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Sri Lanka's Best Buddhist Temples

Kelaniya (Colombo)

The Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, venerated by the visit of Lord Buddha  is one of the most sacred places of worship for the Sri Lankan Buddhists. Six miles from Colombo, this temple is set amidst ten acres of land along the banks of the Kelani river. It is one of the most spectacular and  largest temples of Sri Lanka.

It is believed that the temple derived sanctity with the third visit of the Buddha  to this country on a Wesak day on the invitation of King Maniakkhika. The temple is a perfect testimony  of Buddhist architecture and art and is a subtle blend of Hindu and Buddhist temple architecture.  You can see many ancient Sinhalese motifs and designs along with the images of Hindu deities carved into the rock surface.  The walls are decorated with with murals from the life of Lord Buddha, Buddhist legends, and history. Scores of  Buddhists from all over the world visit the temple to witness  the Buddhist pageant of Kelaniya, which falls in the month of November/December and January every year.

How to reach: The Kelaniya temple is easily accessible by road and rail. The A1 highway connecting Colombo with Kandy runs along the town and the Kelaniya Railway Station that is located not very far provides rail connections to the rest of the country.

Mulgirigala (South)

The ancient Mulgirigala temple is located  30 minutes inland from Tangalle in Sri Lanka's south. The  temple monastery of Mulgirigala that dates back to the third century  comprises of many rock temples that are carved out of the  face of  a huge boulder, towering over two hundred meters above the surrounding palm forests. Though these cave temples  might look similar to  Dambulla cave temples in some aspects, the climb is well worth it considering the spectacular panoramas around and the beautiful glimpses of the hinterlands it offers.

The temple near the entrance has a reclining Buddha well complemented by the beautiful paintings of Vishnu and Kataragama.  You can see lively paintings of Buddhist monks all along the walls. Probably the finest of all the caves is the second one, which has many finely executed Kandyan style wall paintings including the spectacular depiction of Jataka tales that were restored during the 18th century.

The terrace Two has a single rock temple that has a reclining Buddha accompanied by two of his disciples. The terrace three has four temples that stand side by side including the one that is dedicated to the snake god ( Naga) and has a small rock pool at one end  The third temple known as the Raja Mahavihara is the finest of the lot and stands out by the timeless charm of the Dutch floor tiled vestibule and the Kandyan style wooden  pillars. It is a store house of priceless  ancient religious texts and manuscripts. The final temple has the specialty of being the home of   Mulgirigala's only parinirvana Buddha (after shedding his life) surrounded by a grim tableau of grieving members.

Dambulla Cave Temples

Dambulla cave temple, which dates back to  the 1st century BC  is the most impressive cave temple in Asia. Better known as the  Golden Temple of Dambulla, it  is a World Heritage Site  in Sri Lanka and  is one of the best preserved cave temple complexes in the island nation. Located  72 km north of Kandy, the rock formations are perched  160 m over the surrounding plains.

Dambulla cave temple comprises of five caves tucked  underneath a large overhanging boulder. The caves contain many statues and paintings related to the life of Lord Buddha part from those of gods, goddesses and Sri Lankan kings. The elaborate  mural paintings that extends over 2,100 square meters and wall paintings including the temptation by the demon Mara, and Buddha's first sermon. are the major attractions of these caves.

The Dambulla cave temples are thought to have set up by  King Valagambahu in the 1st century BC as a token of gratitude after reclaiming his capital from the invaders. Many other kings added to it to make it an impressive complex of cave temples. The climb along the slopes of the Dambulla Rock offers the great views of the surrounding plains  and the rock  fortress Sigiriya.  The largest cave measures 23m from its entry to exit points and is  7m tall at its highest point. The Dambulla cave temple is still accessible and remains the best-preserved edifice in Sri Lanka.

Four Devales, Kandy

Devales are the  temple complexes  situated near the fabled Temple of The Tooth Relic, which are dedicated to the Gods that protect Sr Lanka and are the followers of Lord Buddha .The Natha Devale, which dates  back to the 14th century is the oldest of all four. Perched on a stone platform with a highly ornate gateway, this devale ground  has the symbolic Bodhi trees and dagobas.

Nearby, you can see the Pattini Devale, which is dedicated to the goddess of chastity. The third temple is the Vishnu Devale, which can be reached by a flight of carved stone steps, which is dedicated to the Hindu God of Lord Vishnu, considered as the guardian of Sri Lanka, which also points to the close relation between the two ancient religions of  Hinduism and Buddhism the region.

Further away is located the fourth devale of The kataragama Devale, dedicated to the god of war , Lord Murugan, who has 6 heads and 12 hands wielding weapons.  It is recommended to have a guided trip to the four devales to know about the practice and rituals.

Temple of the Tooth in Kandy

The most important center of veneration for the  Buddhist faith, the Temple of the Tooth is a magnificent  17th-century Temple that is believed to house the left upper canine tooth of the Lord Buddha. According to the legend, the tooth was taken from the Buddha as he was laid on the funeral pyre and was brought to Sri Lanka in 313 AD from India.  Princess Hemamali had hidden it within her hair as she fled the Hindu armies besieging her father's kingdom in India. The Temple of Tooth in Kandy  was built during the rule of the  Kandyan kings between 1687 and 1707 and  was renovated after being damaged during the  18th-century colonial wars against the Portuguese and Dutch.

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