Skip to content

The Transformative Power of Food: The “Milk Mothers” in Sri Lankan Buddhism

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-552
Number of pages24
JournalMaterial Religion
Issue number5
Early online date18 Oct 2019
DateSubmitted - 11 Mar 2018
DateAccepted/In press - 10 Sep 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print - 18 Oct 2019
DatePublished (current) - 20 Oct 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 fulfilment 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 ayurvedic perspective, has the power to transform mothers into milk mothers.

    Research areas

  • food, milk mothers, kiriammā, Sri Lanka, Theravada Buddhism, cosmology, Pattini



  • Full-text PDF (author’s accepted manuscript)

    Rights statement: This is the author accepted manuscript (AAM). The final published version (version of record) is available online via Taylor & Francis at . Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

    Accepted author manuscript, 339 KB, PDF document

    Embargo ends: 18/04/21

    Request copy


View research connections

Related faculties, schools or groups