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Updated by Joanna James on Jul 13, 2023
Joanna James Joanna James
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05 Reasons to Explore the Kalutara Chaitya During Vesak – Ancient Temple in the Middle of Town

The Kalutara Bodhiya or Chaitya is one of Sri Lanka's most revered pilgrimage sites. Home to an ancient Bo tree, the temple located off Kalutara Bridge is a must visit site especially during Vesak.


Visit the World's only Hollow Shrine

The Kalutara Chaitya is the world's only hollow stupa; a treat to explore the place holds the fascination of both the Buddhist pilgrims and travelling culturists. Inside the stupa are 74 murals that well depict the Buddha's life journey. There are also four other smaller stupas also called chaityas, within the main stupa. The walls of the main stupa are resplendent with paintings of Jathaka Katha stories pertaining to the many lives of Lord Buddha. The entire temple sits on the two sides of the Galle Road. Both ends are caressed by the flowing waters of the River Kalu.


Observe the Ancient Bo Tree

Across the road from the Kalutara Chaitya besides the banks of the river is a sapling of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya (Bo Tree) brought down from Indian in the times of Buddha. This sapling is now a huge tree with rustling leaves and roots that dip into the cool waters of the Kalu Ganga. The Kalu Ganga is one of the country's four main rivers and runs along the shores where the Bo Tree resides; it crosses from under the Kalutara Bridge on its way to the sea. There is an underpass that lets devotees cross from one end of the road to the other unhindered. During Vesak season the Bo Tree is especially resplendent under the light of twinkling lights and lamps. A refreshing breeze blows from the river as devotees lost in prayer enjoy the serene ambience punctuated with the scent of a hundred josh sticks.


Invoke the Blessings of the Dhamma

Along the road beside both the Chaitya and Bo Tree shrine are tills and if you are a first time visitor to Sri Lanka or Kalutara the ritual of passing vehicles stopping by to offer alms at these tills will be quite fascinating. All passing vehicles stop and devotees alight to clasp their hands in silent prayer and offer alms; it is believed this ritual invokes the blessings of the Dhamma for a safe journey. For Buddhist devotees, this is one of the most important things to do in Kalutara and even tourists travelling to nearby properties like AVANI Kalutara Resort will be asked for permission by drivers to stop the vehicle and pay a quick homage at the Kalutara Bodhiya. Of course, nothing can stop non-Buddhist from offering alms and asking for blessings and a safe journey.


Enjoy the Peal of Bells

During Vesak, a light breeze rustles the leaves of the sacred Bo Tree while yellow flags hung around the branches flutter in the breeze. Watch as prayers are whispered to the melodious peeling of temple bells and smoke from josh sticks create shadowy figures across the shrine. Special blessings are offered as scripts from the Dhamma are read over loudspeakers washing all who hear with blessings and good luck.


Discover Moonlight Magic Across the River

Going to the temple at night during the Vesak full moon poya season will engulf you in moonlight which shimmers and reflects off the waters of the Kalu Ganga. Head over to the temple during the evening hours and enjoy the Vesak lanterns and little oil lamps that twinkle under the moonlight; enchanting and romantic the entire temple offers an ambience of serene relaxation for lovers of culture and tradition to watch and enjoy.