Roughly 10 kilometres from the centre of Colombo, the Kelaniya Temple is one of the most well known Buddhist temples in the Colombo area and, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful in Sri Lanka. Built on the banks of the Kelani River, (which flows from Sri Pada/Adam's Peak), the temple is said to be particularly sacred, as the Buddha visited the site on his third visit to Sri Lanka.
The Temple Site
As you arrive you will pass a multitude of food carts and a large rather dreary looking water feature. After climbing a set of stairs to the temple courtyard you are immediately greeted with a small water fountain and the main temple building, which soars above you with its beautiful sculptures of carved elephants and Hindu gods and astrological images. The stark white stupa (dageba) is situated to the right of the temple and the bell tower and the sacred Bodhi tree, adorned with Buddist flags, to the left. There are people praying by the huge statues and people light wicks in terracotta pots filled with coconut oil. The smell of incense fills the air...
The Temple Building
Inside, the temple building is divided into four sections or 'houses', all of which have a distinctly different style. In one of the houses you will find a seated Buddha statue and in another, a magnificent reclined Buddha statue and two additional seated Buddhas.
Unfortunately, the original temple was destroyed by the Portuguese in AD1510, so all of the paintings are fairly modern (18th and 20th century). Still, the murals that line the walls and ceilings of the temple are incredible, depicting historical scenes of Buddhism and the major events of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The beauty and detail of the patterns and designs on the temple walls will leave you in awe.
My favourite time of day to visit the temple is in the late afternoon, when the setting sun casts its light on the leaves of the Bodhi tree and the air is still and quiet with the impending nightfall. However, as it is one of the largest and well known temples in and around Colombo, it can get busy at times, especially on poya days and weekends, so if peace and quiet is what you're looking for then avoid these times.
Still, the temple and it's courtyard surroundings are the ideal place to sit and people watch, or, if you can evade the crowds, to reflect or to meditate. Whether you are Buddhist or not, the peacefulness is captivating and you are bound to leave feeling a little more, well, enlightened.
Don't forget to remove your shoes before entering the temple grounds. They can be kept at the small counter to the left of the entrance. Weekends and poya days are very busy, so avoid, if possible. The 'Duruthu Perahera' (Kelani Procession) is held every year on the day prior to the January poya day.