Even after 2600 years Buddhism plays a prominent role in Sri Lanka. As you arrive here you will see many Buddha statues, temples and even humble monks along the way. Even though majority of the population is Buddhist, you will also see many churches, mosques and Hindu kovils co- existing peacefully amongst one another. Devotionally embedded in the lives of the Sinhalese, Buddhism is one of the oldest practicing religions in the world.
In the 6th Century BC was born Shakyan Prince, the only son of King Suddhodana and Queen Maya in Northern India. He was named ‘Siddhartha’ meaning ‘ a person who would do good to the world’. He grew up to be a noble Prince with extraordinary charm, strength and beauty. At the age of twenty nine his luxurious life took a turn as he was overwhelmed by the nature of birth, death and suffering. It is on the night on the birth of his son, he decided to be free of all attachments, and seek a solution to be free of suffering. After six years of meditation, on Vesak full moon poya day he attained enlightenment under a Bo tree, becoming Lord Goutama Buddha.
The two merchants Thapassu and Balluka who became Lord Buddhas’ first devotees, brought to Sri Lanka a lock of his hair in a jewel canister. The canister which they kept on a rock for protection as they rested was stuck and could not be moved in the morning. Understanding this was its rightful place the two merchants covered the canister with rock and soil. Hence came to be the first ever stupa in the world called “Girihadu Seya”. It still stands as a stupa in Thiriyaya, in the Trincomalee district.
It is stated in the Mahavansa that Lord Buddha visited Sri Lanka on three occasions. On the first visit it is said he arrived at Mahiyangana in Anuradhapura to meet a Yaksa clan and won them over to Buddhism. A stupa was built here with a lock of Lord Buddha’s hair, and later became Mahiyangana Chaaitya containing the late Buddha’s collar bone.
The second visit was made to settle a dispute between two Naga (cobra) Kings. During this time Lord Buddha visitedNagadeepa (Jaffna) where at present a temple stands, attracting many visitors. Upon the invitation by the Naga King of Kelaniya the third visit was made. The Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya is hence popular for this reason. It is during this visit it’s believed that Lord Buddha left an imprint of his foot on Adams Peak (Sri Pada), visited the site of Dhigavapi in the Ampara District and Dhivaguha (not yet identified). And finally visited Anuradhapura visiting the sites where the present Bo tree and three revered dagaba’s; Ruwanweliseya, Thuparamaya and Sela Chaaitya stand.
As Buddhism was brought to Sri Lanka by Mahinda Thero, it is on the rock of Mihintale that he encountered the meeting with King Devanampiyatissa and inaugurating Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Hence this sacred rock in Anuradhapura is of great historical and religious importance.
The Temple of the Tooth ( Dalada Maligawa) in Kandy is a famous Buddhist site. The holy tooth relic of the Buddha lies in this magnificent octagonal shaped palace.
The magnificent Buddha statues and shrines in Polonnaruwa, which lay claim to the skills and devotion of the people during that time are not to be missed. The mysterious cave temple in Dambulla, with five shrines and over hundred sculptures of the Buddha show the impact of Buddhism that has rippled through the country over thousands of years.