He was once believed to be a real flesh-and-blood person, but became a mythical figure later. Thus, Kataragama Deiyo is believed to be a combination of two spiritual gods - Kadira Deva and Skanda Kumar - and is worshipped as one god.
Since the decline of the ancient Sinhala kingdoms on account of non-stop clashes among royalty and the vast destruction and ruin brought about by frequent attacks, especially by the cruel Chola invader Magha, both the Kingdoms of Ruhuna and Anuradhapura ceased to exist. The roads and byways disappeared within a short time.
The country was swallowed up by the jungle, which blotted out everything on its path, rendering the areas the abode of wild animals.
It was the last of the foreign conquerors, the British, that directed their interest towards preserving the remaining traces of Sinhalese civilization. The wild jungles of Ruhuna had by then almost approached the precincts (limited areas) of the Tissa Dagoba built by King Kavantissa.
During the dark era of Kataragama, the existence of the ancient shrine was known only to a few villagers who lived there amidst great difficulty. They continued to worship at the shrine, holding on to the faith (on God Kataragama) of their ancestors. Pilgrims of the day had to walk to the shrine as there were no proper roads.
However, these rituals and practices had been conducted long before Christianity was introduced to Sri Lanka.
Muslims too have their own mosque at Kataragama, where they perform religious rites, at the grave of a Muslim dignitary, Saul Palkudi Bawa. Millions worship at this multi-religious shrine, irrespective of their religious beliefs.
At this Devale, there are no arches or figures of gods and idols seen in Hindu temples elsewhere.
The Holiest of Holies, or Maligawa as it is called, is hidden by a curtain, and contains a portrait of God Kataragama. No one is allowed to go into the Maligawa except the Chief Kapurala. He has taken an oath not to reveal a word about what happens inside. It is believed that it is not right to talk about it.
The river flows placidly and is shaded by giant Kumbuk trees as old as time, on either bank. The Menik Ganga is venerated by the Hindus as well as Buddhists. Earlier, there was only a suspension bridge across the river.
Now this has been replaced by a narrow concrete bridge, which is not meant for vehicular traffic. According to Saranathissa Thera, the Kataragama Devala premises are a blessed place. Those who have faith in the god will have their wishes come true.