Sri Lanka is a country of many traditions and faiths, but most of its residents are Sinhalese Buddhists. As such, exploring the Buddhist temples of the country offers a gateway to understanding the culture and traditions of most of its people. Gangaramaya Temple is one of the most important temples in Colombo and one of the city’s more interesting sites.
This Buddhist temple is encompassed by several buildings and is situated in the heart of Colombo, not far from Beira Lake. It includes a Vihara (temple), a Bodhi tree, an Image house, and an assembly hall for monks. The complex also has an eclectic museum, library, residential hall and an educational hall. The beautiful Simamalaka Shrine is nearby and a satellite of Gangarmaya Temple, but we’ll be discussing that lovely place in a separate blog.
Don Bastian (de Silva Jayasuriya Goonewardane, Mudaliyar), a 19th century shipping merchant, bought the land the temple is situated on. It was marshy at the time and Don Basian filled the land and began construction of what became the Padawthota Gangaramaya Viharaya. A ‘Bo’ sapling brought from the great Sri Maha Bhodiya tree in Anuradhapura, was also planted here.
Gangaramaya is a center of Buddhist worship, education, an orphanage and a site that aids those in the community needing help. It is home to a lively and colorful Vesak festival and Perihera celebration.
Visiting the Gangaramaya Temple complex:
A modest admission fee is charged and you are allowed to enter the complex and explore its features in a clockwise fashion. Your first stop is at the Viharaya which is a feast for the eyes. The colors are bright and cheerful and a large assortment of Buddha statues in a variety of poses are present, many with small gifts and offerings left by pilgrims. The walls have amazing detailed artwork and murals depicting the life and teachings of Buddha. Even some Hindu symbols can be found, like the statue of lord Ganesha depicted below.
As you leave the Image House, you’ll enter a courtyard which contains some symbols of Sri Lanka’s heritage, like a moonstone and guardian stones. Within the courtyard you’ll find a beautiful small white stupa in front of which sits a new Samadhi Buddha statue which is chiselled out of white jade. The statue was crafted by an artisan from Myanmar. You’ll find an interesting assortment of items in the courtyard, including a stuffed tusker, burning incense, and a statue to one of the temple’s great teachers.
Also adjoining the courtyard is a copy of Borobudur in Central Java, the world’s largest Buddhist temple (see image at top of post). On top of it are rows and rows of Buddha figures. Within the temple you’ll find an assortment of artifacts, the most important being a small replica of the Emerald Buddha from Thailand, but which like the Emerald Buddha is also made of jade.
Gangaramaya’s museum is one of the most unique I’ve ever encountered. There are thousands of items on display which have been gifted and donated to the temple over the decades, ranging from watches, beautiful carvings, jewelry, ivory, important furniture pieces, and most fascinating some amazingly well preserved vintage vehicles, including nearly century old Rolls-Royce and Mercedes cars.
Lastly, I’d like to thank a young monk who did not speak English (and I no Sinhalese), but we communicated through my friend Dottie (Sir Arthur C Clarke’s former secretary). The monk showed us around a little and was especially proud of an ancient elevator which moved from the first floor to the second floor by his pulling on a rope — an ancient “green” technology. It was a very very smooth ride indeed!
A fascinating place and most definitely worth a few hours of your time when in Colombo!
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