Gangaramaya temple is the quiet place beside the Beira lake, which is the center of Colombo. People go there to have a quiet time. Walk for about 300 meters from the Seema Malaka temple on the Beira Lake, and you will arrive at the fresh smell of rituals of the Gangaramaya temple.
More than a temple, Gangaramaya is a huge Buddhist learning center. What attracted me to it was the charm and the vibe. It is one of the most important Buddha Vihara in the Buddhist world.
The temple can be touristy, but it depends on the time you choose to visit here. The architecture of the temple has a mix of South Asian, Chinese, and Southeast Asian styles of architecture.
History of the Gangaramaya Temple
The builders of the temple chose to build the structure on a piece of marshy land that they bought from the Moors. Sri Sumanagala Nayaka Thera built the temple in the 1800s.
There have been many additions to the temple over the years. There is a ‘Bo’ tree in the complex, which is a sampling brought from Anuradhapura.
The temple, unlike the Buddhist temple you see in Thailand, it does not have a towering golden structure that you see in pictures. You could easily miss the temple though.
There are lot of Chinese artifacts leading up to the sanctum. There are wood carving of elephants and swans. The sanctum has a yellowish hue, that is the home to the massive Buddha. The ceiling has painting depicting the life of the Buddha.
The Humble Museum
The museum has artifacts and trinkets from all over the world. There are artifacts from India, Europe, China, and from all over Sri Lanka. The museum has too much to see, and you may wonder why the temple near your house does not have a museum.
There are Buddhist statues and Dutch artifacts like coins and jewels. There is a vintage car museum next to the artefacts museum. I am not a car enthusiast; however this museum has a small collection that people can go crazy about. There could be an old Rolls Royce in there somewhere
Things to do in the Gangaramaya temple
It is a huge complex and there are lot of things you can easily miss you if are here just to glance at the structure. What can you do here at Gangaramaya:
1. Explore the temple premises
This place is always buzzing with activities, with people praying and tourists admiring the temple. You can start exploring by finding the Bodhi tree.
Then there is the Seemamalaka which is the assembly hall for monks. Other places of interest are the Vihara Mandira, Residential hall, Alms hall and the education hall.
I asked one of the teachers there, she said it was a Buddhist school, and so teachers and students wear a white attire.
The temple elephant is another attraction and you can find him next to the artefacts museum. Whilst you are exploring the temple, try and count the number of Buddha statues here.
A temple worker told me that there are more than 1000 statues here which was not surprising. He then pointed to a small Ganesha statue, there are many of those also, he said.
The museum has the tiniest Buddha statue in Sri Lanka. The statue is inside a glass case, and you will have to use a magnifying glass to see it.
2. Watch and learn the Buddhist way of life
The temple gets lot of visitors including foreigners and locals. Buddhists from all over the world come here to pray, and there is a ritual of pouring water on the sacred tree. After you finish watching, you may please take a mug, and do the same.
3. Volunteer at the Gangaramaya
This temple has lot of volunteering opportunities. There are quite a few social activities on their schedule and you can join them to help the youth, children, and orphans. If you tell a monk that you are interested to lend a hand, the monk will help you get you initiated.
The monks are friendly, and you could approach them to get some history about the place. Gangaramaya is the best place to start your Sri Lankan experience. It was the first place I visited before I explored other places in the island. Gangaramaya is a treat for curious eyes.
5:30 AM to 10 PM
I did not pay, but most pay LKR 100