Temples of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is full of religious sights, which are impossible to visit in a short day. However, we tried to manage seeing the most spectacular temples of Sri Lanka during our stay.
Temples of Colombo
As capital Colombo hosts some of the most interesting temples of Sri Lanka. Being considered the most intersting ones architecturally, we visited the following ones during our stay in Colombo:
- Gangaramaya (Vihara) Buddhist Temple: It is one of the most fascinating and unmissable temples in Colombo. It hosts a large complex of rooms with several Viharas (temples), the Cetiya (Pagada), relic chamber, museum, library, and more. The temple has also an incredible collection of Buddhas made from very different materials.
- Beira Lake and Seema Malaka Temple: The lake represents a huge role in the life and history of Colombo. Located right in the middle of the city, it is connected to other lakes further inside through small canals. It was built by the Portuguese to defeat Sri Lankan kings and later used to ship goods via the ocean. Its name “Beira” comes from the Portuguese era and it means “seaside”. In the middle of the lake reigns a beautiful temple called the Seema Malaka Shrine. It was a gift from a Muslim donor and is part of the Gangaramaya (Vihara) Buddhist Temple.
- Sri Kaileswaram or Captain’s Garden Hindu temple: Built in honor of Shiva and Ganesh, it has the most fantastic and ornamented artwork ceiling in Colombo. The temple is seen all over the city but strategically hidden and tucked-away in side way roads and trees.
- New Kathiresan Hindu Temple: Dedicated to the war god Skanda or Murugan, it has heavy adornments with images from Hindu mythology on its roof. Vibrant colors, nicely sculptured statues as well as strong sense of spirituality and faith is what attracted us the most in this temple.
- Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque: Built in 1908, it is without any doubts one of the most beautiful mosques we have ever seen. The contrast of vibrant reds and white bricks creates one of the most beautiful and mesmerizing buildings in Colombo.
Where is it? Colombo city center
How to get there? In our opinion it’s best to walk but renting a tuk-tuk driver for 1-2 hours is easily arranged.
When is it open? Most of the places are open daily between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Some might different and some might be close for religious or cultural events. Always check before planing.
What is good to know? At religious sites both men and women must wear accordingly. Men and women shall have their shoulders and and knees covered and shoes off!
Temples of Polonnaruwa
The ancient ruins of Polonnaruwa belong to the most significant temples of Sri Lanka. We were able to visit the the whole complex during our 4-hour stay as you can read in our travel report. There is numerous of historic and astonishing parts. These are the ones that we found most impressive, we recommend to visit the Sri Lanka tourism website if you are interested in all the details:
- Polonnaruwa Vatadage and Potgul: It’s an impressive rounded shape building with 18m diameter equipped with four entrances oriented to the four cardinal directions. This is the oldest and best preserved building of its kind in whole Sri Lanka. Making this one unique Relic Stupa, in the center you will find (what’s nowadays believed to be) the shrine where the Sacred Tooth was placed before it was moved to Kandy. This center “altar” is guarded by four Buddha statues facing each entrance. The whole building has been carefully sculptured and carved by talented craftsmen with flowers, animals and Buddhist symbols.
- Rankot Vihara: An incredible stupa with a diameter of 170m and with the height of 33m (believed to be even higher before its renovation) holds the title of the 4th biggest stupa in the country and the biggest one in Polonnaruwa.
- Lankatilaka/Image House: The megalomaniac temple including its impressive 12.5m high Buddha statue has one of the most iconic and intrigue aspects of Buddhist architecture in the whole country. With it’s main exists being built from sideways, it gives prayers the opportunity of leaving the building without turning their backs to the holy Buddha. It is the only temple in the country where a Nagini image can be found in a balustrade.
- Gal Vihara: Was originally named “Uttararama” (the northern monastery) and later changed to “The Gal Vihara” (rock monastery). This rock is still there and it is still a very important and symbolic pilgrim site, where one can see devotees doing their prayers and offers to Buddha. Next to this rock four different contrasting statues of Buddha are placed: “The Seated Image” – 4m tall and carved in the shape of a lotus flower; “Vidyhadhara Guha” – Similar to the previous one, also seated but in a much smaller scale with only 1.40m of height; “The Standing Image” – on top of a pedestal with a lotus shape rising tall, being 7m high and the most controversial statue of them all! Looking sad, reclining backwards and with its arms in an unusual position, this is even believed by some to not be a Buddha statue; “The Reclining Image” – 14m long, holds the title of one of the biggest reclining Buddha statues in Southeast Asia, having a peaceful and warm facial expression representing its parinirvana.
- Audience Hall: One of the best preserved buildings and beautifully sculptured all around with elephants in different positions
- Lotus Pond: This was (in our opinion) a very symbolic monument. A bit outside from the main sites, there is a beautiful lotus shape bath. With an intrinsic meaning and unbeatable similarities to christian baptismal fonts. This beautiful bath was used for ritual baths of pilgrims visiting Tivanka-patanaghara (only 400m away from this site and worth to visit).
Where is it? Central Sri Lanka; 229km from Colombo; 55.8km from Sigiryia; 143km from Kandy; 90.6km from Batticaloa; 108km from Tricomalee
Bus or private car, if coming from close distances tuk-tuk is an alternative.How to get there?
When is it open? Daily 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
What is good to know? Comfy and light clothes advisable. However, at some places they will ask you to take shoes off, cover shoulders and knees, for both men and women.
Cave Temple - Dambulla
What was once the 14-year secret asylum place of King Valagamba from Anuradhapura kingdom, later became a magnificent complex of temples all carved deep in the rocks. The caves stand together with a beautiful Golden Temple.
In our opinion a place that is worth a visit, not only for its history and what it represents for Sri Lanka but also for the incredible setting that this temple is located in.
Where is it? Central Sri Lanka; 148km from Colombo; 72km from Kandy; 17.2km from Sigiriya
Bus or private car, if coming from close also tuk-tuk is convenient..How to get there?
When is it open? Daily 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
What is good to know?
- Where to start: We advise you to start from the back entrance rather than from the Golden Temple. The landscape at the back is breathtaking once you approach the first caves, and less crowded to enter.
- Be Aware: The complex is full of wild monkeys and that’s their environment. Any contact or voluntary feeding can result in an inconvenient situation.
- Dress-code: Comfy and light clothesare advisable. However, at the entrance they will ask you to take shoes off, cover shoulders and knees, for both men and women.
Temple of the Tooth - Kandy
A royal palace built in the 16th century hosts a large complex of rooms and the famous tooth from Buddha himself. This makes it probably the or one of the most important temples of Sri Lanka. It can be quite frantic during holy celebrations as the pilgrims head to the temple to do their offerings and celebrate.
Although we would recommend people to go in, in our case it was a bit over budget and we preferred exploring other sites, less crowded and less popular. So we have decided to stick with just the outdoors and admire architecture of the temple and its surroundings.
Where is it? Kandy city center
How to get there? If you’re already staying in Kandy, it is easy to acess by just walking. The temple is located on the north part of the lake, coming from the main station you basically just have to walk towards the lake.
When is it open? Daily 5:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
What is good to know? It’s a religious site, and like everywhere in Sri Lanka both men and women must wear accordingly. In Sri Lanka men and women shall have their shoulders and and knees covered and shoes off!
Three Temple Loop - Kandy
Three of Kandys’s most ancient temples are located close to each other. Not only, the temples are great to watch but also the landscape on the way connecting them. It was good to see that these temples were not visited by a lot of tourists, making them a hidden secret.
- Embekke or Ambekke Devalaya: It is a shrine dedicated to God Kataragama. A simplistic monument hidden in between mountains and green fields brings to life fantastic and impressive carved wooden pillars with intricate designs. Each of its four sides is carved with national and regional natural themes such as elephants, lions, peacocks and flowers, or storytelling of wrestlers, dancers and warriors.
- Gadaladeniya: It was built by King Buwanekabahu IV in year 1344 and our least favorite out of the three! We felt it was a bit out of context, maybe because of the fact it was built through the hands of a south Indian architect called Ganesvarachari (therefore this temple essentially has a South Indian design).
- Lankathikale: The temple was without any doubts our favorite out of the three temple loop! Seating on the tip top of its rock overlooking the green landscape and tea fields, this temple makes a perfect combination with its meaning “the beauty spot on Lanka’s brow”. The outside temple, well detailed with animal sculptures all painted in white like a bride, creates the perfect match with the dusty black rock coming from the ground. A symbiotic marriage that resembles a perfect wedding between nature and sacred architecture.
Where is it? Surroundings of Kandy
How to get there? Tuk-tuk is probably the best option (that’s what we did). You can easily negotiate a price with a tuk-tuk driver to take you all over the sites for a fair price.
When is it open? Most of the places are open daily between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Some temples might have different opening hours or be closed during religious and cultural events. We would advise you to always check before planning.
What is good to know? It’s a religious site, and like everywhere in Sri Lanka both men and women must wear accordingly. Men and women shall have their shoulders and knees covered and shoes off!
TurtleBu Top Choice – Temples of Sri Lanka: The Mountain Temple
Ambuluwawa Temple - Kandy
On top of a high mountain in the small town of Gampola, just a few kilometers away from Kandy, reigns like a crown on top of a king’s head a complex of temples.
From all temples of Sri Lanka, the almost unknown place was the cherry on top of the cake! We took one of those typical and charming Sri Lankan buses from Peradeniya to Gampola. Once in Gampola we jumped on a tuk-tuk taking us up to the hill. Forget the walking unless you are a natural hiker! It is boiling hot and extremely steep but once there it’s a WOW!
The temple is a combination of four temples, each representing one of the four main religions of Sri Lanka: Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. It teaches (us westerns) a lesson on how happy and in harmony we all can live together, respecting different religions, ideologies and genders. The trip was not only a beautiful sightseeing of architecture, but mainly the most beautiful and best views we have experienced in Sri Lanka. Endless mountains and green fields, a climbing central temple that takes you up to the skies on a kind of screw shape as well as an indescribable feeling of peace and harmony.
Where is it? Gampola, 25 km from Kandy
When is it open? Daily 7:30 a.m.to 6 p.m.
What is good to know? There are two towers you can climb for better and higher views. These stairways are steep and narrow, some go through the building while other stretches are done through the outside. If you are afraid of heights there might be some areas you prefer not to discover! There are neither lifts nor first aid nearby. Comfy and light clothes advisable. There are several temples, from very different religious even though they are not strict, it’s advisable to dress appropriately. Bring drinks and food as nothing is sold on this site.