Kalutara Bodhiya

Possessing a significant history that dates back to the 2nd Century BC, the Kalutara Bodhiya is a significant place of worship to all Buddhists in the country and the world, as it serves to house the sacred Bodhi tree, believed to be one of the 32 saplings that sprouted from the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. Moreover, the colossal Buddhist stupa in the viharaya, known as the Kalutara Chaithya, prominently overlooking the Kalu Ganga (Black River) proves to be a unique one, in that it is a hollow stupa, as opposed to a solid stupa. Therefore, making the Kalutara Bodhiya a historically unique place of worship not to be missed, should you be travelling down the southern coastal belt of the Paradise Island.

Best Known For

  • The Kalutara Bodhiya is famed for its deep connection to the main religion of Sri Lanka, Buddhism, due to the presence of the sacred Bodhi Tree, believed to be one of the 32 saplings of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura.
  • Another highlighting feature that has been noted by many who visit the temple is the Chaithya (stupa), serving to be a hollow one that houses many artifacts and relics. The Buddhist stupa is also known for affording great views of the city of Kalutara and the Kalu Ganga.

Interesting Facts

  • It is the sacred Bodhi Tree of the Kalutara Bodhiya that gives the complex its important religious connection, as the tree is a sapling of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi (a sapling of the very tree that Lord Buddha attained enlightenment under in Bodh Gaya, India).
  • According to the ancient chronicle, the ‘Sinhala Bodhivamsa’, 32 saplings sprouted from the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura.
  • These 32 saplings were then planted by Arahant Mahinda Thera (renowned as the monk that introduced Buddhism to the country) in various parts of the country.
  • Although being a religious monument, it was close to getting destroyed by the Portuguese colonisers during the 16th Century as the place was converted to a fortress to maintain control of the spice trade.
  • However, it was the Buddhist stupa of the viharaya that felt the brunt of the fortress’s construction, as the stupa (previously known as the Gangatilaka Viharaya) was what eventually got destroyed to make way for the fortress.
  • It was the tireless efforts of local lawyer, Sir Cyril de Zoysa, which enabled the reconstruction of the Gangatilaka Bodhiya, which is now simply known as the Kalutara Chaithya.
  • It was in 1974 that the Kalutara Viharaya became complete again with a colossal hollow stupa, just one of the few hollow stupas in the world.
  • Presently, the stupa possesses 74 murals depicting a different aspect of the Buddha’s life, 4 smaller chaithyas and scenes from the Jataka Tales (literature narrating the previous lives of the Budda) making it not only a place of worship, but also a place of learning for the traveller.
  • A popular practice amongst devotees is to make an offering of money or flowers to ensure a safe journey with the blessings of the Buddha.

Times, Seasons and Tips

  • The Kalutara Viharaya is open daily throughout the year and can be visited at almost any time of the day, however, it is best to visit during the weekday mornings and afternoons, since you could explore the temple more freely and would not be in the way of many pilgrims.
  • Try and avoid full moon days (Poya Days), as many pilgrims flock to the viharaya, making it quite difficult to explore the complex.
  • Since it is a very important cultural and religious place of worship for Buddhists, it is imperative that you come clad in the attire that also covers the knees and shoulders.
  • Do not turn your back in front of any Buddha statues, as it is considered a sign of disrespect.
  • Photography also can be quite tricky in certain instances. Do not pose near the artifacts or sculptures.
  • Many pilgrims come and perform certain rituals near the sacred Bodhi tree, so it is important that you do not disturb them in anyway.

In conclusion, from the outside the Kalutara Bodhiya may look like a typical Buddhist temple, however, a closer look into its history and religious significance would make anyone think otherwise. Therefore, it would be quite a pity to miss visiting it during their journey down the southern coast of Sri Lanka.

Title image by: KNOWSL


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