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Sacred Sites – 8D Sri Lanka Guides
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8D Sri Lanka Guides / Sacred Sites


Abayagiriya was the second largest in the island after the Jetawana. It was built by King Vattagamini Abhaya (also known as Valagambahu) in the 15C BC. It was said to stand 113 m high, with a diameter of nearly the same size. The dagoba was part of a monastic complex put up by Vattagamini Abhaya and added to by later kings, notably Mahasena, in the 3rdC. This included image houses, bo-tree shrines, residences for monks, refectories, assembly halls and bathing ponds, set in an area covering nearly 200 hectares.


Aluvihare Cave temple near Matale in central Sri Lanka where the main texts of Theravada Buddhism, the Tripitaka, which had been handed down orally, were written down for the first time, in the 15C BC. This was a major contribution to the preservation of the Theravada canon, as it had been lost in India, the birthplace of Buddhism About 500 monks are said to have taken part in the work, inscribing the words in Pali, the language used by the Buddha, on *ola leaves. Much of the temple complex, including its library, was destroyed in 1848, when the British heavy-handedly put down a nationalist rebellion. The temple may have been founded by King Vattagamini Abhaya (1stC BC), who had taken shelter in the caves while waiting to recapture his throne from South Indian invaders. The caves, which contain frescoes on the walls, have been formed by boulders fallen off a hill.


When the kingdom was shifted from Anurdhapura to Polonnaruwa King Vijayabahu I build the this shrine and that is the Temple of tooth on the quadrangle, Dalada Maluwa in front of the Vatadage. It was built in a higher elevation and consisted of several storeys. The Tooth Relic would have been placed on the upper storey.

Gal Viharaya

Four colossal Buddha images have been carved from one large rock. At the left while facing the shrine is a sedent Buddha. This image is preserved. In the background of the statue on the edge of the rock is the carving of a Pandol. Next is the “Vidyadhara Cave”. This cave shrine hollowed out with the altar, a stone umbrella (supported by a stone shaft over the dome of the stupa) and other decorations and the sedent Buddha image is carved out of the living rock. This is an artificial cave. Although these are preserved, all the paintings have been destroyed. Inside the cave are the statues of gods Brahma and Vishnu. Next is the Polonnaruwa Edict popularly known as “Polonnaru Katikawata”. Parakramabahu the Great along with Dimbulagala Kasyapa Thera, purified and restored the Sasana and engraved in the edict rules for the guidance of monks. The next image is a large figure of the Buddha. The statue of the Buddha standing with arms crossed over the chest and with a sorrowful expression in the countenance and is the only one of its kind in Ceylon. According to some, this depicts the symbol of “Paradukkha dukkhita” – He who is sorrowing for the sorrows of others. Finally at the extreme right is an image of the recumbent Buddha. There is also a view that this image depicts the Parinirvana (passing away) of the Buddha.

Golden Cave Temple

This temple has been a sacred place of sanctity for the buddhist since the second century BC. The temple stands out as a very impressive cave temple well known for its strategic location on a rock slab reflecting the ancient culture of the island based on Buddhism and inspired by buddhist ideals. The art of sculpture and painting could be well observed. This is certainly a temple of exceptional caliber that makes us certainly proud of Sri Lankas past. There are a series of five caves turned into shrines and also are numerous images of Buddha. The ceiling is too covered with frescoes in which depict great events in the life of the Buddha, and landmarks in the history of Sinhala people.


Hetadage Temple of Tooth also a multi storey building was built by King Nissankamalla. On the western side of the building is a stairway with 10 stone steps. Hetadage name is due to believe that this temple was built and completed within 60 hours. Another place where the Tooth Relic was kept and enshrined.


King Mahasen (273—301 AD.) has the honour of being the builder of the largest stupa in Sri Lanka. The belt tied by the Buddha is said to be enshrined here. Its height is 400ft and is considered the tallest Buddhist stupa in the whole world and the third tallest edifice in the world after the two tallest pyramids of Egypt. It is also the worlds tallest ever building made of brick. The compound of the stupa is 8 acres. One side of the stupa is 576ft in length. The four flights of steps at the four sides is 28ft in depth. The doorpost to the shrine which is situated at the courtyard is 27ft in height. It is 26 feet underground. It is reckoned have been built using 93 million bricks.

Kelaniya Temple

According to the chronicles, Lord Buddha on the 8thyear after enlightenment on full moon day of Vesak, Visited Kelaniya on the invitation of Maniakkhika the Naga king of Kelaniya, seated on the gem throne, the blessed one preached the doctrine. The gem studded throne is enshrined in the dagaba. This Vihara was built by king Yatalatissa. The height of the stupa is 80ft, circumference is 180ft. The dagaba is in the shape of a heap of paddy. In the temple premises are devales dedicated to Gods Kataragama, Vishnu, Natha and Vibhishana.

Kiri Vehera

This Sacred place has been blessed by Lord Buddha in his 3rdarrival to Sri Lanka. Buddha had preached Dhamma to King Mahasen at the Royal Park. This is one of the 16 most venerated places in Sri Lanka. King Mahasen was treated as a god and later a Dewale Temple was built in honor of him. A Bo tree was planted here which was a branch from Sri Maha Bodhi (The Great Bodhi Tree in Anurdhapura).

Mahiyanganaya Temple

It was the first place visited by the Lord Buddha to settle a dispute between the Yakshas near river Mahaveli. Mahiyangana dagaba was built where the Buddha remained during the visit. According to documentary evidence, it was God Saman who enshrined the hair relic of the Buddha and built the stupa to the height of 7 cubits. Later arahant sarabhu brought with him the relic of the neck (Griva Dhatu) from the pyre of the Lord Buddha enshrined it and enlarged it upto 12 cubits. King Chulabhaya, brother of king Devanampiyatissa, enlarged it upto 30 cubits and king Dutugamunu enlarged it upto 80 cubits. The stupa which had got dilapidated was restored recently. It is recorded that out of the eight seeds from Sri Mahabodhi one seed was planted here.


During the reign of king Kitsiri Mevan the tooth relic was brought to Sri Lanka From Kalinga by Princes. Hemamali and Prince Danta. The Tooth relic was considered As the symbol of kingship and became the most sacred object of worship in the island. It was customary for the kings to build a temple near the palace, and to become its custodian. The Tooth Relic was taken to Polonnaruwa, Beli gala, Dambadeniya and Yapahuwa — the capitals of ancient Sri Lanka. It was Aryachakravarti who seized the Tooth Relic and fled to India; however, king Parakramabahu III was able to bring the relic back to Sri Lanka. It was king Vimaladharmasuriya I who brought the Tooth Relic to Kandy. The Tooth Relic temple built by him was renovated by his son Veera Parakrama Narendasingha and Kirti Sri Rajasinghe respectively. King Sri Wickramarajasinghe built the Pattirippuwa or the Octaganal shaped building. A new building was constructed to enclose the ancient temple without changing its architecture. The Tooth Relic is placed in the old shrine.


Eight miles east of Anuradhapura, close to the Anuradhapura – Trincomalee road is situated the “Missaka Pabbata” which is IOOOft in height and is one of the peaks of a mountainous range Though this was called Cetiyagiri or sagiri, it was popularly known as Mihintale — the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Thera Mahinda came to Ceylon from India on the fullmoon day of the month of Poson (June) and met king Devanampiyatissa and people, and preached the doctrine. The traditional spot where this meeting took place is revered by the Buddhists of Sri Lanka. Therefore in the month of Poson, Buddhists make their pilgrimage to Anuradhapura and Mihintale. From ancient times a large number of large steps were constructed to climb Mihintale. It is stated that king Devanampiyatissa constructed a vihara and 68 caves for the bhikkhus to reside. At Mihintale there gradually grew a number of Buddhist viharas with all the dependent buildings characteristic of monasteries Of that period.


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A place sanctified by Buddha during his 3rdvisit to Sri Lanka and Buddha spent time here with arahants in ecstatic mediation and 60 Bhikkus attained arahantship at once at Muthiynaganaya Temple. Buddha’s hair and teardrops that became pearls enshrined in the stupa. It was built by king Devanampiyatissa and was later enlarged by king Detutis.


In the Jaffna Peninsular, in the island of Nainattiu is situated the Nagadipa Vihara. It is one of the sixteen sacred places of worship in Sri Lanka. According to the chronicles, on the fifth year after enlightenment, buddha visited Nagadipa to settle a dispute between two Naga kings – Chulodara and Mahodara regarding a gem throne. There still remains a dagaba and a vihara.The vihara could be reached by boat. This place is sanctified by Buddha.


 This is also known as the Mahathapa, Swarnamali Chaitya and Rathnamali dagaba. The ThUpavamsa gives a complete account of its construction.This dagaba was built on a firm foundation. It is recorded that inside the dagaba are enshrined valuable gems, statues made out of gold, various valuable objects and also relics of the Buddha which measure about a Don. On the four sides of the stupa are the frontispieces (thalkada). The Courtyard on which the stone tablets are laid is known as the Salapatala courtyard. Below the Salapatala courtyard is the compound made of sand (leimaluwa). On the four sides of the compound are the parapat walls with its figures of elephants and has been made to appear as though it were supported by the elephants. There are 1900 figures of elephants on the wall consisting of 475 on each side. Therefore it is known as the elephant compound. In the temple courtyard are the old models of Ruwanveliseya made of stone, a statue of king Dutugemunu worshipping the dagaba. In the image house situated in the temple courtyard are four statues of the Buddhas who have attained Buddhahood in this aeon (kalpa) and the future Buddha (Maitri). All these creations are very old. The pinnacle of Ruwanveliseya is 24 ft in height. The crest gem on the pinnacle is a gift from Burma. Ruwanveliseya is situated a few yards away from Lovamahapaya.


It is believed that a tooth relic of the Buddha is enshrined in this stupa. It is said to have been constructed by king Valagamba in memory of his wife Soma. It is stated that Tooth Relics are found in Tautisa, Nagaloka, Gandhara and Sinhaladeepa. The Tooth Relic in Kandy is believed to be the one which was originally in Gandh’ara. The relic which was at Sinhaladeepa is enshrined in Somawathie Stupa.

Sri Maha Bodhi

During the reign of king Devanampiyatissa, theri Sanghamitta brought with her a branch of the Bodhi tree under which prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment. This is the oldest living tree in documented history. This incident took place a few months after the arrival of Mahinda thera. Amidst much rejoicing and ceremony, this tree was planted at Maha Mevna Uyana. It was planted on a high terrace about 21 feet above the ground. Surrounded by railings, it is today one of the most sacred relics of the Buddhists in Sri Lanka. There are other bo—trees in close proximity to this sacred bo—tree. The parapat wall round the compound where the bo-tree is planted is about 700 ft. in length, which was constructed during the reign of king Kirthi Sri Rajasingha to protect it from the wild elephants.

Sri Padaya

The sacred foot print which is respected by followers of all religions is situated in Samanala Kanda of the central hills. The Buddhists believe that foot print is that of the Lord Buddha’s, Hindus think it to be of god Siva’s, Christians hold that to be Adam’s, while the Muslims believe it to be Allah’s. This is also known as Adam’s Peak, Sivanadi Padam and Samanala Kanda. It is 7360 feet above sea level. The season to climb Sri Pada begins in December on the Unduvap full moon day and ends in April on the Bak full moon day.


Thera Mahinda himself introduced Theravada Buddhism and also chetiya worship to Ceylon. At his request, king Devanampiyatissa built Thuparamaya in which was enshrined the collarbone of the Buddha and is considered the first dagaba built in Sri Lanka, after the introduction of Buddhism. This chetiya was built in the shape of a heap of paddy. It was destroyed from time to time. During the reign of king Agbo II it was completely destroyed and the king restored it. What we have today is the one constructed in 1862 AD. As it is today after several renovations in the course of the centuries, it has a diameter of 59ft at the base. The dome is 11 feet and 4 inches in height from the ground and has a diameter of 164.5 inches. The compound is paved with granite and there are two rows of stone pillars round the dagaba. During the early period a vatadage had been built round the dagaba.


Vatadage is a Circular relic house or a house built encircling a stupa. The Vatadage at Polonnaruwa represents the utmost elaboration of the circular cetiyaghara in Sri Lanka. It is a beautiful circular structure. It consists of two concentric circular stone terraces one above the other. On the stone pillars is constructed the roof of the building. A conventional entrance leads to the first terrace. From this to the upper terrace there are four entrances at the four cardinal points. The upper terrace housed a small dagaba with four statues depicting posture of tranquility (Samadhi). The floor is of stone slabs. According to the rock inscription found there, it is believed that king Nissanka Malla constructed this building.