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Updated by Joanna James on Jun 23, 2019
Headline for 05 Buddhist Sacred Sites in Sri Lanka – A Nation Dedicated to Lord Buddha
Joanna James Joanna James
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05 Buddhist Sacred Sites in Sri Lanka – A Nation Dedicated to Lord Buddha

Sri Lanka is a Buddhist nation, home to a number of sacred pilgrimage sites popular across the world. Many of these are historical sites, with direct links to Lord Buddha and his followers.


The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic which is also known as the Sri Dalada Maligawa, is found in Kandy; capital of the central highlands and last kingdom to the nation. The temple is housed in part of the old Royal Palace and holds in its folds a precious tooth relic of the Buddha. Legend stipulates that who so ever held the tooth in his or her possession would rule the country, and thus the relic was always in the care of the nation's ruler until it came to rest in Kandy with the last king of Sri Lanka. The temple is located in the city centre and a treat to explore. Home to a museum, and rooms full of ancient relics, this highest placed Buddhist shrine is one of the country's most revered pilgrimage sites.


Kirivehera Temple

The Kirivehera Temple is located in Kataragama, a town in the Uva Province nestled between the central hills and Deep South. The town is under the protection of the Kataragama Deity, a Hindu cum local god, denoted as the protector of Sri Lanka. The Kataragama Temple is a place of worship for Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim faiths. The Kirivehera located close to the huge Kataragama Devalaya, was built by King Mahasena and shares the same grounds as a sacred bo tree, believed to be one of eight saplings, obtained from the Mahabodhi tree in Anuradhapura, which in turn is a sapling of the tree the Buddha attained Nirvana under. Although an ancient town, the star class hotels in Kataragama, Sri Lanka are some of the nation's best and places like Mandara Rosen Kataragama, located close to the temple make pilgrimages to the shrines easy.


Nagadvipa Vihara

Located on the Gulf of Mannar, this small island is a treat to explore and tourists often take the scenic drive to the east coast shrine from Kataragama hotels; ideal if you are interested in exploring the rich culture and history of Sri Lanka. This has been a famous pilgrimage site from the 1st century, with devotees coming to the stupa to pay homage, as the island is marked as one of 16 sacred sites for Hindu and Buddhist devotees, according to the Mahavamsa; an ancient manuscript chronicling history in Asia. There is a spot in Nagadvipa marked as the abode the Buddha used during his visit to the island.


Dambulla Rock Temple

Dambulla is part of Sri Lanka's Cultural Triangle and the rock temple a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site features a network of over 20 caves found at the summit of a gargantuan rock towering over the town. Once the refuge of an exiled king of Sri Lanka, in the 1st century, the temples were set up in five caves as a mark of gratitude to his sanctuary, once he regained his throne. There you will come across a number of statues depicting the Buddha's life, from birth to nirvana to his death. The caves are covered in paintings spanning across walls and ceilings and are a remarkable sight despite their age. Vintage artefacts and antique statues of Hindu gods and ancient kings make this a fascinating place to explore.



Visiting the Ruwanweliseya is a good reason to explore the sacred city of Anuradhapura. The first kingdom of Sri Lanka, this devout pilgrimage site is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. The Ruwanweliseya was built in the 2nd century by King Dutugemunu, one of the nation's most illustrious kings. A visit to Anuradhapura is well worth it, for the place has many sacred shrines and ancient sites to explore.