Although Colombo is Sri Lanka’s capital – we can hardly call it the capital of culture. Where other capital cities like Paris, Bangkok or Lima are rive with history, the same can’t be said for Colombo. It’s oldest buildings are only a few centuries old at most and not at all comparable to the old structures and architecture that spread across Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and many other such ancient places within Sri Lanka. Therefore, it’s no surprise that its oldest Buddhist temples in Colombo are only around a century old. This in no way diminishes how worthwhile they are to visit!
I know that most guides will tell you to completely skip Colombo in your trip to Sri Lanka but these temples in Colombo might change your mind!
Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya temple in Colombo
The Kelaniya temple is an enthralling place, with simple carvings decorating the entry steps and a wall of guard stones engraved with images of hooded snakes surrounding the temple premises. Inside is a huge Bo Tree with golden fences and four large statues of the Buddha on the upper level. Just below the Tree, at a lower level, you may see many devotees praying, lighting oil lamps and offering incense.
At the entrance to the temple are half-moon shaped carved stones referred to as the ‘Sandakada Pahana’. Also at the entrance is an archway known as ‘Makara Thorana’ believed to be a symbol of protection. This fascinating Thorana is a combination of many animal parts (a mythical creature): trunk of an elephant, tail of a swan, body of a fish, feet of a lion, teeth of a monkey and ears of a hog. The ceiling of the entrance has very impressive mural. Inside the temple are extraordinary paintings depicting the life of the Buddha. Also the eight meter long statues of the reclining Buddha is a breathtaking sight. The golden stone encrusted with precious stones, believed to have been used by the Buddha to preach to the people on his visit to Kelaniya, is now enshrined in the dagaba built in the shape of rice paddies.
Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo
Gangramaya is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Colombo, started by the famous scholar monk Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Nayaka Thera in late 19th century. This lively temple has a library, a museum and an extraordinarily diverse array of ornamented and golden gifts presented by devotees over the years. This temple has transformed into a must-see attraction and foreigners and local devotees gather at this busy place for its architecture and statues showcasing Sri Lankan, Thai, Chinese, and Burmese styles and for its golden interior and exterior.
The temple has statues including Buddha, lions, nymphs, and china vases. Medium height golden Buddha statues guide the crowds to the main sanctuary of the temple. In short we can say that it is a magnificent work of art and craftsmanship. The museum is the temple’s most distinguishing feature, which has incalculable number of Buddha statues from all over the world and many other antique collectibles.
Located on the waters of the Beira Lake, the Seemamalakaya Temple is one of the most magnificent sites in Colombo. The temple presents Japanese style architecture, floating platforms featuring numerous Buddha statues and airy shrines are unique features of this temple.
Midway along the path to the Seemamalakaya is the Pada Pagoda. This is the first of many unusual sights you will see. Built in 1980, the Pada Pagoda is a replica of the footprint of the Buddha leads to the reclining statue of the Buddha located end of the path. The island on the left of the temple has a beautiful statue of the Buddha, a Bo tree and a chaithya (stupa).
In the center pavilion is yet another impressive sight – the golden statue of Buddha. Brought to Sri Lana from Burma, this magnificent statue is encircled inside and out, with two rows of Buddha statues from Thailand. Moreover the wood work done by the expert craftsmen is highly impressive.
Siri Vajiraramaya Temple in Colombo
The temple in Bambalapitiya which was built in 1918, is one of the leading viharas in the island. Vajiraramaya temple came into being while the British were the firmly established colonial rulers of the country. In the midst of ever spreading missionary schools, education in English and active proselytism, the Vajiraramaya Sunday school was Inaugurated. Many distinguished persons had their religious instructions in the school or by individual monks.
This is a place where most Buddhist monks have taken their religious education and responsibility of spreading the teachings of the Buddha worldwide. It is one of the best known Sri Lankan Buddhist temples throughout the world. Vajirarama temple is furbished with a vast selection of books for readers in search for spiritual enlightenment. In the meditation school there is a truly beautiful compound with flowering trees and bushes. This encourages a deeply palpable air of tranquility which may touch your inner sense of peace and introduce a drop of spiritualism in to your day to day life.
It is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Colombo. Located in Havelock Town. It was built in 1916 by a wealthy merchant named Duenuge Disan Pedris. Constructed in the memory of his son Captain Henry Pedris, who has been executed by the British on false allegations of provocation of the racial riots in 1915.
The temple was built with a mixture of traditional elements and the architectural trends of the era. The murals and the statues that decorate the temple are a main part of its attraction. Isipathanaramaya is well worth visiting for its historical connotations and beautiful murals. The murals in the temple have been described as “exuberant, theatrical recasting of the traditional subjects of Buddhist temple art, in a vivid realistic style”.
Today, the overall layout of Isipathanaramaya remains in its original state, with its old colonial era building, glorious white stupa and pleasing Bo Tree. But one of the recent additions was the 12 meter tall vibrant standing Buddha.