The Most Enchanting Buddhist Temples in Sri Lanka

Dambulla Cave Temple
Dambulla Cave Temple | © Dinu Perera
Tasneem Shakir Hussain

Buddhism encompasses a significant part of the culture and history of Sri Lanka, which is why numerous Buddhist temples are seen throughout the country. One noteworthy temple is the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, which is home to the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha himself.

Timeless tales and fascinating fables surround this tear drop-shaped island nation that is the proud host to multicultural legacies in its time-honoured and colourful history that predates some of the most ancient faiths in the world. Both large and small temples of diverse beliefs that have withstood the lengthy test of time dot the nation.

Big or small, every temple is home to legends of the past, intrinsic artistic details and beautiful carvings that represent the ancient traditions and customs that still subsist in the present day. Each of these temples offers a fascinating insight into the Sri Lankan culture, and although some of them are over a millennium old, the ruins and pillars still evoke a sense of mystery and wonder to those who visit them.

Dambulla Cave Temple

The Dambulla Cave Temple, also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla, is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with over 80 caves in the location. The main attractions are spread throughout five caves, which are intricately designed with carvings, statues and paintings depicting the life of Gautama Buddha. The complex is home to 153 Buddha statues and murals that narrate tales of the temptation of Mara, the demon and Buddha’s first sermon.

Dambulla Cave Temple, Kandy – Jaffna Hwy, Dambulla, Sri Lanka, +94 66 2 283605

The golden Buddha statue, just downhill from the cave temple
A Pagoda at the Golden Temple of Dambulla
The Golden Buddha statue, Dambulla Golden Temple, just downhill from the Cave Temple
Shrine rooms inside the Cave Temple
Some of the many epochs of Sinhala sculpture and Sinhala art inside the cave

Pidurangala Royal Cave Temple

Constructed on top of a massive rock called Pidurangala, the Pidurangala Royal Cave Temple is an ancient Buddhist temple, refurbished by King Kashyapa for the Bhikkhus as compensation for requesting them to move out of Sigiriya, where they used to meditate.

Pidurangala Royal Cave Temple, Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

The reclining Buddha statue at the Pidurangala Cave Temple

Mihintale Temple

The inauguration of Buddhism in Sri Lanka began at this mountain peak near Anuradhapura, which is believed to be the meeting site of the Buddhist monk Mahinda and King Devanampiyatissa. This epicentre of Buddhism is now a popular pilgrimage site, with several religious monuments and abandoned structures frequented by devotees and visitors from all over the world.

Mihintale Temple, Mihintalekanda, Mihintale, Sri Lanka

The Ruwanwelisaya stupa built by King Dutugemunu 140 B.C.
Abhayagiri vihāra – one of the most extensive ruins in the world in one of the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage cities
Jetavanaramaya stupa – a part of a sash or belt tied by the Buddha is believed to be enshrined here
Ambasthala Dagaba, a small stupa surrounded by stone pillars
A colossal statue of the Buddha which presides over the whole site from a hilltop

Rumassala Temple

Featured in the Ramayana as home to the beautiful Queen Sita, and known to most colonialists as Buona Vista, this beautiful rock is the subject of a number of legends. The Sama Ceitya is the stupa built by the Japanese, referred to as the Peace Pagoda, and is one of the four such stupas in Sri Lanka.

Rumassala Temple, Peace Pagoda, Unawatuna, Sri Lanka

The Rumassala Hillock, which is said to be the chunk of Himalaya that fell off when Monkey-warrior Hanuman was carrying it to the battlefield
Beautiful sunsets from the Peace Pagoda
Statue of the Lord Buddha inside the Peace Pagoda

Sri Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth)

Located within the former palace complex of the ancient Kandyan Kingdom, Sri Dalada Maligawa, or the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, is home to the most venerated dentistry of the Lord Buddha himself. Situated in the heart of the last capital city of the Sri Lankan kings, scenic landscapes surround this temple, which is one of the eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the island.

Sri Dalada Maligawa, Sri Dalada Veediya, Kandy, Sri Lanka, +94 81 2 234226

The ancient ‘Vada Sitina Maligawa’, home to the sacred Tooth Relic
Inside the hallway at the Maligawa
The Paththirippuwa (the Octagon)

Seema Malaka Temple

Located on Beira Lake, the Seema Malaka Temple is mainly a place for meditation and rest. It is a part of the Gangaramaya Temple and is often brightly lit to commemorate festivals celebrated all throughout the Buddhist calendar.

Seema Malaka Temple, Sir James Pieris Mawatha, Colombo, Sri Lanka, +94 11 2 435169

The Seema Malaka Temple beautifully lit up under the night lights of Colombo

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