Slave Island

Gangaramaya Temple

Gangaramaya Temple is one of the most visited temples in the capital city, It was established in 1885 by Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Nayaka Thera at a time when Buddhist and cultural resurgence were much needed as the country was under the colonial rule. The area that was once a swamp beside the Beira Lake, has now turned to be an iconic complex which consists of the temple, the Sima Malaka Meditation hall in the breathtaking lake and the vocational training institute.

The main sanctuary of the Gangarama Temple is the most important and impressive vestibule leading into the temple premises. The main door to the vestibule is flanked by 2 golden Buddha statues standing like sentinels. The door itself is an impressive work of craftsmanship, with intricate wood carvings of elephants and swans reminiscent of the island’s ancient artisanship. (The door to the exit is similarly engraved.) This main sanctuary of the temple is a soothing room decorated in soft yellowish hues, housing a massive Buddha statue in meditation pose flanked by statues and silhouettes of heavenly deities and creatures. The ceilings are enchantingly decorated with vibrant pastel paintings depicting the stories of the Buddha. The columns of the sanctuary are breathtakingly garlanded with traditional Sri Lankan art.


Many white-clad devotees go through the main sanctuary to offer colorful lotuses to the Buddha and exit out into the courtyard to light oil lamps and burn incense. There is a distinguishable stepped wall out here with many stone statues of the Buddha and stupas. The Bodhi tree and the courtyard of the coral-white stupa are excellent places to bask in serenity.

One of the most striking features of the Gangarama Temple is its treasure-trove museum that holds a countless number of Buddha statues from all over the world along with statues of Hindu deities, old watches, Dutch coins and many other antiquities collected over time. One can also see the smallest Buddha statue on the island, carefully encased in a glass box, which visitors can view with a magnifying class. Most of the bejeweled and shiny trinkets here are gifts from devotees to the temple’s head monk, Ven. Galaboda Gnanissara Thero, one of the island’s most recognizable religious figures, who assumed administration of the Gangaramaya as a 16-year-old novice monk.

As an ardent traveler, Gnanissara Thero has gathered many outlandish souvenirs from places he’s been to, such as a “hip” Buddha statuette sporting a pair of sunglasses. The venerable monk is also an antique car lover and visitors can marvel at his collection of old Rolls-Royces and Mercedes, including Sri Lanka’s very first Mercedes.

Not to be missed :

Statues and Images

Be sure to pay special attention to all the statues and images that can be found throughout the temple complex. Many of them have been donated or gifted to the Gangaramaya by Thailand, Myanmar, China, and Japan demonstrating the significance of this complex.

Vihara Mandiraya

The surrounding walls of the Image House display jatakas, or painted scenes depicting the significant events in Buddha’s life and in his teachings. Be sure to look up at the ceiling in the center of the hall, the important Buddhist centers in Sri Lanka have been painted and labeled.

Bodhi Tree

The Bodhi Tree is very significant in Buddhism. History states that a sapling of the tree was brought by Sanghamitta, the daughter of the King Asoka of India, as a gift to Sri Lanka for embracing the teachings of Buddha, and planted in Anuradhapura. Devotees meditate around and pray to the tree. The flags and fabric pieces hanging around and off the tree are prayer flags, symbolizing the prayers of the devotees.

Gangaramaya Museum

One of the many unique features about the temple is its museum. The collection ranges from small artifacts to large thrones and elephant tusks. Devotees and donors, locally and across the Asian region, contribute to this collection.

Gangaramaya Elephant

The Gangaramaya Elephant is a special and well loved animal of the community. Grand in size, the tusker leads the Gangaramaya Perahera. You may catch a glimpse of him in the evening during his bath.