Buddhist temples form a significant part of the history and culture of Sri Lanka. The exact number of Buddhist temples worldwide is unknown, but in Sri Lanka alone, there are some 6,000 Buddhist monasteries.
Sri Lankan Buddhist temples
You can visit all of the temples featured below via our Sri Lanka Escorted Tours.
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
Constructed in the 16th century AD, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is one of the most revered Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka. It’s aptly named as it houses a significant Buddhist relic – a tooth of the Buddha. The tooth is stored in a gold casket within a guarded room. During puja, this room is open to devotees and tourists. The tooth always remains hidden, but the shrine itself is something to see.
The Dambulla Cave Temple
This wondrous temple is also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla. It contains five sanctuaries, many intricate Buddhist mural paintings and 157 statues of Buddha, which are of great importance. The history of the Dambulla Cave Temple dates back to the 1st century BC. Because of its history and ancient architecture and paintings, this temple became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
The Kataragama Temple
The Kataragama Temple has three main shrines dedicated to the Buddhist guardian deity Kataragama deviyo, and the Hindu War God, Murugan. Kataragama is one of the more popular temples for pilgrimage, attracting Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and the Vedda people.
What you should expect when visiting a Buddhist temple
Buddhist temples are sacred spaces. Historical temples are usually very ornate buildings filled with gold and jade, while more recently built temples are modern inside.
They often feature a pagoda style structure and are designed to symbolise the five elements: Fire, Air, Earth, Water, and Wisdom. Inside a temple, you may find a worship hall, a meditation area and a statue of Buddha sitting in a lotus position, which will be the primary focus.
Buddhist temple etiquette and tips
There are some simple rules to follow when visiting a Buddhist temple so as to respect the Buddhist religion and culture. Below you’ll find tips on what you should and shouldn’t do to receive a warm welcome.
- Take off your shoes and hat – wearing them inside a temple isn’t allowed. There will be a dedicated place where you can leave them.
- Be respectful of the Buddhist religion – lower your voice, turn off your mobile phone and don’t smoke or chew gum.
- Cover up – modest dress is essential when visiting a Buddhist temple (and when away from the beach). It’s advisable to cover your shoulders and legs in particular and avoid tight clothing as this is frowned upon.
- Avoid pointing – it’s understandable to want to point out some of the incredible sights you’ll see at a Buddhist temple, but this is considered ill-mannered. It’s also deemed rude to point your feet at a Buddha statue or an image of a Buddha when sitting.
- Don’t touch – Buddha statues and religious paintings shouldn’t be touched as they may discolour and are very fragile. It’s an offence in Sri Lanka to mistreat a Buddha statue or artefact.
- Photography - If you plan to take photos, ask permission first, but never take pictures during worship or with your back facing a Buddha. Standing with your back to the Buddha isn’t permitted either.
- Interaction with monks – if you’re in the worship area when monks enter, it’s polite to stand up to show respect. Never shake hands or engage close contact with a monk; distance yourself at least 2 feet away. To greet a monk, place your palms together at chest height and make a bow.
- Avoid alcohol – it’s an obvious one, but should be mentioned all the same – you shouldn’t bring alcohol to a Buddhist temple or enter one while under the influence!
Visiting a Buddhist temple can be an eye-opening spiritual experience, especially if you’re interested in religious history, art, and architecture. If you’re touring Sri Lanka, a temple visit or two is well worth adding to your travel itinerary.