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Buddhist Sites of Sri Lanka: a Place for Prayer

Sri Lanka is a beautiful tropical island where locals have tended to follow the Buddhist religion throughout the ages. With over two millennia of history in Buddhism, Sri Lanka is what one would call a ‘Buddhist’s Heaven’.
Sri Lanka has hundreds of sites with Buddhist temples or Buddhism related architecture, most of which have historical value.

Though many are famous both as historical sites and religious sites, there are some gems hidden in plain view and only known to the local. However, well known or unknown the sites the fact remains that all Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka are venerated by Buddhists and respected by the other minor religious sects that make the island their home.

The main Buddhist sites of Sri Lanka are notably concentrated in the areas where there were once the capital kingdoms of Sri Lanka, places like Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy. The comprehensive list of Buddhist sites compiled below is segregated according to those locations, so that a visitor can plan their viewings appropriately

Temple of the Tooth Relic
In the Central Highlands, almost dead centre in the little island of Sri Lanka lays Kandy City. The crown jewel of the city is the famed Sri Dalada Maligawa, also known as the Temple of the Tooth.
Adam's Peak (Sri Pada)
the amazing Adam’s Peak is Sri Lanka’s fourth highest mountain at 2244m and is located 40km northeast of Ratnapura.
Adam’s Peak or the Sri Pada is an important pilgrim site. Buddhist believe the impression on the summit is the footprint of lord Buddha himself.
Samadhi Statue
The Samadhi Statue is a statue situated at Mahamevnāwa Park in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. The Buddha is depicted in the position of the Dhyana Mudra, the posture of meditation associated with his first Enlightenment, also called Nirvana.
The tale of the temple Lankaramaya in Sri Lanka is the stuff of legend. The year 103 BC was a memorable year for the King Walagamba (also known as Vattagamini Abaya) of Anuraddhapura. As the rightful king he had been attacked by invaders of the kingdom, and during that year he hid out at a place called Silasobha Khandaka and planned their defeat.
Lovamahapaya is a building situated between Ruvanveliseya and Sri Mahabodiya in the ancient city of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. It is also known as the Brazen Palace or Lohaprasadaya because the roof was covered with bronze tiles.
Rankoth Vehera
Polonnaruwa was the second kingdom of the ancient kings of Sri Lanka, after the kingdom of Anuradhapura. Following the older tradition of the kings of the first kingdom, the Polonnaruwa kings too saw fit to leave their footprints in the form of stupas built during their times of reign.
Medirigiriya Watadageya
Medirigiriya Watadageya is one of the oldest ruin in South Asia, According to the historical records, Watadageya has build up before 1900 years. During the Polonnaruwa kingdom, it has build to protect the stupa from rain and sun. It’s situated 40 km s away from Polonnaruwa. These unbelievable construction still stands without falling down.
Gadaladeniya Temple
Gadaladeniya Temple in Sri Lanka is an old monastery built over a rock in Diggala in the district of Kandy. According to an inscription carved into the walls the temple was built in 1344 AD by King Buwanekabaghu the fourth.
Lankathilaka Viharaya
Lankatilaka is Buddhist temple of the 14th century in the Hiyarapitiya village, from the Udu Nuwara area of Kandy district in Sri Lanka. This historical temple was built by the Gampola king, King Buwanekabahu the fourth (1341 – 1351AD), in 1344 AD.
Embekka Devalaya
In the Udu Nuwara area of the Kandy district lies a temple with a history of over six centuries. Built during the reign of King Wickremabahu III (1371-1394AD) who ruled in the Kingdom of Gampola, the temple is practically covered in wood carvings.
Dambulla Golden Temple
Dating back to the First Century BC, the Golden Temple of Dambulla has been the centre of pilgrimage for Buddhists and Hindus alike for 22 centuries. It is Sri Lanka’s most popular historic site. The Cave monastery, home to Buddhist monks is covered with exquisite 2,000 year-old murals depicting the life and times of the Lord Buddha.
Nagadvipa Vihara
Nagadvipa is only about 35 miles from India and the smallest Island in Gulf of Mannar. Merchants have long come here and the surrounding islands to buy the conch shells that are harvested in the warm shallow waters in the Gulf. The conch shell is of course essential for certain Hindu and Buddhist rituals and a particularly perfect specimen of one spiralling to the right can fetch an enormous price.
Thuparamaya, the oldest Stupa in Sri Lanka built after the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. The Thuparamaya, built by King Devanapiyatissa, enshrines the sacred collar bone of the Buddha. This relic, a gift from India, stands testimony to the cordial relations enjoyed by the then Sri Lanka ruler. The columns around the stupa were a part of the walkway that supported a roof which covered the sacred edifice.
Muthiyanganaya Raja Maha Viharaya lies in the centre of the city of Badulla. The History of this temple goes back to the time of Buddha but this area around Badulla (especially Uva Province) goes way back in to the time of 19th -18th century BCE. Emperor Rawana was ruling this country with Badulla as the capital. It is also believed that the War of Rama and Rawana took place in this area.
Mahiyangana Viharaya
Mahiyangana According to Mahavamsa, Sivuhelaya (Sri Lanka) was peopled by Sivu-Helayos. The Yakkhas (clan) were living in Mahiyangana at the time. It says that the Buddha held a discussion on Dhamma with them. A Yakkha chieftain named Saman (who is now regarded as a deity) attained Sotapanna (First stage in liberation) after listening to the Buddha’s discourse and requested a token from the Buddha that they could worship in his absence.
Anuradhapura The Ruwanweliseya was built by King Dutugemunu in the 2nd century BCE. Since being restored the dome is clear and shines white in the sun. S.M. Burrows of the Ceylon Civil Service wrote in 1885, “Its present height is about 150 feet, with a diameter of 379 feet. It is now being restored by the pious contributions of pilgrims, and the zealous efforts of the Chief Priest.
Kirivehera Temple
Buddhists consider that Katharagama Deviyo as one of the guardian deities of Buddhism and the presiding deity of Katharagama temple hallowed by the Buddha. According to Mahavamsa historical chronicle of Sri Lanka, when the Bo sapling of Bodhi Tree, under which Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment, was brought to the city of Anuradhapura 2,300 years ago, the warriors from Katharagama attended this sacred ceremony.
Kelaniya Temple
Kelaniya Temple built on the banks of the Kelaniya River is one of the most sacred sites of Sri Lanka. It is believed Buddha together with 500 Arahats (Supremely enlightened beings) visited Kelaniya on the Wesek day of the Buddhist Era 2531 and expounding of the Dhamma, the Buddhist doctrine to the inhabitants of the island. Buddha’s timely visit to the island resulted in quelling an imminent war between two kings named Chulodara and Mahodara over a jewel–encrusted throne.
Abhayagiri Monastery
Abhayagiri Monastery in Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura established in the second century B.C., by King Valagamabau, during its glorious days, was not only complex of monastic buildings, but also a great seat of learning. Unlike orthodox Mahavihara monastery, Abhayagiri Monastery accommodated the intellectual discussion on various schools of Buddhist thought in addition to Theravada Buddhism, considered as the pure words of Buddha.
Jetavana Monastery
Jetavana Monastery at Anuradhapura one of the major Buddhist Monasteries of Sri Lanka was founded by King Mahasena (276-303 AC). His reputation as a builder of great monasteries was somewhat tarnished by his grave misdeeds against the Mahavihara Monastery.
Mirisawetiya Dagaba
More than 2100 years old, Mirisawetiya is one of the most ancient Dagabas in Sri Lanka . Built by the great king Dutugemunu, this Maginficant Structure is a must see for any visitor to the sacred city of Anuradhapura . It is believed that the great king Dutugemunu made many wishes here that have come true during his lifetime.
Gangaramaya Temple
The Most Visited temple in the city, the Gangaramaya Temple which organizes Sri Lanka’s largest and the most colourful Vesak festival annually, has a history of 120 years. It was established in 1885 by Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Nayaka Thera at a time when Buddhist and cultural resurgence were much needed as the country was under the colonial rule.
Dambulla Cave Temple
The Rock Temple of Dambulla, called Jumbukola Vihara (Dambulla Cave Temple) in the (Mahavamsa)-the principal Pali Chronicle of Sri Lanka, is situated about forty seven miles north west of Kandy, the last capital of the Sinhalese kings, on the main road to Anuradhupura.
Kandy Temples
Kandy is studded with temples. The Sacred Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa) at the heart of the city is the holiest temple in the world of Theravada Buddhism.
Tantirimale Monastery
Tantirimale monastery can be reached by Anuradhapura-Mahavillachchiya road: 27 km along road is Sri Wimalagnana road to the right. Tantirimale is located another 18km onwards the turn. The motorable road from Anuradhapura has made Tantirimale a popular place of pilgrimage among the Sinhalese Buddhists of Sri Lanka.
Arankele Monastery
Arankele Forest Monastery’s sylvan environment and ruins of bathing ponds gives the impression it was once a pleasure park. Arankele, on the contrary, was a 6th century cave hermitage up a forested hillside.
Sri Maha Bodhiya
The Sacred Bo tree; Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka is the oldest living tree in documented history of the world. It is a sapling from the historical Bodhi tree under which Buddha enlightened. It was planted in 288 BCF and is the oldest living human-planted tree in the world with a known planting date. It was brought from Buddhagaya India by the Ven. Sanghamitta Therini, a sister of Arhant Mahinda – who introduced the Teachings of the Buddha to Sri Lanka.
Gal Vihara
Gal Vihara (Sinhala: stone temple), Buddhist Temple at (UNESCO World Heritage Site) at Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka is the most perfect specimen of Buddha statue hewn out of solid stone. Crafted during the reign of King Parakrabahu (1153-1186 A.C), Gal Vihara statues are still in complete preservation with their irresistible charm and sublimity.
Aukana Buddha Statue
Aukana Buddha statue is located at 30km northwest of Dambulla close to ancient Kala Weva man-made rainwater reservoir. It can be reached from Kekirawa on Dambulla-Anuradhapura road.
Ridi Vihara
The tale of Ridi Vihara is described thus. It’s about 20 kilometres away from the ancient kingdom of Kurunegala in a small village called Ridi Gama. This temple is believed to be built by King Dutugemunu in the 2nd century BCE, as a monument to the place where he found a silver (Ridi) ore mine which was used to finance the building of the gigantic Ruwanweli Seya.
Kadurugoda Viharaya
Among the Buddhist places in Yapa Pattana (Jaffna) Kadurugoda Viharaya or Kantarodai holds an important place in Sri Lanka‘s history. This temple is located on the Hunugama (Chunnakam) – Minipe (Manipai) road about 02 KMs from Hunugama.
Maligawila Buddha Statue
The Maligawila Buddha statue is a standing statue of the Buddha in Sri Lanka and has been carved out of a large limestone rock during the 7th century by a prince named Agrabodhi.
This statue of the Buddha has two names; one is Rasvehera and the other is Sasseruwa. It is called Rasvehera because on the day the Sacred Bo Tree was brought from Anuradhapura and planted at this premises the rays of Lord Buddha illuminated around the place. Rasvehera statue bears similar profiles to the Aukana Buddha statue.
Aluviharaya is a rock-cave temple where Buddhist monks during Walagamba’s rule wrote the Tripitakas in Pali on Ola leaves. The heroic reign of king Walagamba (104-77 B.C.) would go into the records of history as the Tripitakas (Buddhist scriptures) were written down on Ola leaves in Pali by a conclave of Buddhist monks of the Aluvihare Temple, lying close to Matale.
Namal Uyana
The Jathika Namal Uyana in Sri Lanka is the largest ironwood forest and pink quartz mountain in Asia. The Ironwood Tree is endemic to Sri Lanka and the replanted forest is over 260 acres in extent. According to archeological researcher’s findings, the pink quartz in this historical place has a history of more than 550 millions of years.
Mihintale Mountain
Mihintale Mountain, with the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, began to serve as a residential area for the venerable monks headed by Arahath Mahinda Mahathera. But soon, with the royal patronage, the sanctuary housed a multitude of with monastic buildings-stupas, uposathgharas, bodhigharas- to serve the monks.
Bodhinagala Forest Hermitage
A group of bhikkhus clad in saffron robes walked in single file, carrying their alms bowls, silently down the pathway, for the midday Dana under a dimly-lit forest canopy.

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