Rajamaha Yatagala Viharaya Temple dates back to the the 3rd century BC and is one of the Galle region's holiest Buddhist sites. When you climb behind the monastery up a wide staircase, you arrive at a giant rock garden which is used as a meditating place. One of the rocks is held up by the other rocks, but it looks like it's magically floating in the photo, with the child holding it up. They are granite rocks decorated with donations brought by pilgrims to the temple (mainly fresh flowers). There is also a Samadhi Buddha statue, representing Buddha in a meditative state. Archaeologists think that the giant rocks next to the sacred Bodhi tree, were actually there first, and that's why they chose to plant the tree there.
Jayanthi Vihara is a temple in Anuradhapura, the ancient royal capital of Sri Lanka. The place was built more recently, and functions as a Buddhist temple and school. All Buddhists aspires to be monks. The little monks do not have to be monks all their lives, and in general it's a way for them to get a free education, food and shelter for 18 years. The temple is in an educational program in collaboration with NGOs to teach English and other general things. It is a good place to observe the daily life of a monks and Buddhist teachings.
The majority of the population of Matar is Buddhist. Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka when the Buddha was still alive, and he undertook several trips to the island to spread his teachings here. With the Portuguese and Dutch colonization in the eighteenth century came other religions, but Buddhism still dominates here. The Matara Bodhi Temple is the main temple of the city. The Bo tree is the sacred tree, grown from seeds taken fromthe tree in India where Buddha reached enlightenment. They say seven Bo were planted on the island and around them, they built temples for the faithful. What surprised me is that this temple looks out onto the main street where all the buses pass, and from the street you can see people praying inside. This is unusual because Buddhist temples are usually quieter, and slightly out of the city center.
There are a number of Buddhist temples on the island, such as the Mirisasa temple. This is the main temple of the village, and it is situated between the main road and the beach, on the west side of the beach. It is a very quiet place, where every morning the workers leave an offering, then later the monks who study and pray come out. In the morning they go out to beg for food, returning about 11 to share with the other monks. Then they do not eat until the next day. They live in the temple and spend their afternoon carrying out meditation or studying. At night the workers come back, with their children. If you want to enter this sacred place, ou have to go barefoot and with your shoulders and knees covered up.
The temple of Sri kadhiresan, also known as Kadhiresan Kovil, is a Hindu temple close to the Jayanthi Viharaya Buddhist temple. The Sri Lanka people have a mixture of Buddhist and Hindu beliefs, and sometimes Buddhists worship the same gods as the Hindus. This large temple is very well decorated. Its roof is covered with plaster sculptures representing various Hindu gods like most Hindu temples in Sri Lanka. The gods are sculpted featuring their main characteristics, and sometimes in a typical position. For example, some are talking to animals or feeding the poor. It is better to get there by bike or by tuk tuk because the temple is a bit out of town.
The Seema Malaka Temple is a beautiful Buddhist temple whose location on Beira Lake makes it a true oasis of peace and tranquility in hectic Colombo. The temple is apparently a recreation of a previous temple which had sunk into the lake, and was built by Geoffrey Bawa, one of Sri Lanka's leading architects and the founder of the Topical Modernism school of design.
The temple is located a few minutes' walk from the famous Gangaramaya Temple and you can get a single ticket for both temples at the entrance to either one. What's lovely about the Seema Malaka Temple is it's location on three floating platforms on the lake connected by wooden walkways. The views of the lake and the skyscrapers of downtown Colombo are unbeatable and the fact that it's more of a local attraction that an international draw means that remains quiet and uncrowded most of the time.
The temple itself features a central building with a nice but austere altar and two lateral platforms with bodhi trees, larger sitting Buddhas, and small shrines to Hindu deities which are also revered among Sri Lanka's Buddhist community. The standout, though, are the dozens of bronze Buddha statues which line the edges of the platforms. Overall, it's a pleasant and quick visit and a very welcome chance to escape the humidity and chaos of downtown Colombo for a few minutes.
The Gangaramaya Temple is by far Colombo's most famous Buddhist temple, at least among tourists, and is worth a visit for its sheer eccentricity. The temple was founded over a century ago as a institute to train young monks but has been run for decades by some of Sri Lanka's most politically and socially-connected monks, a fact evident in the temple-museum's collection of classic cars (Rolls Royce and Mercedes)and extravagant gifts like jewelry, gold, and an endless array of relics, statues, and icons.
When you enter the temple complex, you'll pass through an initial hall featuring a large seated Buddha flanked by two massive elephant tusk and ornate frescoes. This area is reminiscent of many other traditional Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, but as soon as you leave the chamber, all semblance with the traditional immediately evaporates. You make your way through a museum section with innumerable glass cases featuring every kind of temple offering imaginable (from vintage sunglasses to precious stones), a Chinese section featuring a near-endless line of small shrines, each filled with dozens of Buddha statues from around Asia, and finally a terraced outdoor area with bronze statues of sitting Buddhas and stupas reminiscent of those found in the famous Borobudur site in Indonesia.
The rest of the complex is kind of a mixed bag of conference centers, libraries, hidden shrines, and other areas that are sure to entertain the curious for hours. The temple also has an elephant (something of a controversy among visitors) but we didn't see it when we visited. Look...if you're looking for a deeply spiritual place, Gangaramaya is probably not it. There are tons of better monasteries and temples in Sri Lanka if you're looking for authentic, humble Sri Lankan Buddhism. However, if you think of it more as a museum than a temple, then it makes for one of the most interesting and eclectic places to visit in Colombo. A must-see!
Kataragama Devale, or god Kataragama temple was constructed in the 17th century in honor of the king Vimaladharma, who had won a battle against the Portuguese. It is one of the temples of Badulla, and is on Lower Street. Before entering the temple, you have to take your shoes off, cover your shoulders and knees, and wash your hands with water. It is the 1st time I had to do that, but a man told us how. inside there is a shrine dedicated to the Hindu god Kataragama, the Buddhists also revere it. The temple has a lovely wood construction and is famous for its murals outside the temple.
While Sri Lanka is a predominately Buddhist country, it still has a very sizable Hindu community and a wealth of historic and otherworldly Hindu temples. One of the most important Hindu temples in Colombo is the Sri Ponnambalam Vanesar Kovil (alternatively called the Shri Ponnambalawaneswaram Kovil) located out the outskirts of Colombo's hectic market neighborhood of Pettah.
The temple is built of solid grey granite which gives an ancient feel to the exterior, like something you'd find lost in a thick jungle rather than in the heart of cosmopolitan Colombo. The exterior is rather non-descript, but the interior is one of the single most powerful and memorable things I saw during my time in Sri Lanka.
The interior of the Sri Ponnambalam Vensar Kovil is based around a central island (known as a Mandir) which contains the interior shrine. Around the island is a long hallway lined with shrines to various deities and icons. The atmosphere of the interior is what will really stick with you. Dim lighting, candles, incense, chanting, the hypnotic ringing of the "ghanta" prayer bell, the shirtless priest adorned with beads and red paint presiding over the Mandir. It sounds cliche, but it really does ooze a sense of spirituality that's difficult to describe in words.
Photography is prohibited in the interior of the temple, but I managed to snap a photo before the security guard politely told me that it wasn't allowed. I'd suggest setting aside an hour of your day to wander around the intricately-carved interior, admiring the ornate shrines and generally soaking in the atmosphere. It's a place of worship (and an important one at that) so remember to dress modestly and maintain a low profile while you're inside.
The Capitan's Garden Hindu Temple (officially known as Sri Kailashanadar) is the oldest Hindu temple in Colombo and one of the most popular. The name comes from it's location near the port and is where Hindu Tamil traders from southern India would come to worship after docking. These days, the temple is lost amid a maze of railroad tracks and rail yards so your best bet is to hire a tuk-tuk driver who knows the way.
The temple is only open from 6-10:00 in the morning and later from 5-9:00 in the evening so you should plan your visit accordingly. Unfortunately, we didn't and got there around 11:00 so were only able to admire the massive and colorful entrance which was actually worth the visit on its own. Above the entrance is a pyramid-shaped tower adorned with literally hundreds of brightly-colored figures and gods from Hindu theology, all intentionally positioned to convey messages from Hindu scripture. It's pretty overwhelming when you first see it.
From what I've heard, the inside is beautiful and welcoming to tourists (which is not a given at all Hindu temples in Sri Lanka). Tourists looking to snap photos need to, of course, be respectful and appropriately-dressed and must also pay a small fee if they want to take photos of the temple interior (the fee comes out to around a dollar or two). Really recommended, but make sure to get there when it's open!
The New Kathiresan Temple is a recently-built Hindu temple on Sea Street, a well-known street in the port-side Hindu district of Colombo. It was built as something of an expansion to the Old Kathiresan Temple which is located a few doors down and is dedicated to the Hindu god Murugan.
Sea Street itself is kind of a bracing introduction to Hinduism in Sri Lanka, and the New Kathiresan Temple is not a bad place to start to get an idea of what day-to-day religious life is like for Hindu Tamils in Colombo. As you make your way down the rather dirty and chaotic street lined with tailors and shops selling Hindu religious icons (not a bad souvenir and, as it's a residential area, at a great price too), you'll get wafts of incense, hear otherworldly chants flowing out of open doorways, and be lured in to look by the constant ringing of the "ghanta" bells.
The first thing that strikes you about the temple is the elaborate carvings above the doorway featuring dozens of Hindu figures and deities in allegoric poses. The interior of the temple is nothing special, architecturally-speaking. There are a few scattered shrines and it's usually filled with local devotees engaging in rituals which are first almost shocking for those not used to it. When we went, for example, there was a man splayed out on the floor, slowing crawling his way up to a statue while murmuring something. As always, make sure to leave a donation for the temple and keep it respectful as far as gawking and photography goes. It's not a tourist temple, so you need to keep that in mind if you decide to peek in.
The Reswehera Monastery (often called Sasseruwa due to the Sasseruwa Buddha found there) is a true hidden gem in the humid jungles around Dambulla. The site is practically unknown to foreign visitors and makes for a great day trip along with the Avukana Buddha which is located only a few miles away.
The temple/monastery complex is located in a nature reserve and features a long series of caves which, while in disuse today, have been inhabited by Buddhist monks for over 2,000 years. However, Reswehera's main claim to fame is the towering Sasseruwa Buddha, a 35-foot tall standing Buddha carved directly from a rock wall. A local legend states that the Sasseruwa Buddha resulted from a competition between a pupil and his master, with the master building the Avukana Buddha first and winning the competition. This explains the unfinished nature of the Sasseruwa Buddha (notable on some of the facial details and the pedestal). What does set the Sasseruwa Buddha apart, though, is that it is completely free-standing. While the Avukana Buddha is connected to its rock wall by a thin strip of rock, the Sasseruwa Buddha was completely separated from the wall.
When you enter the temple complex, the custodian will take you up the 300 steps to first admire the standing Buddha before taking you on a tour of the rest of the complex which features over 99 cells once used by ascetic monks (it's interesting to note the difference between the once inhabited centuries ago and the more modern ones) and some truly beautiful cave temples featuring impressive frescoes like those found at the Dambulla Cave Temples. All in all, it was an incredible and rewarding find and definitely one of the best short excursions you can take from Dambulla.