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

Rita Langer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-552
Number of pages24
JournalMaterial Religion
Issue number5
Early online date18 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2019


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

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