KelaniyaThe Kelaniya Dagoba (stupa) is among the most venerated religious sites in Sri Lanka. A day trip to the temple complex, just a few kilometers from Colombo, provided us with a wonderful introduction to Buddhist history in the country. It is believed the Buddha visited the site at the time of his third trip to Sri Lanka. The dagoba is hollow, and was built to hold the throne from which he delivered his sermon.

Splendid art

The temple at Kelaniya was destroyed by invaders several times–Indian, then Portuguese–and eventually restored under the Dutch occupation of Sri Lanka in the 18th century. Today, the temple is beautifully kept, inside and out.
These little fellows adorn the base of the temple façade. They seem to be holding up the weight of the world, figuratively at least. These miniature sculptures are not objects of veneration for Buddhists, but rather, figures traditionally believed to attract wealth and happiness to the place where they abide.
Twentieth-century wall paintings by master Solias Mendis tell the stories of the Buddha’s life. This temple art is rich in detail and steeped in Buddhist tradition.
Art covers walls and ceilings of temple rooms and hallways. Here, King Keerthis Sri Rajasinghe is seen making a presentation to the monk named as the last ‘Sangha Raja’ of Sri Lanka.

Vibrant atmosphere

Today, the temple remains an active place of worship, which just adds to the atmosphere.

Flowers and devotional objects for sale along the avenue leading to the Kelaniya Temple.

When Tom and I visited the temple precincts, devotees circled an outdoor shrine. Inside, pilgrims prayed before a reclining Buddha said to have been built during the reign of the Kandyan King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe. Families with children received instruction from a saffron-robed monk. A mother invited me to watch as a monk intoned a blessing over her infant son. Everywhere, there was the aroma of incense.

Monks and schoolboys arrive at the temple with water lilies.
Devotees light incense and walk the perimeter of the temple’s outdoor shrine with its Bodhi tree.
A monk leads pilgrims in devotions before an enormous reclining Buddha draped in gauzy fabric.
A drummer summons participants inside the temple, for an address by the head monk.
A monk speaks to a group of parents and children seated in the main hall of the temple.
Oil lamps flicker under a canopied cover outside the temple.

If you go

Before catching a three-wheeler back to Colombo, we stopped at a tiny restaurant in the small market across from the entrance to the temple compound. The proprietor was delighted to have us stop in, and brought a platter of ‘short eats’ (snacks) to our table for us to choose from.

Food stalls at mini-markets like the one across from the entrance to Kelaniya Great Temple of Sanctity are great places to sample ‘short eats’ in the company of locals. You are only charged for what you eat.

A tuk-tuk ride out from central Colombo takes about forty minutes and is an experience in itself!

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Our day trip to Kelaniya was made from The Kingsbury, our very comfortable base in Colombo. Thanks for hosting our stay!

To see all our travel stories from Sri Lanka, click here


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  1. How stunning, and it all looks so beautifully cared for. I especially love those miniature sculptures. They make me smile, and I can understand how that creates good karma, so perhaps they do bring luck!

    I very much want to go to Sri Lanka. My father was there (sadly) during WW2 and still says it’s the most beautiful country he’s ever seen, even though he isn’t drawn to the culure particularly.


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