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Buddhism in Sri Lanka

Written history of Sri Lanka dates back to 543BC. Sigiriya once of the most ancient sites of this land was constructed in the Anuradhapura period in 459 BC. Later during the Polonnaruwa period, witnessed the transfer of the capital from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa in 1073. Lord Buddha is said to have visited Sri Lanka on three occasions, spreading the dharma. In 520 BC, Lord Buddha was invited by the king of Kelaniya. Today, the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara is set just 9 kilometres from the heart of Colombo. This is arguably one of the most interesting viharas in the country with its walls and ceiling decorated with frescoes. Lord Buddha is said to have visit the peak of Sri Pada where, according to legend, he left his footprint. It draws thousands of pilgrims throughout the year. Another sacred relic, a tooth of Lord Buddha, is enshrined at Sri Dalada Maligawa or the Temple of the Tooth, in Kandy. Buddhist doctrines we accepted preached personally by Lord Buddha was accepted by the people but the real advent of Buddhism started in 247 BC, when King Devanampiyatissa was converted by Mahinda (son of the devout Buddhist Emperor Ashoka. The hill where this conversion took place, east of the ancient city of Anuradhapura, was henceforth known as Mihintale, or the Mountain of Mahinda. Mahinda was entrusted by Emperor Ashoka with a cutting from the sacred bo tree under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment, placing it in a golden vase. It was eventually planted at Anuradhapura, and today, 2,240 years later, worshippers still come to pray at the world’s oldest documented tree, the Sri Maha Bodhi.

Polonnaruwa
Situated 216 kms north east of the capital city Colombe Polonnaruwa was the capital of Sri Lanka from the 11th to the 13th century. Included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1982 it is a must for all Buddhist tourists. The city reached its height during the rule of Parakramabahu I who carried out a lot of religious reform work and construction. The ancient remains of the city consist of a walled inner and outer city, surrounded by monasteries and temples, with palaces, gardens and man made lake, the "Sea of Parakrama". The Gal Vihara is a Buddhist rock-cut temple contains impressive sculptures the Buddha. The statues, located in a cluster along a dirt road, are revered as being among the most sacred monuments in Sri Lanka. One of the statures depicts Buddha in deep meditation, seated on a throne decorated with lions and thunderbolts while the second one inside of a cave records in detail Parakramabahu's works to unite the Buddhist order. The next sculpture stands twenty three feet high and expresses the serenity of the Buddha. The final and most appealing statue is of the reclining Buddha, that captures his last moments in life on earth before entering Nirvana. It measures 46 feet in length. There are also palace ruins and great bas-reliefs and friezes

Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura, one of the earliest cities in Sri Lanka, is considered one country’s most important archaeological sites. It was here that Buddhism was first introduced to the island in the 3rd century BC. Situated 206 kms from Colombo, it was first capital of Sri Lanka established around a sapling of the tree under which Buddha became enlightened brought there in the 3rd century B.C. by Sanghamitra. This makes the tree the world's oldest historically documented tree. Anuradhapura served as the capital until it was moved to Polonnaruwa. The city, which spreads over 40 square kilometers, with its fascinating palaces, monasteries and monuments, was lost to the jungles until reclaimed and opened to visitors. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site today. With the advent of Buddhism the city grew in importance and the great building era began. Huge monastery complexes and stupas were constructed. At present it consists of a citadel surrounded by several large, Buddhist monastic complexes and four man made lakes. The three colossal stupas of the Mahaviharaya, Jetavana and Abhayagiri monasteries are architectural wonders of the ancient world. Primary Buddhist attractions in Anuradhapura are the Atamasthana or the 8 main places of worship which include Sri Maha Bodhi, Lovamahapaya, Ruwanwelisaya, Thuparamaya, Abayagiriya, Jetavanaramaya, Jetavanaramaya, Mirisaveti and Lankarama.

Sigiriya
On top of a rock plateau overlooking dense jungle and a vast plain is Sigiriya, the mysterious remains of the 5th-century fortress of King Kasyapa. Near the top of the rock fortress are a pair of huge stone Lion's Paws (all that remains of a giant stone lion). Dating back about 5th BC Sigiriya, is one of the best preserved cities of the ancient world. Termed as the "Lion Mountain", it is one of Asia's most important archaeological sites. It is a city complex, with ramparts, moats, gateways, a palace on top of a 200 meter rock, ancient royal gardens, well-known paintings. The ancient water and boulder gardens are the oldest surviving gardens in Asia. An array of galleries and staircases emerging from the mouth of a prodigious lion constructed of bricks and plaster provide access to the site. Beneath the spiral staircase you can see frescoes of women (Apsaras) painted beneath an overhang. Even after centuries the frescoes are quite beautiful with vibrant colors.. It is located 169 kms away from Colombo. Sigiriya was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982.

Dambulla
It is one of the most sacred religious sites of the country. Located 148 kms from Colombo, this cave monastery contains five sanctuaries and is the largest and best preserved cave-temple complex in the country. With Buddhist mural paintingsand hundred of statues this complex of caves is one of the most impressive Buddhist Temples in the world. The monastery was established in the 3rd century BC and has remained until today one of Sri Lanka's major religious and historical sites. In nearby Dambulla you can visit a series of caves on a mountain ledge. They contain frescoes showing some of Buddha's epic struggles against evil.

Kandy
This historic city was the last capital of the Sinhala Kings. Set amidst scenic hill country around a pretty, manmade lake, Kandy was an urban and royal center from the 15th to the 19th century. The most important site here is the famous Temple of the Scared Tooth-Relic of the Buddha. The city has a royal palace complex, a picturesque lake, surrounded by forested hills, and one of the world's earliest botanical gardens. The sacred square and old city center near the Tooth-Relic Temple contain the four shrines of the Gods Vishnu, Natha and Kataragama and the Goddess Pattini, and many historic buildings and museums. The Kandy Perahera, held annually is a traditional ritual festival dating back to the 5th century AD. This 10-day event celebrates the sacred tooth allegedly snatched from Buddha's funeral pyre. It is a spectacular festival procession that includes whip-crackers, fire-jugglers, flag-bearers, hundreds of dancers and drummers and elephants dressed in finery. During the festival the relic is taken in procession. It rests inside a golden casket kept behind a glass wall in the Dalada Maligawa which you can at certain times of the day. You can also visit the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage where you can take part in elephant baths.

Mihintale
A monastic city which grew, east of the ancient city of Anuradhapura, and was know as Mihintale or the mountain of Mahinda. The city was built around the cave that sheltered Mahinda, the son of Emperor Ashoka.

Katagarama
Kataragama does not appeal to tourists visually but is a melting pot of three of the world’s greatest religions. Here devotees from the Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim background flock all year round. The Kataragama devalaya on the banks of the Menik River is a vast complex of shrines and temples of all three religions.


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