The white stupa and the brownish building complex of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya
Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya

The splendid island of Sri Lanka is a wonderful country with impressive cultural values. The multinational community it houses, and the different religions observed by these different communities are the reasons behind this marvelous cultural diversity that it holds. The various religious attractions that belong to these communities hold a special place in the country’s heritage and among them, the Buddhist religious places are indeed significant. Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya is one such major Buddhist temple in the country that attracts hundreds of visitors each day.

Hence, we thought of dedicating this read to share with you all about this wonderful religious attraction. Continue reading to get to know about this famous tourist destination!

Significance of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya

Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. Thus, it stands as an important temple for both the local and international Buddhist communities. The most significant fact about the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya is that the Lord Buddha visited this place during his third visit, which was also his final visit to Sri Lanka. Along with him, 500 arhats also visited the temple. Owing to this reason, the Buddhists believe that the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya holds powerful blessings from Lord Buddha. Thus, it remains significant among the rest of the religious attractions in the country.

Besides, there are many iconic Buddha statues and paintings in this temple. Not only that, even the iconic features of the architecture of this temple, make it more special, and valuable. Further, the history reveals that there are also sacred relics of Lord Buddha in the Kelaniya temple. Owing to all these reasons, it has become one of the most visited religious places by Buddhists in Sri Lanka.

Apart from all that, the location of the temple also makes it significant. It is located in the city of Kelaniya in the Western province, which means in close proximity to Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka. To be specific, it stands with grandeur in wonderful surroundings, right next to the Kelani river.

Buddhist pilgrims engaging in various religious rituals are a common sight in the Kelaniya temple. No matter even if there are many devotees on the temple premises sometimes, still there would always be a calming and peaceful environment out there. So, all these reasons make Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya a highly significant icon on this charming island of Sri Lanka.

History of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya

The history of the temple goes back centuries. To be specific, there is a belief that the history of Kelaniya Viharaya dates back to the era that is even prior to the history of the country where there are chronological records. Besides, there is a belief that the Kelaniya temple has a connection with the Ramayana story, which means with King Ravana too.

However, the most historically significant incident about this temple is the belief about Lord Buddha’s arrival at this site during his third visit to Sri Lanka. As per history, this incident happened in 500 BC. It is said that the original stupa of the temple was enshrined with a seat with studded gems which was used by the Lord Buddha when preaching Dhamma, during this visit.

Later, King Uttiya, the brother of King Devanampiyatissa renovated this site on behalf of the arrival of Arhat Mahinda Thero. However, the later constructions of this temple came up during the Kingdom of Kotte. Unfortunately, the Portuguese invaders destroyed this temple afterward. Later the popular King, Kirthi Sri Rajasinha again renovated it.

However, the Kelaniya Viharaya was refurbished several times during the Dutch colonial period as well.

Temple Architecture

Apart from being one of the most sacred religious places for Buddhists in Sri Lanka, Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya is also famous as an iconic architectural site too. If you visit it, you are surely going to witness what we say!

The lower terrace of the temple yard opens up to four sets of flights of steps in four cardinal directions to the upper terrace. It is on the upper terrace that you can find the Image house, Dagaba, the Bo tree, and the other buildings. Here, the Image house in particular is an architecturally significant spot that shows the influences of the 18th and 20th-century artistic styles. It also houses several murals and statues which we discuss later in this read, and they further magnify the values of this wonderful place.

Moreover, there is also a new temple section or the ‘Aluth Vihara Ge’ in Kelani Viharaya. The 150 feet long and 90 feet broad temple section stands on a stone plinth that is 3 feet in height. It holds the shape of an octagon and it has influences from the Kandyan architectural style.

The temple spreads across a large area. Still, each part of this temple has a unique charm in its own way. Nevertheless, the most significant feature is that even the architectural features of this temple have the power of healing one’s mind.

Murals at the Temple

Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya is famous for its murals. They not only hold artistic values but also historical values. Besides, the intention of these murals is to teach people about Buddhism.

The walls and the ceilings of the two chambers in the old wing showcase decorations with old paintings. In the Image house, there are two shrine rooms. In fact, the old and the new shrine rooms are there in the same image house. The walls of these shrine rooms have various artistic symbols, and they are indeed impressive. These old paintings include three ornamental friezes, the vimanas of the mansions of gods, murals of Ganesha the Hindu God of wisdom and God Saman, etc. Some of the paintings include Jataka Katha (stories of Lord Buddha’s previous lives).

However, the design and the style of these old paintings are very unique. These murals in Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya are simply some of the best old paintings available in Sri Lanka.

Besides, the murals at the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya show characteristics of two artistic eras to be specific. They are as follows.

  • Kandyan Era
  • Modern Era

The following sections will brief about the significant features of the murals in this temple that belong to these two eras.

Kandyan Era Murals

As per history, Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya was rebuilt during the Kandyan era. Many of the old paintings thus belong to this time period.

The Kandyan era murals mainly focus on the Jataka stories. The main idea behind these illustrations is to inspire the virtues of compassion and to lead people on the correct path in life.

One of the main features which are dominant in the Kandyan style murals is that they are done in long horizontal panels covering the entire wall and the painting has the capability of narrating a full story in detail. The Jataka Kata paintings in the Kelani Viharaya also show this feature. Moreover, the Kandyan era murals in the Kelani Viharaya also display Buddha’s battle against the defiling factors. Further, these arts strongly reveal the influence that Sinhala art has on the South Indian art styles. Therefore, Kelaniya Viharaya is famous as one of the best locations to witness such illustrative Kandyan-style murals.

Modern Era Murals

The newer section of the Image house in Kelani Viharaya features the iconic modern-era murals. These paintings were done by the reputed artist, Solius Mendis. He is well-recognized as one of the greatest artists in the country. He has also drawn paintings in many other major Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. Records reveal that he completed these paintings of the Viharage over a period spanning 15 years.

These breathtaking modern paintings also display major events in the Buddhist history of Sri Lanka. Some of the iconic paintings of the modern era include paintings of King Devanampiyatissa donating the Mahamegha park to Arahat Mahinda, the Buddhist doctrine, an Indian scholar-monk presenting Visuddhimaga, the arrival of the Buddhist nun Theri Sanghamitta, Prince Dantha and Princess Hemamala’s arrival with the sacred tooth relic, etc. Without a doubt, these modern-era murals of the Kelani Vihara are highly significant in terms of artistic features. Also, they are indeed world-famous paintings.

Duruthu Perahera Festival

Duruthu Perahera of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya is the first event of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist calendar. It is also famous as the Kelaniya Perahera, as the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya organizes it focusing on the town of Kelaniya.

This perahera function is more like a colorful parade with dazzling events. Usually, this cultural extravaganza takes place in the month of January each year. It commemorates Lord Buddha’s first visit to Sri Lanka, and the temple hosts this festival on the pre full moon poya day in January.

The glorious procession is a great depiction of Sri Lanka’s proud heritage. The perahera festival consists of three stages. However, the entire festival has a strong bond with the Buddhist religious ceremonies. The perahera features whip crackers, fireball performers, elephants and tuskers in shiny attire, flag bearers, drummers, and dancers. All these groups teamed together magnifying the elegance of this impressive cultural ceremony.

Besides, it is one of the best occasions for the visitors to experience the grandeur of the Sri Lankan traditional dancing, music, as well as arts and crafts. Therefore, many local Buddhist pilgrims, tourists, and international tourists visit Kelaniya to witness this cultural festival to be left awestruck. Therefore, Duruthu Perahera is one of the major highlights of the Buddhist calendar and a significant event related to the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya.

Best Time to Visit Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya

Actually, you can visit the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya at any time of the year. However, if you visit during the month of January, you will be able to witness the grand Duruthu Perahera, which is one of the main religious festivals of Kelani Viharaya. It will be one of the most extraordinary experiences that you can get in Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya.

Apart from that, Kelani Viharaya gets a bit crowded on weekends and especially on poya days. So, if you are looking for a hassle-free tour of the temple, it is better to avoid those days. On the other hand, it is advisable to visit the temple in the evenings to get the best traveling experience. If so, you will be able to avoid the scorching heat as well.

How to Reach the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya

Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya is located just 9.9 kilometers away from Colombo via the A1 road. If you like to travel by train, you can get on the train from Fort railway station and get down from Kelaniya station. From there, you can take the remaining distance to the temple by bus. If not you can travel by bus to the temple from Fort. If you don’t like traveling by public transportation, you can easily arrange your own taxi from the airport itself. Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya is located at a very easy-to-find location in Kelaniya, and therefore, visiting it would never be an issue.

The Bottom Line

If you love visiting iconic religious places, then Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya is a must-visit for you in Sri Lanka. There isn’t any entrance fee to visit the temple. Yet, make sure that you are in suitable clothing to visit the temple as this is a place of worship. In fact, wearing a light-colored dress that covers at least from your shoulders to your knees would be appropriate. It is always an exciting experience to get a glimpse into the culture of a country when you are traveling, and religious places are ideal for such experiences. So, make sure to add Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya to your bucket list when visiting Sri Lanka. Happy and safe traveling!