Sri Lanka, known as the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, is one of the best places to go for anyone looking to expand their spiritual experience. There are a huge number of temples dotted throughout the country, particularly in the Anuradhapura area, where there are plenty of ancient temples and ruins to explore. Below is a compiled list of temples that you must visit, some old, some still active, and some very remote. Because of the wide range of cultural groups, these temples are sometimes shared by multiple faith groups, making it all the more interesting.
Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak)
Located at the summit of Adam’s Peak in central Sri Lanka, Sri Pada is a must-see! Surrounded by a wildlife reserve, the journey to the top is a gorgeous one. The reason this particular temple is so important, is because of the footprint on top of a rock right at the summit. Depending on who you ask, this footprint is believed to belong to Adam (according to Muslims and Christians), the Buddha and Shiva. The traditional way to reach Sri Pada is by a nighttime hike, making it so that you reach the top by sunrise, where you can see the famous shadow without the presence of clouds. A useful tip: local dogs act as great free guides as they know the tracks up the mountain so well.
Sri Dalada Maligawa
The Sri Dalada Maligawa, is home to one of the most cherished relics in the world, the left canine of the Gautama Buddha. Located in Kandy, the temple is sandwiched between the Royal Palace and the forest reserve called the Udawaththa Kelaya. The Sri Dalada Maligawa, built in 1595, was destroyed multiple times over the years and has been rebuilt as close to the original as possible. Part of the cause of its destruction came from the belief that the relic it housed, gave governance over the country to whoever was in possession of it.
Kande Vihara, also known as the mountain temple, is officially recognized as an archaeological site. This temple houses a Bodhi tree that is believed to be over 300 years in age. The walls and ceilings have paintings that detail the Buddha’s life journey and enlightenment.
This temple has blended rather beautifully Sri Lankan, Indian, Thai and Chinese architectural influences, which can be seen in the large white dome. Inside there are various statues, as well as colorful murals and carvings on the walls. Located on the Beira Lake, this active temple acts as an orphanage, as well as a vocational school.
Maviddapuram Kanthaswamy Kovil
The Maviddapuram Kanthaswamy Kovil is a Hindu temple with a shrine that has been existing for around 5,000 years. There is a legend that the daughter of the King of Madurai, who had a facial disfigurement, was told to bathe in the water of a springs at Keerimalai. She was cured of her ‘horse-like’ appearance, and erected a shrine in honor to the Hindu God Murugan in appreciation. The name Maviddapuram is derived from this story. The temple is now an archaeological protected monument.
Buduruwagala Raja Maha
The Buduruwagala Raja Maha is a sacred temple dating back to the 10th century, belongs to the Mahayana school of thought. The name means ‘the rock of Buddhist Sculptures’, of which there are seven in total. There is a Buddha statue that measures an impressive 51 feet, and is one of the largest on the island. One of the most interesting things about this site, is the carving of a flame that remains wet and smells of mustard oil with no explanation.
Sri Ponnambalam Vanesar Kovil
Dating back to 1857, Sri Ponnambalam Vanesar Kovil is a Hindu temple located at the heart of Colombo. This gorgeous temple is dedicated to Shiva and is constructed entirely out of intricately carved stone, in honor of not only the Hindu God, but also the universe. It is quite dark inside because of the absence of windows, and the only light sources come from the large doors. This darkness adds to the calm of the atmosphere, and provides a cave-like experience without actually being inside of one.
Dambulla Rajal Cave Temple
The Dambulla Rajal Cave Temple is the largest cave complex in Sri Lanka and is home to an impressive 153 Buddha statues. This temple is largely Buddhist, however, there are a couple of statues dedicated to Krishna and Ganesha. One of the most notable details about the Dambulla Cave, is that there is an ancient burial site dating back about 2,700 years. The caves themselves have murals detailing the life of the Gautama Buddha as well as royal life during that period.
Isipathanaramaya Temple was built by a merchant in commemoration of his son, it is believed to be one of the oldest temples in Colombo. The inside of this temple is incredibly colorful, with a 40-foot Buddha statue, as well as a sacred Bo tree.
The Kataragama Temple is a unique temple that is shared by Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and the indigenous Vedda people. The temple is modest in design, without much of the adornments that you will find with other temples on this list. Most of the attention is focused on the shrines to various deities, including the Hindu war God Murugan, Shiva, and Ganesha. Although you won’t find many Buddhists venerating deities, but many Sri Lankan Buddhists do make the pilgrimage to the temple. There is a sacred fig tree, also known as the Bodhi Tree, which is said to have been grown from the sapling of the original Bodhi Tree that the Buddha sat under when he reached enlightenment.
Mahiyangana Raja Maha Vihara
Mahiyangana Raja Maha Vihara, a Buddhist temple, is one of the Solosmasthana, otherwise known as the 16 sacred sites in Sri Lanka. Built during the Buddhas lifetime, this temple is an official archaeological site in Sri Lanka. The temple was built after the Buddhas first visit to Sri Lanka, in the ninth month after his enlightenment. He gifted a lock of his hair to a local chieftain, which is still enshrined in the temple until this day. It is one of the biggest motivations for people wanting to visit the temple.
- Remove your shoes before going inside the temple.
- In some of the temples you will be asked to step over the threshold and not on it, as a sign of respect.
- You may need to cover up shoulders, legs and hair if you are a woman.
Published: 01-Dec-2021 by Tricia Kwala | Last Updated: 04-Jan-2022
On: Gay Sri Lanka