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The transformative Power of Food: the ‘milk mothers’ in Sri Lankan Buddhism

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages30
JournalMaterial Religion
DateSubmitted - 11 Mar 2018
DateAccepted/In press (current) - 1 May 2019


This article examines the role of food in the religious cosmology of Sri Lankan Buddhists, combining textual and ethnographic research and drawing on original material, including untranslated pamphlets and interviews. Looking at food as an agent rather than an instrument reveals a creative and transformative power that is tangible in individual ritual contexts. One such context is the offering of dishes rich in milk to seven ‘milk mothers’, who are representatives of the Buddhist goddess Pattini. Despite its great popularity this ritual has so far received little scholarly attention. The milk mothers are often invited in fulfillment of a vow to Pattini who is associated with fertility, childbirth and childhood diseases, but also more generally with prosperity and health. The article demonstrates how milk is crucial for the success of this popular ritual as it creates the necessary ritual frame and, from an āyurvedic perspective, has the power to transform mothers into milk mothers.

    Research areas

  • food, milk mothers, kiri ammā, Sri Lanka, Theravada Buddhism, cosmology, Pattini



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