The Sunday Leader

A Place Rich In History

By Raisa Wickrematunge - Photos by Gazala Anver

Sitting near the Beira Lake is a temple full of the strange and the beautiful: the Gangaramaya. If you’re a Buddhist and live in Colombo, you’ve probably come here to pray. Nonbelievers, though, are missing out on one of the more strange yet interesting religious sites. The area next to the bilious green lake was once a swamp. Now, it hosts a temple, a meditation centre and gathering hall for monks, and a nearby vocational training institute.

The Gangaramaya Temple has been in existence for over 120 years. It was first established by the scholarly monk, the Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumanagala Nayaka Thera. This eminent monk was also the founder of an institute of learning for monks, the Vidyodaya Pirivena. It still exists today, except now it is called Sri Jayawardenapura University.
In addition to all this, the Thera also collected Buddhist artifacts, a tradition that was continued through the years. His chief pupil, Devundera Sri Jinaratana Nayake Thera is credited with bringing the temple towards what it is today.
Now, the temple is run by a monk known to all as “Podi Hamuduruwo” and more formally as Venerable Galaboda Gnanissara Thera.
The Gangaramaya temple is a collection of the eclectic. Walk in to the budu medura as you enter and you will see a giant statue of a seated Buddha. The walls are painted with scenes following Buddha’s enlightenment. In addition, there are giant, colourful statues and paintings tracing Buddha’s lineage. There is a real sense of awe when walking in, it is here that people light incense sticks and pray.
Going into the temple premises, however, there’s much more to admire. From giant curved (real and fake) elephant tusks, to what appears to be a giant statue of a Chinese sea god, to a wood statue of the Buddha when he lived the life of an ascetic. There are printing presses and rows of Thai-made Buddha statues glinting in the sunlight. There’s even an antique car parked in front. Everywhere you look, there’s something to see.
The bo tree on the premises is said to be a sapling from the Sri Maha Bodhi tree, and over a hundred years old. People come here to take vows, walking around the tree and pouring water over the ancient roots. There’s also a museum, filled with old ola leaf manuscripts, coins, a gold cast replica of the Buddha’s footprint, and an intriguing Burmese statue at the entrance. You can cheerfully spend hours wandering through and marvelling at everything.
Once you’re done, take a walk towards the Beira Lake to the Seema Malakaya or meditation centre, which is quite beautiful at sunset. It was designed by reknowned architect Geoffrey Bawa in 1985, and features a marble replica of Buddha’s footprint at the entrance, a gift to the temple. Getting to the Seema Malakaya, you have to cross a wooden platform over the lake. Here, you’ll find more of the bronze Buddha statues, statues of Hindu gods, and a chaitya. There is a spacious hall for you to sit and meditate, though the linked ‘Temple of Truth’ is ironically locked.
The Gangaramaya temple and Seema Malakaya are rich with history, but what’s particularly nice is the contrast. The temple, with its plethora of artifacts, almost but not quite cluttered, and the Seema Malakaya, which has open space and a great view of the lake. Make sure to visit next time you’re in the area.

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