Incredible Temples of Sri Lanka | Guide to Travelers

The power and effect of the religious sites of Sri Lanka cannot be understated. Together, they represent thousands of years of cultural and religious heritage in one beautiful island nation.

While Sri Lanka has much to offer—including the Sacred Tooth Relic, soaring Buddha statues, and endless religious landmarks for many religions—some of these stunning sites are more popular from the rest. From the twenty-five day festival at the Hindu temple Nallur Kovil, to ancient trees believed to have originated thousands of years ago. Sri Lanka religious history has stunning, fascinating depth.

Explore the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha, or the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree, which is over 2,200 years old. Nagadeepa is steeped in religious history, as it tells the tale of two kings warring over a gem-encrusted throne until Lord Buddha stepped in and brought peace to their people.

The Ruwanweli Seya is not only one of the biggest monuments on the planet, but a feat of engineering. Detailed records give us incredible glimpses into the engineering minds of ancient Sri Lankans.

Even Catholics have a place in Sri Lankan history through the popular Our Lady of Madhu Madonna-and-child statue. Visit the Nallur Kovil temple comples to get a greater appreciation for the richness of many temples, built on top of each other through many centuries—Sri Lankan style.

Here are a few of the favorite and most popular places to visit.

Sri Dalada Maligawa

Image of Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy
Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy | Source:  saiko3p/Shutterstock.com

The Temple of the Tooth is one of the most important Buddhist religious sites in the entire country. It contains a shrine with a tooth of the great Buddha!

Legend states that the tooth was retrieved from Lord Buddha’s funeral pyre in the Indian city of Kusinagara. The tooth was violently fought over throughout India, as they believed that whoever possessed the sacred tooth relic would have a divine right to rule over the land.

In the year 400 B.C., the princess Hemamala hid the relic in her hair and travelled from India to Sri Lanka disguised as a Brahmin. King Kirthi Sri Meghavarna welcomed the princess and the tooth. Throngs of Buddhists still come to spend a moment in the presence of the Sacred Tooth Relic.

Local hotels and food will keep you well rested and full of delicious cuisine. What are you waiting for? Stop by today!

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Tree

Image of Panorama of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Temple
Panorama of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Temple | Source:  eFesenko/Shutterstock.com

Growing in a sacred courtyard in one of Sri Lanka’s oldest capital cities is an ancient tree. The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is a sacred fig tree which is said to have grown from the southern branch of the Sri Bodhi tree where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment.

The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi was planted in the year 249 B.C., making it the oldest known human-planted tree. The sacred fig tree has been cared for continuously by an uninterrupted succession of guardians since it was first planted 2, 261 years ago. The tree is known and revered worldwide by Buddhists. Delicious places to eat abound in Anuradhapura, as well as safe, clean places to stay. We know you’ll love it here at the sacred Bodhi tree.

Ruwaneli Seya

Image of Ruwanweli Seya Dagoba facade Anuradhapura
Ruwanweli Seya Dagoba facade Anuradhapura | Source:  suronin/Shutterstock.com

Not only can you get living history in Sri Lanka, but one of the largest monuments on the planet.

The Ruwanweli Seya is an ancient stupa built by King Dutugamunu in Anuradhapura during in the 2nd century B.C. The stupa is ninety-one meters tall and two hundred and ninety meters wide. In other words, it’s huge!

Records show that while building the foundation, the following steps were taken: 1) the area was levelled and dug to a depth of seven cubits. 2) round stones were brought in by warriors, and these stones were broken by small hammers and flattened by elephants. 3) Clay from the Himalayas was spread over the stones and bricks followed by layers of white quartz stones, copper, iron, fragrant clay, white stones, slabs of stones, mercury, arsenic, sesame oil, bronze sheets, and silver sheets, all for just the foundation!

 Anuradhapura offers delicious cuisines from all over the world as well as stunning hotels.

Image of Ruwanwelisaya with statue of Buddha Anuradhapura.
Ruwanwelisaya with statue of Buddha Anuradhapura. | Source:  eFesenko/Shutterstock.com
Image of Ruwanwelisaya Chedi in the sacred city of Anuradhapura
Ruwanwelisaya Chedi in the sacred city of Anuradhapura | Source:  Sergieiev/Shutterstock.com

Nagadeepa

Image of Silver Stupa Dagoba in Nagadeepa Nainativu Buddhist Temple
Silver Stupa Dagoba in Nagadeepa Nainativu Buddhist Temple | Source:  ThePhotographerSL/Shutterstock.com

Nagadeepa is undoubtedly the most famous religious place in the north near Jaffna.

Southern Sri Lankans believe that the Lord Buddha visited Nagadeepa on his last visit to Sri Lanka in order to settle a dispute within the tribe of the Nayanair people.

The island is home to both Hindu and Buddhist temples, including the Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple, a vibrantly colored and extensively decorated Hindu temple dedicated to Pavarti and Shiva.

A Buddhist shrine, the Naha Vihara, is also located on the island as well as one of the sixty-four prominent Shakti Peethas; a Hindu worshipping place dedicated to Shakti or Sati who is the female principle of Hinduism.

Delicious foods and luxurious—or budget—accommodations await you. What are you waiting for? This fascinating place can’t wait to see you!

Madhu Church

Image of The Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu is a Roman Catholic Marian shrine in Mannar
The Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu is a Roman Catholic Marian shrine in Mannar | Source:  saiko3p/Shutterstock.com

Did you know Catholicism is part of Sri Lanka’s troubled past?

The Madhu Church, or Our Lady of Madhu, is a popular Roman Catholic shrine here. During the Dutch invasion of the 17th century, a group of twenty Catholic families ran away with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Around the same time, hundreds of Catholics migrated from the Jaffna Peninsula to the Wanni forestes. The two communities met in Madhu, where they built a shrine to protect the statue of the Virgin Mary.

The Madhu Church has over four hundred years of history, including terrible violence.  There is an annual feast for Our Lady of Madhu in August each year. In the past, the celebration touched close to a million people.

There are comfortable accommodations (most are budget-friendly) and plenty of delicious places to eat. For a unique experience, stop by Our Lady of Madu during your Sri Lankan stay!

Nallur Kovil

Image of Nallur Kandaswamy temple
Nallur Kandaswamy temple | Source:  Jakub Zlamal/Shutterstock.com

Nallur Kovil is more than just a temple; it’s many temples and one of the most important Hindu temple complexes in the entire country. 

The Kovil is actually a group of temples, each built at different times across many centuries. The main deity worshipped here is Lord Muruga, who is presented in the form of the holy Vel. Many buildings and temples attributed to the Nallur Kovil were built on top of each other. The first of these temples was built in the year 948 A.D.

The most fabulous attraction of the Nallur Kovil is the annual festival that takes place over twenty-five days through July and August. The festival features vibrant chariot processions, dancing, drumming, and acts of self-mortification. The festival is said to have its origins from over nine hundred years ago.

Although it’s changed over the centuries, it’s still one of the most colourful and vibrant Hindu festivals in all of Sri Lanka.

Image of Golden Entrance Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil Hindu Temple
Golden Entrance Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil Hindu Temple | Source:  Pius Lee/Shutterstock.com

Image of Old Jaffna City Taxi car and driver Nallur Kovil Sri Lanka
Old Jaffna City Taxi car and driver Nallur Kovil Sri Lanka | Source: Maithreebhanu /Dreamstime.com
Image of Indian temple sri lanka
Indian temple sri lanka | Source: Prashantdixit/Dreamstime.com

Conclusion

Is there anywhere else on the planet that you can find such a stunning array of religious history? From the Sacred Tooth Relic—which is believed to be the literal tooth of the Lord Buddha—to the hindu temple Nallur Kovil which honors the Hindu Lord Muruda, there are many places to see in Sri Lanka. Don’t miss Our Lady of Madhu, a Roman Catholic church that holds festivals drawing up to one million people. The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is a sacred fig tree over 2,000 years old, which is almost as impressive as Nagadeepa, which tells the tale of two Kings that fought over a gem-encrusted throne until Lord Buddha intervened. To sum all these up, the Ruwanweli Seya is one of the biggest monuments on the planet, and an architectural wonder! All of these places have safe places to stay and delicious food to eat, giving you a new view of Sri Lanka that you’ll never forget.

Image of Panorama of the Stupa of Dambulla Golden Temple
Panorama of the Stupa of Dambulla Golden Temple | Source:  eFesenko/Shutterstock.com
Image of Golden Buddha Statue
Golden Buddha Statue | Source:  Lyubov Timofeyeva/Shutterstock.com
Image of Indian temple sri lanka
Indian temple sri lanka | Source: Prashantdixit/Dreamstime.com
Image of The ceiling and walls Lankathilaka Vihara covered with fine floral patterns sri lanka
The ceiling and walls Lankathilaka Vihara covered with fine floral patterns sri lanka | Source: Evgeniy Fesenko /Dreamstime.com
Image of Isurumuniya Viharaya old buildings Anuradhapura
Isurumuniya Viharaya with its old buildings Anuradhapura | Source:  shutterlk/Shutterstock.com