Buddha on Colombo's Biera Lake in Sri LankaCalled Serendib by Arab traders  (the origin of the word “serendipity”), Sri Lanka has an amazing diversity for a small island and offers the possibility of experiencing vastly different climates, history, and cultures during a short vacation. In this Four Part Series I will share a glimpse of four different areas of Sri Lanka that can, and should, be a part of any itinerary to the island of providence.

Part 1 explores the East Coast city of Trincomalee and the Hindu  Koneswaram Temple and Part 2 brought us to the Ancient Buddha Rock Statues of Polonnaruwa. Part 3 visited the Hill Country and Hikes Through the Tea Trials. In this final article we stay closer to home, the city of Colombo.

Sri Lanka’s largest city, and the starting point for travelers flying into this South Asian island nation, Colombo is often bypassed completely in favor of the southern beaches, majestic hill country, or the cultural triangle in the county’s center. Seeking the tranquility, history and nature promised, travelers head out of the crowded and chaotic city. However, the city deserves some attention and there are a few unique sites to see. Perhaps the most intriguing is the eccentric Gangaramaya Buddhist temple.

Praying in front of Giant Buddha, Colombo Sri Lanka Gangarama Temple

A man prays before the giant Buddhist Statue at Gangarama Temple. The main Buddha statue is just one of at least a thousand filling every corner of the temple.

An interesting and eclectic mix of Buddhist images from all over the world, as well as a smattering of random antiques, creates a crowded feeling to this popular temple. The temple is really the warehouse for the thousands of items collected by the widely traveled, eccentric head monk Podi Hamuduruwo. It’s impossible to draw a clear line between where the Theravada begins and the Mahayana tradition ends (the first officially followed in Sri Lanka , and the second the tradition that spawned Tibetan and Zen Buddhism). Throw in Hindu statues and you’ll soon forget to care about the differences. Podi accepts donations from everyone and everywhere, somehow finding room for everything. Whether intended or not, it’s a nice message of tolerance and acceptance in a country where ethnic and religious tensions fueled the now ended 20 year plus civil war.

Naked Statue at Buddhist TempleThis is one way to be greeted at a Buddhist Temple. Makes you wonder why I am asked to wear long pants!

Antique Buddhist CarBuddhist monks know how to roll in style!

How to hold up a Buddhist TemplePot-bellied dwarfs holding up the temple. Yup, they are naked too!

Gangarama Temple ElephantThe temple even has it own elephant, with gigantic tusks. Just be careful, he seems really agitated to be chained to such a small area all day long. On the weekends he usually gets a break and is trucked out of the city to get away from the pollution that is making him sick. Very sad, if you ask me. Leave the elephants for statues in a city temple.

Meditating with WaterA devotee meditating with a jar of water. She is attempting to make her mind as still as the water inside.

Sri Lanka MusicTraditional Kandian musicians playing at noon time. You can watch and listen to them on my YouTube Channel.

Gangarama Thai style Buddhist StatuesThese statues have a Thai look to them.

Mahayana Statue at Gangarama Temple Sri LankaThis is an unmistakable Mahayana Buddha statue. Perhaps of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

Gangarama Temple Sri LankaA very crowded temple. The two large angry statues in the back are Nio guardians from Japan.

Just a five minute walk down the street at Beira Lake is another temple, Seema Malaka, that is worth a visit. It is not as eccentric as Gangarama, but it is also not your typical Sri Lankan temple either. Built on an island in the lake, the temple was designed by the famed architect Geoffrey Bawa. It is rare to find a moment of peace in a crowded city like Colombo, but this is one place you are guaranteed to find it. There is no entrance fee, so you can relax and watch the pelicans drift buy. Unfortunately, the water is highly polluted, and the bright green water is anything up refreshing to look at.

If the previous temple was a shining example of tolerance and acceptance, Seema Malaka has more dubious origins. Rumor has it, it was financed by a muslin who was kicked out of the community. No, its not a conversion gift, but more of a f$*#% you gesture. Regardless of its origins, it is one of Colombo’s must see sites.

Seema Malaka Lake Temple Sri Lanka Seema Malaka Temple from above.

Seema Malaka Colombo, Sri LankaWatch out, the walkways get VERY hot and you are not allowed to wear shoes in the temple.

Seema Malaka Temple Colombo, Sri LankaYou will never get lonely with such good company around.

I hope you have enjoyed this mini tour through Sri Lanka. The country has so much to offer this is but a small sample of what you can expect from the land of serendipity. But don’t forget to give Colombo its due. Two days is plenty to get a feeling for the city, but after three years of living there I was still discovering new surprises.

Have you been to Sri Lanka? Planning a visit? Just want to remake at how beautiful it all is? Leave a comment below and join the discussion.

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21 Responses to “Experiencing Sri Lanka’s Providence- Part 4: Colombo’s Eccentric Gangaramaya and Peaceful Seema Malaka Buddhist Temples”

  1. lauraNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for the tips! Your article managed to convince Ayya to visit the two temples since we’re in Colombo right now :-)

  2. Dave and DebNo Gravatar says:

    We didn’t spend enough time in Colombo. Now I definitely want to go back and see it again! We absolutely loved our time in Sri Lanka. It is one of the few places that I actually cried when we left

  3. Ivo StoichevNo Gravatar says:

    Religion is the silliest thing to fight over, and yet we see so much examples of that in the past , and even today. I really admire that person , who has collected cultural heritage no matter the religion and symbolics. That’s the way it should be done – we should preserve the tradition of religions, but we shouldn’t be hostile towards one another.

  4. SamuraiNo Gravatar says:

    So cool! Did you feel totally safe? No more civil war and fighting right?
    Samurai´s recent [type] ..View Your 401K Like Social Security And Write It Off

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Samurai, we lived there for 3 years during the height of the Civil War. There were certainly times when we did not feel safe (bombings in Colombo, and a couple of air raids). But it was our job to be there. We were working on helping the war affected in the North and East and in our line of work Sri Lanka was mild :) Now that the war is over things are safe, there is no more fighting. To be honest, even during the war the South was not really affected and most everything was concentrated in the North and East.

      Go now before it gets more crowded!

  5. EarlNo Gravatar says:

    That was an excellent tour indeed! I skipped thought Colombo during my visit and clearly I missed out.

    I was actually just talking with a friend today here in Mexico about how much I miss the atmosphere of places where there is an abundance of Buddhist temples…so good timing with this post.
    Earl´s recent [type] ..How To Rent An Expensive Apartment For A Budget Price When Traveling

  6. mikeNo Gravatar says:

    I was about to say “where’s my photo credits?”, but realized all your photos are, like, 30 degrees to the left of mine. Too funny. Absolutely loved going to Gangaramaya on Good Friday with you. Made me feel like a true Universalist.

  7. Awesome pictures! I love the sound of Sri Lanka. I am still wondering how you could make yourself still like water, as water isn’t very still? I might have to try that meditation technique.
    Caz Makepeace´s recent [type] ..Hermosa Beach-A Backpacking Experience not Just for Surfers

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks Caz. Well water is nice and still when it is in a jar that is not moving :) What I ment by still as water is that water does not latch onto anything. When it is still it is still, when it is moving it just moves. The idea is to make you mind like water, it reflects what is around but does not become attached to it, it just observes. Hmmmm, maybe I should write a meditation post and explain the differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism. Do you meditate?

  8. AndiNo Gravatar says:

    These pictures are AWESOME!!!!! I love Buddhas. :)
    Andi´s recent [type] ..India- Day 9 Part 1

  9. ErinNo Gravatar says:

    I love Sri Lanka too. I lived in Ja-ela for two months so went into Colombo a lot. It never really grew on me – I must prefer the rest of the country. These photos look great though.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      I agree, the rest of the Country is sooo much nicer. But I think Colombo still has a few things to offer visitors. We lived in Colombo for 3 years and got out as much as possible. I hope the location independent lifestyle is going well, looks like you two are doing good ;)

  10. Very nice article with lovely pics Todd!

    David @ Malaysia Asia´s recent [type] ..Thien Cung Cave at Halong Bay

  11. Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks Ciki! I owe it all to my point and shoot camera ;) Sri Lanka is great, and super close to Malaysia.
    Todd Wassel´s recent [type] ..Hiyashi-chuka Ryan-Ban-Mien- Chinese Cold Noodles for Summer

  12. cikiNo Gravatar says:

    man.. seriously gorgeous photography. Colombo sounds so interesting.. am asking hubby to book a trip.. asap! ;)

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