With the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC, the island nation is replete with many temples that were built over the years and influenced by the architecture and culture of the time. Lifestyles, language and culture of the people have been built upon the basic tenets of Buddhism. In turn, Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka have always been an integral part of the communal culture. Key activities and traditions in a village revolved around a temple as it was a place of worship and devotion.
The oldest of temples in Sri Lanka, Thooparamaya was built by King Devanampiyatissa upon being introduced to Theravada Buddhism by Mahinda Thera, an envoy sent by King Ashoka. Situated in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, Thooparamaya is meticulously built in the shape of a heap of paddy and in it was enshrined the collarbone of the Buddha.
Considered an architectural wonder and sacred to many Buddhist devotees the world over, the Ruwanweliseya Sri Lanka was built by King Dutugemunu in 140 BC. The Ruwanweliseya Sri Lanka is one of the tallest monuments in the world and is 300 ft with a circumference of 950 ft.
The largest of temples in Sri Lanka and among the most significant is the Jethawanaramaya, built by King Mahasena in the 3rd Century AD. A sash tied by the Buddha is believed to be enshrined in this phenomenal structure which was one of the tallest structures in the ancient world with a height of about 400 ft. It is believed that approximately 93.3 million baked bricks had been used in the construction of this masterpiece which speaks volumes to the architectural ingenuity of the times.
Polonnaruwa too boasts some of the significant temples in Sri Lanka , the most prominent of which is Gal Viharaya built by King Parakramabahu I. the Gal Viharaya is a cave complex with intricately carved sculptures on the rock of four shrines. Though a monument of Theravada Buddhism, the architecture demonstrates the influence of Mahayana doctrines. By the banks of the Mahaweli River and some 20km north-east of Polonnaruwa is the Somawathi Chayththya which was believed to house a sacred right tooth relic of the Buddha. In adoration and appreciation of the Buddha, Queen Somawathi decided to construct the Somawathi Chayththya with the consent of Arahath Mahinda.
Some of the other significant Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka are the Abhayagiri temple, Pothgul Viharaya, Kiri Vehera, Lankathilaka Viharaya, Gadaladeniya Raja Maha Viharaya and the Dalada Maligawa. There are also some important Hindu temples in Sri Lanka including the Koneswaram temple, Aluvihara Hindu temple and Munneswaram temple.