I've passed by the Asokaramaya Temple so many times when I've driven past Thimbirigasyaya Road and it never stood out to me with it's plain walls and undaunting exterior. On the outside it looks like the average pansala, but upon entering I discovered that it's like a completely different world through the simple gates.
As I go in, I'm faced with the excited yaps of 3 dogs who've taken refuge under the temple's roof. They snoop around expecting treats but of course I have no treats so I try to shoo them away but they won't leave. I don't mind. There are gentlemen around the place with ekel brooms and dustpans, sweeping up Bo leaves strewn along the paved paths. There's a light breeze and a serene silence hangs over the environment. It's hard to believe such a peaceful place exists in the heart of Colombo.
We stand around confused for a bit before a gentleman approaches us and asks us to follow him. His name is Sunil and he speaks adequate English enough for us to understand what he has to teach us about the temple.
He leads us to the main building in the centre, which has beautifully intricate painting on the ceilings. An ominious door remains shut while he tells us that the ceiling's being painted for the last 6 months and that the young painter Shantha Jayarathne is currently carrying on work passed down from his late father.
Sunil Uncle then leads us inside this big ominous building and I couldn't believe my eyes as I looked around. Every single space on the walls was painted over. There were scenes depicting the Buddha's life from infancy up until the time he attained enlightenment, but there were also so many more of the Buddha's parents and other significant occurrences during his life.
Inside you will be greeted by a wildly decorated doorway with statues of angels, fierce lions and dragons and on either sides of the room you'll find yourself face to face with two colossal 'guardians' as Sunil Uncle put it. In the middle of the room they are guarding, sits the Buddha himself.
There's another doorway to the left where they've constructed a massive statue of the Buddha's passing away, which you can identify upon closer inspection of the way the feet are depicted (statues of the Buddha resting have the feet aligned, while ones of his passing away have a gap between the positions of the toes).
There are several other rooms that hold sculptures depicting Buddha's descent from the Heavens and the statues of the devas are simply amazing.
There are a bunch of smaller, locked rooms that Sunil Uncle was kind enough to show us. The room pictured here holds a Buddha sent all the way from Burma as a gift. It's interesting to note the different depictions and artistry of Buddha in different regions.
This one, is a depiction of Buddha's ascent onto Adam's Peak.
The sheer amount of detail and painstaking effort put in to decorating this place is admirable. The building itself isn't very big but it's so easy to get visually lost here.
On the outide you'll find areas where the Pirith ceremonies are held and a little open courtyard sort of place where you can sit down and reflect. There's a gargantuan Bo tree right smack in the middle here and when sunlight filters through the leaves onto the white tile it makes a beautiful sight.
A few steps away you'll find a little hut that houses a few statues of Hindu deities, mainly Kali, Shiva, Ganesh and Lakshmi.
There's also a fairly sized Dagoba with a large orange sash going around it, that's visible from the main road.
The temple itself is a wonderful sight to behold and it's well worth a visit if you're in Colombo. You are allowed to sit and revel for as long as they remain open without being disturbed. Keep in mind that appropriate clothing must be worn at all times (as per the rule for visiting any religious place) and you are required to take your shoes off upon entering certain areas of the temple. A donation is also encouraged.