On my last day of visiting Colombo, Sri Lanka, I decided to check out the famous Gangamaraya Temple.
The temple is one of the most well-known Buddhist centers in the city, and attracts many locals as well as quite a few tourists each day.
The main part of the temple was built-in the 1800’s, but since then it has been accumulating more and more Buddhist religious relics and works of art.
There are two main sections of the temple, the main section (which I’ll feature here), and just a short distance away is the Simamalaka shrine which is situated within Beira Lake.
Unlike many other temples I’ve visited in Asia, this temple wasn’t overly ornate from the outside, and it wasn’t a high-rise towering golden structure.
It was rather the relics and the statues within and surrounding the complex that made it impressive.
Entrance costs 100 Sri Lankan Rupees, and once you’re inside you can begin to see the many sculptures, details, and decoration.
Rather than just being a Buddhist temple, Gangaramaya also includes a library, a learning center, and to me it felt very much like a historical scholarly museum.
Along with the main shrines, there were many artful exhibitions to browse through.
The main sanctuary is filled with a huge statue of Buddha that is surrounded by a host of other statues and sculptures which are all neatly painted and brightly decorated.
Two huge elephant tusks stand on either side of the main statue.
Many Buddhist followers will first enter the sanctuary, possibly offer a gift, and then proceed outdoors where they can light candles and burn incense.
In the outdoor section there is a series of steps filled with statues of Buddha making various hand signals as well as stone stupas.
The scene really reminded me of Borobudur in Indonesia, and I couldn’t help but think that there had been a very similar influence in the design of both religious structures – Borobudur way outdating Gangamaraya.
In both design and decoration, Gangamaraya Temple has been influenced by Thai, Indian, Chinese, and local Sri Lankan styles.
There were many interesting and extravagant shrines like the one pictured above.
Gold, elephant tusks, statues, and fresh flowers were prevalent throughout the temple.
Walking into the Chinese section of the Gangamaraya Temple felt like a complete switch to another location.
The Chinese designed wooden cabinets were filled with Chinese style Buddhist figures and elaborate sculptures.
Just outside of the main sanctuary, surrounded by tables filled with burning candles and incense, and shaded by a huge tree, are a few elephants.
There’s also a giant fake elephant sculpture on the complex too, but I preferred the real ones!
After living or traveling extensively in Southeast Asia and seeing many temples, it’s sometimes not overly exciting to visit yet another temple.
But Gangaramaya Temple is a top attraction in Colombo, because it’s not just a temple, but an entire museum packed with history and art.