during the night, intent on reaching the summit to witness the miracle of a new day dawning and phenomenon known as the 'ira-sevaya', believed to be the Sun God showing reverence to the footprint atop this wondrous peak.