The religion of Buddhism plays an important part of the culture and history of Sri Lanka which is why there are so many Buddhist temples in the country. Many of the top Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka are thousands of years old but their ruins still contain a sense of mystery and magicality to those who visit.
1. Temple of the Tooth
Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist temple can be found at the eastern end of Kandy in central Sri Lanka. Here you can find a tooth relic of the Buddha.
The temple itself has a golden roof and white walls. It is very popular and is visited by thousands of tourists from all over the world. Often flowers and incense are left at the temple. While visiting the temple you will most likely hear ancient forms of drumming and sacred chanting.
2. Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya
In the eastern part of Colombo city you can find this modern Buddhist temple that has images of the Buddha as well as ceiling and wall paintings done by a local artist named Solius Mendis. The artwork depicts that important life events of the Buddha as well as the spread of Buddhism into Sri Lanka.
According to the Mahavamsa, a chronical of Buddhism, the Buddha stopped at this location in the 6th Century BCE while visiting Sri Lanka.
3. Dambulla Cave Temple
Dating back to the 1st century BCE, the temple complex has five caves intricately spaced amongst overhanding rock. The caves were accentuated with arches and gables in 1938. Inside the caves can be found intricate patterns of religious images included those of the Buddha as well as other gods and goddesses.
The caves were gilded in 1190 and over 70 Buddha statues were added making it one of the best temples in Sri Lanka to visit.
4. Mulkirigala Raja Maha Viharaya
This Buddhist temple can be found atop a rock over 200 meters above sea level. To reach it you must travel up 533 steps. The temple itself is comprised of seven Viharas or monasteries along with seven Buddha statues.
Around the temple you can find ancient murals that depict Sri Lanka’s history with Buddhism. It is a great mini lesson on the history of the religion.
5. Ridi Vihara
This Buddhist temple’s name can be translated into ‘Silver Temple‘ and is named so because silver ore was discovered at this site in the 2nd Century BCE. Ridi Vihara is a lesser known temple in Sri Lanka, but still worth visiting. It is near the town of Ridigam, north west of Kandy.
The temple has a lot of interesting art in it including frescoes and Dutch tiles. The artwork is a mixture of many religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, and Hinduism, and a great example who diverse people can come together.
6. The Big Buddha
Overlooking Kandy is a very large statue of the Buddha. Part of a small temple complex, the Buddha towers over everything. The view from the top is just as amazing as you can see the city, the mountains and the lake.
7. Lankatilaka Temple
Located in the Udunuwara region of Kandy, this temple is considered one of the most magnificent architectural feats of the 14th century. Around the temple you ca find paintings and sculptures as well as rock curved inscriptions.
Located in the northern part of the island, this city was once the capital of Sri Lanka, over 1000 years ago. Because of its importance temples, monasteries and statues were built to honor Buddhism. The city has actually been declared a World Heritage Site and as you walk through the many amazing ruins, you’ll understand why.
9. Aluhivare Rock Temple
This sacred Buddhist temple in Sri Lank is located in the Matale District, 30 kilometers north of Kandy. It is surrounded by caves but the temple itself is in a cave. The history of the temple dates back to the 3rd century BCE when the King began plans for the temple shortly after Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka.
The Pali Canon, a collection of Buddhist scriptures was written at this location and there are many nearby monastery caves that feature Buddhist frescoes.
This Buddhist temple is located just southeast of Wellawaya, in the Monaragala District of Sri Lanka. It is home to the largest standing statue of Buddha in all of the island, measuring 51 feet high. The temple complex dates back to the 10th century and there are seven statues which belong to the Mahayana school of thought.
11. Dhowa Rock Temple
Located 210 kilometers east of Colombo and 120 kilometers south of Kandy, this Buddhist temple in Sri Lank is off the beaten path. It is located in the village of Dhowa in a mountainous region.
The temple is over 200 years old and features a very large, unfinished image of Buddha carved into the rock face. Across the plateau of the village is a river that flows, making this a magical seeming place.
12. Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi
In the Mahamewna Gardens of Anuradhapura, is a sacred fig tree that was once the offshoot of the sacred tree under which the Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment. The tree was planted in 249 BCE and is now the oldest living human-planted tree in the world. It is an incredibly sacred relic for Buddhist in Sri Lanka and indeed, Buddhists all over the world.
Around the tree are many statues of Buddha as well as ruins of ancient temples. In order to protect the sacred fig tree, the government banned all construction within 500 meters of the tree in 2014.
The best Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka feature a mixture of caves, statues and artwork. Some are old and crumbling while some are new and pristine. Every city and town has a Buddhist temple and many are hidden in the rural countryside.
Any trip to Sri Lanka is not complete until touring these sites that pay homage to this ancient religion. Sri Lanka was a founding country of Buddhism and its culture is reflected in its history.