A blend of art

Sprawled across the eastern flank of the Beira Lakes’s southern block is the Gangaramaya temple one of Colombo’s prime landmarks for many decades. The temple’s unique and eclectic design, along with its setting in the comparatively cosmopolitan outlook attracts not only devout Buddhists, but also those from other races who wish to enlighten themselves. Its traditionally decorated and painted rooms, tranquil and airy atmosphere offers ample incentive to those who long for a haven in the middle of a bustling city.

The temple has been in existence for over 120 years having being established by one of the most famous scholar monks, Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumanagala Nayaka Thera, founder of the Vidyodaya Pirivena, originally an institute of oriental learning for monks, now a State University – Sri Jayewardenapura University. He appointed his chief pupil, Devundera Sri Jinaratana Nayake Thera to administer the temple. He laid the foundation to convert the small temple to what it is today – an institution of international reckoning.

He made Buddhist texts available to the masses, collected Buddhist artifacts, in addition to the normal facilities for devotees to worship. When Devundera Vacissara Nayaka Thera succeeded him, further expansion of the temple’s activities was undertaken including the establishment of the Sri Jinaratana Vocational Centre in memory of his teacher monk.

The temple's architecture demonstrates an eclectic mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture. This Buddhist temple includes several imposing buildings and is situated not far from the placid waters of Beira Lake on a plot of land that was originally a small hermitage on a piece of marshy land. It has the main features of a Vihara (temple), the Cetiya (Pagada) the Bodhitree, the Vihara Mandiraya, the Seemamalaka (assembly hall for monks) and the Relic Chamber. In addition, a museum, a library, a residential hall, a three storied Pirivena, educational halls and an alms hall are also on the premises.

The inner buildings of the temple lie behind an ornate perimeter wall comprising of polishined brass panels decked with Buddha and bahirawa images. On one side of the premises, lies the Bo tree, emerging from a raised platform draped in prayer flags. Next to the Bo tree sits the lavishly designed Kandyan – styled wooden pavilion.

The rich architecture strongly indicates far Eastern influences that are diverse from other temples in Sri Lanka, which have mostly been influenced by Indian crafts espoused over centuries into the local craftsmanship. This broad integration of Buddhist influences in the temple has also enabled practices such as temporary ordination a ritual hardly practiced in other conventional temples.

Adjoining the ‘image room’ is the most intricate interiors occupied by an impressive collection of larger than life Buddha statues, musical instruments, conch shells, antique coins and elephant tusks. Just behind the main courtyard is a tier of Buddha statues, placed in different heights bearing strong resemblances to Borobudur site in Indonesia.

As a location that brings together art and religion in an unconventional form, Gangaramaya temple holds a significant position in the history of Sri Lanka and this factor alone has made it a hot spot for both and local tourists alike.

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