Other Buddhist Attractions
Sri Lanka is predominantly a Buddhist country. Buddhist temples, shrines, and Buddha statues are scattered throughout the island, striving to calm the minds of its inhabitants. Here are a few sacred Buddhist sites. There are thousands more.
Adam’s Peak – Adam’s Peak is also known as Sri Pada. The ascent to this holy mountain must be done at least once in a lifetime. For tourists seeking an exciting trek, a spiritual ascent, or a deviation from the standard form of getting to a site by vehicle, climbing Adam’s Peak is probably one of the most atypical travel experiences one could get in Sri Lanka. According to Buddhist traditions from as early as 300 BCE, the footprint atop the rock was left by the Buddha during the third and final of his legendary visits to Sri Lanka.
Sri Maha Bodhi - Sri Maha Bodhi is a sacred fig tree in Anuradhapura. It is reckoned as the oldest, surviving, human-planted tree in the world with a known planting date. It was brought to Sri Lanka by Theri Sangamitta, daughter of Emperor Asoka and was planted in the Mahameghavana Park in Anuradhapura in 249 BCE by King Devanampiyatissa. It is said to be the southern branch of the Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi at Buddha Gaya in India under which the Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment.
Jetawanaramaya - Many have agreed that Jetawanaramaya is the tallest stupa in the world. This compound once housed over 3000 Buddhist monks. One side of the stupa is 576 feet long, and the flights of stairs at each of the four sides of it are 28 feet wide.
Abhayagiri Dagaba - The terms Abhayagiri Dagaba means not only a complex of monastic buildings, but also a fraternity of Buddhist monks, or Sangha. Founded in the second century BCE, it had grown into an international institution, attracting scholars from all over the world and encompassing all shades of Buddhist philosophy.
Mahiyangana – Mahiyangana is recorded to be the first of the three places in Sri Lanka which the Buddha himself visited. The others are Kelaniya Royal Temple and Adam's Peak. Enshrined in the stupa is a lock of blue-black hair and a relic of the collarbone of the Buddha. The Mahiyangana Perahera (procession) is unique, as it is the only one that features the native Veddhas. It is held in September each year and definitely worth seeing.
Nagadeepa (Nainativu) – Nainativu is one of the smallest inhabited islands in the Gulf of Mannar and is only about 35 miles from India. Pilgrims have also been coming to Nainativu for centuries to worship at its famous stupa. Near the dagaba is a robust tree, the cutting of which is supposed to have been brought by the Lord Buddha.
Half the enjoyment of a pilgrimage to Nagadeepa is actually getting there. The road from Jaffna runs across a long causeway to the island of Kayts from where another causeway leads to Punkudutivu. The landscape is flat and sandy, dotted with numerous palm trees and completely different from everywhere else in Sri Lanka. On the far side of this second island one must take a boat to Nainativu where there are two jetties, one at the Hindu temple and another at Nagadeepa Vihara. If most of the passengers are Hindus the boat stops at the former and if most are Buddhists it stops at the latter. Public and private buses run regularly from Jaffna to Punkudutivu and the boat is timed to leave just after the bus arrives.
Digavapi Dagaba – Digavapi Dagaba has been built by King Saddhatissa. It is said that the Buddha along with some Arahaths, attained a state of tranquillity (Samadi) here. The Buddha on his third visit to Sri Lanka, after spending the day at the foot of Adam's Peak set out for Digavapi. He gave himself up to meditation to consecrate the spot.
Samadhi Statue - The Samadhi Buddha statue is considered to be one of the finest pieces of Buddha sculpture, and also, probably one of the most soothing. The statue is 8 feet in height and made of granite.
Sri Dalada Maligawa or the Temple of the Tooth - The Temple of the Tooth which is commonly known as Sri Dalada Maligawa is situated in Kandy. It is an important shrine for Buddhists as it holds the tooth relic of the Lord Buddha. It is famous for its carvings and the beautiful art that is unique to Sri Lanka. Kandy is a UNESCO world heritage site, in part due to the temple.
Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara – According to the legends, the Naga King invited the Lord Buddha to a meal at the spot where the Kelaniya stands today, and later, built a Vihara where the Buddha's hair, the utensils and the seat used by the Lord were buried. The Kelaniya Temple is a splendid example of Buddhist architecture and art. At the temple's entrance one finds the Makara Thorana archway. The Makara is a symbol of protection in local mythology, and is a stylized depiction of animals combined into an elaborate pattern. It has the trunk of an elephant, the body of a fish, the feet of a lion, the ears of a hog, the teeth of a monkey and the tail of a swan.
Mihintale - Mihintale is considered to be the location where Buddhism was first introduced to the island of Sri Lanka. According to historical sources, in the middle of the third century BCE the Indian Emperor Ashoka sent his son, Mahinda, to Sri Lanka to spread the teachings of the Buddha. Mahinda and his group of Buddhist monks were camped upon the sides of Mount Mihintale when King Devanampiya Tissa of Anuradhapura encountered them during a royal hunting expedition. The date of this meeting between King Devanampiya Tissa and the Buddhist monk is believed to have been on the full moon in June in the year 247 BCE.
The peak of Mihintale, can be approached by a grand stairway of 1840 granite steps. The surroundings offer many temples, ponds, lodgings for monks and several splendid statues of the Buddha. Each June on the full moon there is a pilgrimage and perahera (procession) commemorating the date when Mahinda first preached the Buddhist doctrine in Sri Lanka.
Thuparamaya - Thuparamaya is an image house built in the 3rd Century BCE for the worship of the Lord Buddha. The barrel-vaulted and domed buildings have very thick brick walls, stuccoes and painted with figures and architectural subjects. The roof is still intact and several images in the interior are preserved.
Dambulla – The cave-temple of Dambulla dates back to the 1st century BCE when King Valagam Bahu was driven out of Anuradhapura and took refuge here. When he regained his throne, he converted the cave into a temple. It is the largest and best preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. The rock towers 160m over the surrounding plains. There are more than 80 documented caves in the surroundings. The temple is a perfect location to view the evolution of the ancient Sri Lankan arts. The sculptures here are beyond description.
Aluviharaya - Aluvihare is one of the most important cultural sites in Sri Lanka. It was here, in the 1st century BCE that the Buddhist doctrines of the Tripitikaya or “three baskets of the law,” along with the commentaries, were first transcribed after having been handed down orally for several centuries. This transcription was carried out for fear that the doctrine would be lost during the upheaval caused by repeated South Indian invasions. It is said that 500 scholarly monks congregated at Aluvihare to perform the task of first reciting the doctrines and agreeing on an acceptable version before writing them down.
Aluvihare is a rock monastery located in a picturesque valley. It can be easily recognised from the road because of a boundary wall with a frieze of elephant heads. This sacred place is remarkable for the huge rocks that are an integral part of it, which is why it is classified as a rock temple.