Gal Vihara

A 5 hour drive north - east from the commercial capital of Colombo will lead you to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa straight out from an Indiana Jones movie, and in it the Gal Vihara (translated as ‘Rock Temple’) that looks like a monument that will hold some treasures beyond our wildest dreams. Although not containing treasures of financial value, it certainly does carry treasures with immense cultural value with its stone sculptures of Buddha intricately carved with so much detail that you would wonder how such crafts were made with a hammer and chisel.

Best Known For

  • The Gal Vihara has become one of the major attractions in Polonnaruwa, and in the whole of Sri Lanka, since it houses the best preserved caves where the sculptures of the Lord Buddha in the four stances reside.
  • The Cave of Vijjadharas and the Excavated Cave houses intricately carved images of Lord Buddha in the Dhyana Mudra (meditative attitude).
  • The Cave of Standing Image, housing a 7 metre tall stone sculpture of Buddha is the second largest statue in the cave temples.
  • The largest sculpture being in the Cave of Reclining Image is 14 metres long with the typical intricacy of Sinhalese rock carving of the time.
  • The Gal Vihara is also considered to be one of the more sacred Buddhist shrines of Sri Lanka due to its relatively well preserved complex, which allows devotees to engage in rituals as per the traditions.

Interesting Facts

  • The Gal Vihara is a creation of the great King Parakramabahu of the Polonnaruwa era (1153 - 1186), who is also credited for commissioning the great palace complex, and the Vatadage (stupa house) that housed the sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha.
  • Gal Vihara got its name after the images of Buddha were carved out, however, before the sculptures came to being, this complex was called ‘Uttaramaya’ (Northen Temple).
  • As the Gal Vihara is located in Polonnaruwa, within the Cultural Triangle it is culturally significant and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • During the initial stages of the temple’s discovery, it was believed that the standing image of Lord Buddha was believed to be Ananda his disciple, due to the difference in other traditional statues. However, after much archaeological discoveries it is confirmed to be the Budhha himself.
  • The cave of reclining image shows the most intricate sculpture of the Buddha in the ‘parinirvana’ stance (nirvana after death), where the pillow on which the Buddha’s palm is resting. The attention to detail is so great that a subtle depression in the pillow under the head and the lotus symbols on the pillow end and on the soles of Buddha's feet can be visible.
  • It is also believed that the sculptures in the meditative stance were once painted in gold, however, has long been looted.

Times, Seasons and Tips

  • The season to visit the temple is during months from July to October / November when the weather is clear.
  • The Gal Vihara is located inside the ancient city, which will cost USD 25 to enter.
  • Moreover, the temple is opened for visitors from 7.30am to 6.00pm, and is advised to visit during the morning or afternoon since there are many other sites to visit in the area.
  • It is important to be clad in attire that is in compliance to Buddhist traditions (cover arms and legs).
  • It is best to bring some snacks and mineral water along your trip, since it can get quite warm.
  • As always, please adhere to the rules and regulations set forth by the authorities.

Polonnaruwa truly is a cultural wonder of Sri Lanka, with so many monuments of religious and cultural importance to the country, such as that seen in the Gal Vihara, certainly make it a place not to miss during your cultural escapade in the Paradise Isle.

Title image by: Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau

Location info






LKR 4,600
Children Between the Ages of 6 and 12
LKR 2,300
Children Below 6 Years of Age - Free of Charge

Tickets At

Guided Tour

Gemini Tours & Travels


Culture and Heritage

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