The Sacred Places
The sacred places of Sri Lanka will be fascinating for those travellers interested in history, culture or eastern religion, not to mention those who are of the faith.
A land of great significance to two of the world’s major religions Buddhism and Hinduism, Lanka as it was known plays a significant part in the ancient religious texts of the sub continent such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata where Lanka was reputed to be populated by a race of devils responsible for interfering in the affairs of gods and men.
To the followers of Theravada Buddhism Sri Lanka is land of great significance with some of the holiest relics of the Buddhist faith to be found on the island, with Buddhism being the predominant religion in the country it is also centre of high learning in theology.
Some of the most important holy sites within the Island are as follows:
Kandy – In the beautiful and sacred complex of the Temple of the Tooth is held the most important relic of Buddhism the tooth of the lord Buddha. Rescued from his funeral pyre in 583 BC it was smuggled into Sri Lanka for safe keeping in the 4th century BC. Apart from its obvious importance to the Buddhist faith the holy relic has also taken special significance the people of Sri Lanka as it is believed that whoever holds possession of the tooth relic holds the right to rule the island.
Many wars have been fought over the protection of the tooth, including the invasion of India by King Parakramabahu III to reclaim it in the 12th century after it was captured in a raid; naturally the colonial powers all sought it unsuccessfully to cement their claim on the island.
The Kandy Esala Perahera – This magnificent festival is a delight to the senses, an impressive cultural show of light, music and dance it is a procession that occurs every year in July/August for ten nights in line with the full moon cycle in honour of the sacred tooth relic.
The Sacred Bodhi Tree – Sri Maha Bodhi is found within the ancient city of Anuradhapura the tree is again of significant importance to the Buddhist faith, grown from a cutting bought from India by Princess Sangamitta the tree is the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world for over two thousand continuous years the guardians of the tree have protected it from harm in the shape of armies and invasions, through the rise and falls of kingdoms, as well as natural blights.
It is said that on reaching Enlightenment the Lord Buddha spent a week in meditation of the original tree and that on his death bed he instructed that a cutting that should fall of its own accord be taken to Sri Lanka.
Kataragama – In the deep south of Sri Lanka is Kataragama, a holy place of pilgrimage for three faiths in Sri Lanka the Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, in the sprawling complex on the banks of the Menik Ganga (River of Gems) all three religions co-exist side by side.
Some of the temple structures within this complex date back to the 1st century BC though the importance of the site is thought to be a lot older, steeped in mysticism Kataragama is held to be home to the Kataragama Deviyo or Lord Skanda the Hindu god of war.
Many are the stories that tell of miracles and prayers answered at this holy place, and during the Kataragama festival held July/August thousands of pilgrims and faithful come to worship or seek the favour of the god of Kataragama.
Adams Peak: Sri Pada as it is known locally is found in the southern highlands of Sri Lanka in a magnificent setting this peak rises 2243 metres and is a place of important pilgrimage to three of faiths in Sri Lanka.
At the peak of the mountain is found a giant footprint in the rock embedded in the rock, the Christians and Muslims it is believed that this footprint marks the first step on earth made by Adam on his expulsion from Eden, the Buddhists it is believed that it is the footprint of the Lord Buddha as he headed toward paradise.
From the period lasting from December to May thousands of pilgrims and some adventurous tourists make the daunting climb to the peak, during this time of year nightfall reveals a snaking line of lights up to the peak as the pilgrims who climb throughout the night.
John Stills is quoted from his book the Jungle Tide as saying that the peak is “one of the vastest and most reverenced cathedrals of the human race”, the view from the top of the peak is breathtaking and a lot of climbers brave the overnight climb to witness the unique natural spectacle that occurs when the sunrises being a perfect triangle of shadow cast over the land which gradually disappears into the foot of the mountain as the sun ascends.
Dambulla Rock Temple – Dating back to the 1st century BC the cave temples of Dambulla are built into a rock outcropping about 200 metres from road level, there creation is credited to King Valagamba had to take refuge at this place after being forced to vacate his throne at Anuradhapura, on recovery of his throne he had the interior of the caves carved to the magnificent spectacle that they are today.
Other kings of Sri Lanka contributed to the development of this temple complex, including King Nissanka Malla who had the temples gilded, resulting in it being given the local name of Ran Giri or Golden rock.
A stunning sight from a historical, religious and artistic perspective Dambulla Rock temple is well worth a visit.
Mihintale – Of great importance to the Buddhists of Sri Lanka because it is the place that this great faith arrived to the Island in 247BC, King Devanampiya Tissa was deer hunting in the forests of Mihintale when he met Mahinda, son of the great Emperor Ashoka of India, a missionary prince who converted the King to Buddhism.
Mihintale is a massive complex of temples and monasteries and requires some climbing to view all of it; it is of great interest to the historian and faithful alike.