Last Updated on September 25, 2023
With about 80% of its population being Buddhist, Sri Lanka is a high center for Buddhism. The temples in Sri Lanka are amazing, you’ll feel peace and serenity. Walking barefoot on the cold stones, surrounded by incense burning and devotees chanting, you’ll discover a unique atmosphere… Here are some of my favorite and famous temples in Sri Lanka where religion, meditation, and spirituality meet.
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Famous temples in Sri Lanka
1 – Gangaramaya Temple, Colombo
Gangaramaya Temple is Colombo’s biggest temple. It’s made of many separate buildings and in some, you’ll feel more in a thrift shop than in a temple. There are probably millions of Buddhas there. All the donations you make at the entrance are given to charity.
2 – Golden Caves Temple, Dambulla
Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Dambulla’s Buddhist Golden Caves Temple was built in the first century BC and used to serve as a shelter for monks during the raining season. Called originally Raja Maha Vihara, the caves are carved from a huge granite rock and are the best-preserved and the biggest cave system in Sri Lanka. Located at the top of the rock, a steep staircase leads to the caves, on the way people sell flowers for offerings and monkeys await to make a snack out of them.
3 – Sri Dalada Maligawa (Tooth Temple), Kandy
The Tooth Temple is Kandy’s most famous attraction, built in 1595, it has been destroyed many times but has always been rebuilt. Three times a day, the monks held a ceremony, washing the relic, believed to be one of Buddha’s teeth, and giving the water to the people present at the ceremony. The water is believed to have healing properties. They also have a museum about Buddhist practices attached to the temple.
4 – Mihintale Temple
Mihintale is truly a magical place, surrounded by mist, burning incense and Buddhist hymns, the atmosphere here is just mystic and so appeasing. Built in the first century BC, this site is really important in Sri Lanka History and has a huge signification in Buddhism History. It is there that, in 247 BC, King Devanampiyatissa from Anuradhapura met Mahinda, son of the Indian emperor Asoka. Devanampiyatissa then decided to convert to Buddhism, that’s how the religion appeared and spread in Sri Lanka. Later, he founded a sacred city to commemorate the event. From Mihintale, only a couple of temples and ruins remain, mostly located on top of a hill, in the heart of the city.
5 – Parevi Duwa Shrine, Matara
This small temple is located on a rock near the Matara bus terminal. The best part is to observe the contrast between the busy city and this quiet temple. Crossing the bridge, you’ll feel transported into a quiet parallel world.
6 – Wewurukannala Vihara Temple, Dikwella
This temple is famous for having one of the biggest seating Buddha statues in Sri Lanka. Behind it is a tower, you can climb to and get a fantastic view of the surroundings. Its inferno hall is also worth a look. It depicts vividly what to expect if you sin.
7 – Devinuwara Sri Vishnu Devalaya, Dondra
Devinuwara Sri Vishnu Devalaya is famous for its hundreds of pictures depicting the life of Buddha. The monks there are pretty friendly and might give you some explanation if you ask.
8 – Sri Maha Bodhi Temple, Anuradhapura
Sri Maha Bodhi Temple is one of Sri Lanka’s holiest temple. Each year thousands of Sri Lankan make the pilgrimage there, it’s probably Sri Lanka’s most famous temple.
Anuradhapura is Sri Lanka’s oldest preserved capital, more degraded than its neighbor Polonnaruwa, the ancient city is now mostly in ruins. Some monuments have been restored like new, and the city center is still an important place for Buddhists. It’s also a UNESCO world heritage site, truly worth to explore, especially if you’re interested in history and religion.
9 – Sri Nagapooshani, Jaffna
This Hindu Temple was built in the 18th century and is dedicated to Parvati and Shiva. It’s quite an adventure to get there, located on Nainativu Island, it’s a famous pilgrimage site for Hindus as well as Buddhist as next to it is an important Buddhist temple.
The Hindu temples are always full of colors and amazing to look at. Sri Nagapooshani is one of the biggest Hindu temples in Sri Lanka, and the boat ride to get to it is just epic…
10 – Nalanda Gedige, Matale
Nalanda Gedige is a Dravidian stone temple located in the Matale district in Sri Lanka and remains a mystery for many. Experts haven’t been able to precisely date its creation, they estimate it was built between the 8th and 10th centuries. The mix of Hindu and Buddhism style is also really confusing. The architecture is definitively Hindu, the temple is similar to many others found in India at the same time, and the fertility sculptures definitively point to Hinduism, but all of the other sculptures and carvings present are Buddhist representations. Definitively worth a look.
What about you? What are your favorite temples in Sri Lanka?
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