Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya

Believed to have its beginnings more than 2500 years ago, during Lord Buddha’s third visit to Sri Lanka, the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya has long been known to be one of the more decorated temples in the entire island, as it is home to a great many exquisitely crafted sculptures and intricately detailed murals depicting significant events related to the religion of Buddhism, making it art lover’s paradise. Coupled with a well-documented history that shows its survival even through colonialism, the temple is a treasure trove that is perfect for the history buff to delve in.

Best Known For

  • If one were to talk of the significance of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya, the first thing that would be spoken about is its amazingly crafted sculptures of Lord Buddha, deities and animals, along with immaculate murals and paintings that depict the Jataka Tales (the lives of Lord Buddha) and events depicting the progress of Buddhism in Sri Lanka as a whole.
  • The second thing that would be spoken about is the Duruthu Maha Perahera (procession) that happens during the month of January, considered to be a grand affair filled with a pageantry of elephants carrying sacred relics and unique performances like no other, making it all perfect for many a traveller to marvel at.

Interesting Facts

  • The Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya has origins that go all the way back to 500 BC, when Lord Buddha visited the country for the third time.
  • It is believed that during his visit, he preached and conveyed his teachings on gem studded throne, which was housed in the stupa, making it one of the ‘Solosmasthana’ (16 sacred places believed to have been visited by Lord Buddha). However, due to the invasions by Kalinga Magha and the subsequent colonization by the European empires resulted in the loss of the artifact.
  • The temple has gone through many periods of carnage in the hands of the Indian invaders in the 13th Century and the Portuguese colonisers in the 16th Century.
  • However, in all of that turbulent period, the temple was continuously rebuilt and adorned in great artistry, as the kings of old understood the significance of the temple.
  • What makes this temple a unique one is the possession of a myriad of sculptures and murals that depict other stories of Buddhism as well, in addition to the Jataka Tales.
  • One can see the distinct change in the style of murals, as many of them are more contemporary than one could imagine.
  • One of the more notable contemporary works are the paintings by Solias Mendis, a renowned painter throughout the island, who depicts the progress of Buddhism in the country since its introduction, making the Viharaya an educational one to many a traveller.
  • Apart from the sculptures and murals of the main Viharaya, devotees often visit the Bo Tree too, to perform rituals and recite certain prayers, justifying its importance as one of the Solosmasthana.
  • A main feature of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viahara is the hosting of the Duruthu Maha Perahera that has become quite the procession to attend by many urban folk and tourists, bringing it up to a similar status of the Kandy Esala Perahera.
  • The Duruthu Perahera, held during the month of January, boasts of grand performances, including whip crackers, torch carriers, flag carriers, caparisoned elephants, dancers, trumpeters, drummers and numerous other participants. Therefore, elevating the temple’s significance and making it all the more enticing for many a traveller.

Times, Seasons and Tips

  • The Buddhist temple in Kelaniya is best visited during the mornings and evenings. If you are willing to brave the crowds and witness devotees perform religious rituals, then do make the visit on the weekends.
  • The Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya does not necessarily have a season of visitation, as it is flocked by many a devotee and the wide eyed traveller throughout the year. However, the month of January has been known to be the time when the temple is visited most, as it prepares itself to host the Duruthu Perahera (procession); a grand affair for many.
  • As always, do dress accordingly and respect the traditions of the religion when visiting the temple.
  • Please keep in mind that many devotees often practice rituals here, thereby implying that you give the necessary space without causing any disturbance to them.
  • The viharaya is home to a great many ornate sculptures and stunningly preserved murals relating to the religious texts of Buddhism, making it all the more reason to bring along your camera to click away at the masterpieces.

In conclusion, the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya, with its sculptures and murals crafted with exceptional attention to detail, coupled with the grandeur of hosting of the premier procession in the country, it really is a treat for many a traveller looking to understand Sri Lanka’s vast and unique culture.

The information displayed is provided by Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya




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