An island full of Buddhas

Before going to Sri Lanka I knew it was 75% Buddhist, but that still didn’t prepare me for the profusion and size of Buddha statues you find all across the country. Our tour included stops at several temples and archaeological sites, so we got to see a wide variety of them. Perhaps because of the particular branch of Buddhism popular in Sri Lanka they were all fairly slim and serene, compared to the fat, laughing version you often see decorating Chinese restaurants.

The weather was unseasonably rainy during the first week of our stay, but at least it was a warm rain so we didn’t catch a cold or have to huddle, shivering, under our umbrellas. In fact it wasn’t even that big a deal getting wet as you dried off again pretty quickly due to the heat, so my umbrella was mainly used to keep my camera dry.

Remember: shoes and hats off when you enter the temple grounds.

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One of our first visits was to the ruins of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.

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Within this site is a granite hill called Gal Vihara, out of which several Buddha statues were carved nearly a thousand years ago.

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I love the interaction between the design of the figure and the grain and pattern in the stone.

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Other statues are clearly designed to be seen from a distance, like this one, visible from the top of Sigiriya rock.

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Another highlight was Dambulla, which is famous for its cave temple. Near the entrance a golden Buddha watches over the museum.

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But the real excitement is inside, in a complex of five natural caves filled with statues and painted walls and ceilings.

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Our guide told us that one of these statues was recently completely repainted. Apparently it was considered to have been defiled because a tourist decided to climb up onto it and sit in its lap in order to have her photo taken. In fact all temples in Sri Lanka ask you, out of respect, not to have your photo taken with your back to a statue of the Buddha.

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Ceiling detail.

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Another temple in the town of Kandy.

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When I build my own temple you can bet the columns will be topped with golden elephant heads too.

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But I think possibly my favourite was the Kande Viharaya temple which we visited just outside the beach resort of Beruwela. And incidentally this is my favourite of all the photos I took on holiday:

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It’s the tallest sitting Buddha statue in the world (48 metres), and appears to have had a fairly recent paint job, as in all the other photos I can find online it looks rather faded. It was a hot day and the floor tiles scorched our bare feet, making us scurry across the complex looking for shade, much to the amusement of the harder-soled locals.

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Offerings.

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Buddha’s bum! I was puzzled by what look like windows or trapdoors in its back. Is it hollow?

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Of course if you want to get an idea of what Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa and other sacred Sri Lanka sites are really like, you could just watch this: