Adam’s Peak is a 2,243 m (7,359 ft) tall conical mountain located in central Sri Lanka. It is well known for the Sri Pada “sacred footprint”, a 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in) rock formation near the summit, which in Buddhist tradition is held to be the footprint of the Buddha, in Hindu tradition that of Hanuman or Shiva “Mountain of Shiva‘s Light”, and in some Islamic and Christian traditions that of Adam, or that of St. Thomas.
The mountain is located in the southern reaches of the Central Highlands in the Ratnapura District and Nuwara Eliya district of the Sabaragamuwa Province and Central Province —lying about 40 km (25 mi) northeast of Ratnapura and 32 km (20 mi) southwest of Hatton. The surrounding region is largely forested hills, with no mountain of comparable size nearby. The region along the mountain is a wildlife reserve, housing many species varying from elephants to leopards, and including many endemic species.
Adam’s Peak is important as a watershed. The districts to the south and the east of Adam’s Peak yield precious stones—emeralds, rubies and sapphires, for which the island has been famous, and which earned for it the ancient name of Ratnadvipa.
Access to the mountain is possible by 6 trails: Ratnapura-Palabaddala, Hatton-Nallathanni, Kuruwita-Erathna, Murraywatte, Mookuwatte and Malimboda. The Nallathanni and Palabaddala routes are most favored by those undertaking the climb, while the Kuruwita-Erathna trail is used less often. These trails are linked to major cities or town by bus, accounting for their popular use. The Murraywatte, Mookuwatte and Malimboda routes are seldom used, but do intersect with the Palabaddala road midway through the ascent. The usual route taken by most pilgrims is ascent via Hatton and descent via Ratnapura. Although the Hatton trail is the steepest, it is also shorter than any of the other trails by approximately five kilometers.
Once one of the starting ‘nodes’ of Palabadalla, Nallathanni or Erathna are reached, the rest of the ascent is done on foot through the forested mountainside on the steps built into it. The greater part of the track leading from the base to the summit consists of thousands of steps built in cement or rough stones. The trails are illuminated with electric light, making night-time ascent possible and safe to do even when accompanied by children. Rest stops and wayside shops along the trails serve refreshments and supplies.
Due to its significance to the various people that inhabit the country, the mountain is referred to by a variety of names.
The often used Sri Pada is derived from Sanskrit, used by the Sinhalese people in a religious context; this name also has meaning in Pāli, and may be translated roughly as “the sacred foot”. It refers to the footprint-shaped mark at the summit, which is believed by Buddhists to be that of the Buddha. Christian and Islamic traditions assert that it is the footprint of Adam, left when first setting foot on Earth after having been cast out of paradise, giving it the name “Adam’s Peak”. Hindu tradition refers to the footprint as that of the Hindu deity Shiva, and thus names the mountain Shiva padam (Shiva’s foot) in Tamil. Tamils may also use the name Shivanolipatha Malai to refer to the mountain.
Another Sinhala name for the mountain is Samanalakanda, which refers either to the deity Saman, who is said to live upon the mountain, or to the butterflies (samanalayā) that frequent the mountain during their annual migrations to the region. The name Sri Paada, however, is the more commonly used.
Other local and historic names include Ratnagiri (“jewelled hill”), Samantakuta (“Peak of Saman”), Svargarohanam (“the climb to heaven”), Mount Rohana and other variations on the root Rohana.
Sri Pada is first mentioned (as Samanthakuta) in the Deepawamsa, the earliest Pali chronicle, (4th century), and also in the 5th century chronicle Mahawamsa, where it is stated that the Buddha visited the mountain peak. The chronicle Rajavaliya states that the King Valagamba (1st century BCE) had taken refuge in the forests of Adam’s Peak against invaders from India, and later returned to Anuradhapura. The Mahawamsa again mentions the visit of King Vijayabahu I (1058–1114) to the mountain. The famous Chinese pilgrim and Buddhist traveler Fa Hien stayed in Sri Lanka in 411–12 CE and mentions Sri Pada although it is not made clear whether he actually visited it.
The Italian merchant Marco Polo in his Travels of 1298 CE noted that Adam’s Peak was an important place of pilgrimage but did not mention a footprint in the rock. The Arab traveler Ibn Battuta climbed to the summit of the mountain which he called Sarandīb in 1344 CE. In his description he mentions a stairway and iron stanchions with chains to help the pilgrims. The first ascent of the peak by an Englishman was made by Lieutenant William Malcolm of the 1st Ceylon Regiment on April 26, 1815, from the Ratnapura side; his account of the ascent was published in the Government Gazette of May 10, 1815. John Davy, brother of the noted chemist Sir Humphry Davy, visited the peak in 1817. He recorded observing an oversized foot print carved in stone and ornamented with a single margin of brass and studded with gems.
For Buddhists, the footprint mark is the left foot of the Buddha, left behind when Buddha visited Sri Lanka, as a symbol for worship at the invitation of Buddhist God Saman.
Some Muslims and Christians in Sri Lanka ascribe it to where Adam, the first Ancestor, set foot as he was exiled from the Garden of Eden. The legends of Adam are connected to the idea that Sri Lanka was the original Eden, and in the Muslim tradition that Adam was 30 ft tall.
A shrine to Saman, a Buddhist “deity” (people who have spent spiritual lives during their life on earth and done pacificism service to regions are deified by Sri Lankan Buddhists) charged with protecting the mountain top, can be found near the footprint.