The Kelaniya Temple (Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya)

The Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya, or Kelaniya Temple, is considered one of the most frequently visited temples by Sri Lankan Buddhists and is well-known for its historical importance, as well as for its rare and famous paintings and sculptures.


The sins of a lifetime are all rendered null when one worships  the Kelaniya  Temple once.”

Location/How to Reach the Kelaniya Temple

The temple is located about 10 kilometers to the northeast of Colombo, in Sri Lanka.

If you’re traveling by train, you can go to Colombo Fort station and get a train to Kelaniya station. Once you get down, you can take the bus (route number 135) and get down from the Kelani Rajamaha Viharaya, or else you can also hire a tuk tuk if you wish.

If you are traveling by bus, then there’s a direct bus (route number 150) from Gangarama Temple to Kelaniya Rajamaha Viharaya.

The best time to visit the Kelaniya Temple

You can visit the Kelaniya temple anytime of the year, but if you visit during January, you can experience one of the most extravagant processions in Sri Lanka, conducted by the Kelaniya Rajamaha Viharaya, which is the Kelaniya Duruthu Maha Perahera. I personally highly recommend you watch this wonderful and mesmerizing ceremony, as it displays  Sri Lankan Buddhist culture, traditions and is a magnificent spectacle of color grandeur, tradition, and religious passion.

The ideal time of day to visit Kelaniya Rajamaha Viharaya would be, during the early hours of the day, the evening, or the night. I recommend these times because you can experience a truly relaxing and soothing atmosphere and relax your mind while sitting under the sacred bo-tree. Moreover,  you can also see the walls and ceilings of the shrine lit up, which is truly a magnificent sight.

The Duruthu Maha Perahera

The Duruthu Maha Perahera is a procession held by the Kelani Rajamaha viharaya on the pre-full moon poya day, in the month of January annually, and is one of the most amazing processions I’ve ever seen in Sri Lanka. You can witness thousands of people standing on the sides of the road to watch this spectacular event.

According to historical records, this Perahera had its origins in 1927 and has evolved over the years to become the country’s most awaited and grandest low-country pageant in its category.


This perahera consists of four divisions.

1) The Dhatu Perahera,-in homage to the Buddha relics

2) The Vibhishana Devala Perahera ,dedicated to God Vibhishana

3)The Vishnu Devala Perahera, dedicated to God Vishnu

4) The Kataragama devala Perahera, dedicated to the patron deity of Kataragama


In fact, this Duruthu Maha Perahera is held annually to commemorate or celebrate the Lord Buddha’s first visit to Sri Lanka.

In this Perahera, you can witness different ceremonies, dances, and various performances that depict Sri Lankan culture and traditions, as well as folk music and age-old traditional folklore. It is truly an eye-catching and entertaining ceremony, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s visiting Sri Lanka.

History of the Kelaniya Temple

Kelaniya Temple is an ancient temple that has a history dating back to 543 BC. The most important event considered to be associated with the Kelaniya Rajamaha Viharaya, is the visit of Lord Buddha to the temple on the invitation of King Maniakkita of Kelaniya . It is said that the king made all arrangements to receive the Buddha with great honor and dignity, and that the king had prepared a special seat studded with brilliant gems for the Buddha to sit on. And at the end of the ceremony, the much delighted king had thought of building a pagoda, enshrining the gem studded golden seat, hair relics of Lord Buddha, and all the utensils used to prepare the alms. This pagoda exists even today and is in the shape of a heap of paddy, and the height of the dageba is currently about 90 feet.

The temple was destroyed many times, and each time the temple was reconstructed. In 1510, the Portuguese destroyed the temple, which was reconstructed by King Kirti Sri Raja Singha. The new temple was commenced in 1927 and completed in 1946, under the patronage of the renowned philanthropist, Miss Helen Wijewardane. 

The Old Paintings

The oldest paintings in the temple belong to the Kandyan period. And such paintings can be observed on the walls and ceilings of the two chambers in the old wing. In these paintings, the South Indian influence on Sinhala art can be highly noticeable. We can also observe traces of western influence on social life and dress.

The image house consists of two shrine rooms, and whoever comes closer, is struck by the incredible artistic ability of those who built and decorated it.

Around the outer walls, you can observe three ornamental friezes from one end to the other.

The first freeze consists of a row of elephants with carved trappings and mahouts.

The second frieze consists of little dwarves.

The third frieze is a row of geese, which is quite unique.

When you turn left and walk around clockwise, you come across the image of Ganesha, the Hindu god of wisdom. Next, you can observe an image of Ganga Devi, a river goddess, the image of God Vishnu, God Vibhishana; Maitreya Bodhisatva, King Maniakkita; and Skanda Kumara.

You can also witness the vimana that depicts the Buddha setting foot on the Sri Pada, or Adam’s peak, on the invitation of Godsumana, and next to it is the vimana of God Sumana himself.

If we enter the middle chamber, we can observe many more interesting paintings, including the paintings of jataka stories, the battle of Lord Buddha with the forces of Mara, the 16 sacred shrines in Sri Lanka, and many more paintings that showcase the artistic elegance of the temple. It is highly advised to observe all the paintings, especially if you are interested in learning about Sinhala Buddhist culture and history.

Solius Mendis, the great painter

The murals of Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya were painted by the great Sri Lankan painter, Solius Mendis. These murals that you can witness on the walls of the modern image house in the ancient Kelaniya  temple, showcase the talent of Solius Mendis, as he has revived the long lost traditional Sinhalese classical wall painting style of the Anuradhapura-Polonnaruwa period,with new changes that suit modernity. The interior of this new image house in Kelaniya Ajamaha Viharaya, is entirely covered with mesmerizing wall paintings by Mr. Solius Mendis. Among the many beautiful murals, one of the most eye-catching and also one of my favorites, is the painting of Princess Hemamala and Prince Danta carrying the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha. Especially, the color combination is of unique style,and the painting style was also unique to Solius Mendis as he combined tradition with modernity, creating his own exceptional style.

Egoda Kelaniya or Kithsiri Mevan Viharaya

Egoda Kelaniya is located on the south side of the temple, and you have to either take a ferry or use the bridge to cross the Kelaniya  River, in order to reach this temple. I suggest you take a ferry, because you can gain a totally different experience, but only if you are a person who loves adventure.

This temple was built by King Kithsiri Mewan, a former ruler of Sri Lanka, and is located in a truly serene and beautiful environment.

  • Sacred footprint and the relic of the bathing robe of Lord Buddha

It is believed that on Lord Buddha’s visit to Kelaniya, he  bathed in the Kelani River, and the robe that he was wearing at that time has been deposited inside the pagoda of this temple. You can also find a sacred stone carved slab, which is believed to have been grazed by Lord Buddha on his third visit to Sri Lanka. This special stone slab is called the ‘Sivuru Gala’ by the pilgrims.

Egoda Kelaniya is an extremely serene and peaceful place to spend time and relax your mind. So if you’re planning to visit Kelaniya Rajamaha Viharaya, don’t miss out on the visit to Kithsiri Mewan Raja Maha Viharaya, as the villagers and the devotees believe that this place has miraculous powers, and they come to this revered site graced by the Buddha to get blessings.

Travel Tips

If you are visiting the Kelaniya Temple or any other Buddhist temple,


  • Wear decent attire.

Don’t wear shorts, wear pants instead, and your shoulders should be covered. Wear any dress that doesn’t show off too much skin. Try to be as simple as possible, without too many fashion accessories. It is better if you can tie up your hair too.

  • Keep in mind to remove your slippers and take off your hats, when entering the temple premises.

You are not allowed to enter the temple with your shoes or hats on, as it is considered an act of disrespect.

  • Try to stay calm and collected, don’t talk loudly, and try to avoid inappropriate conversations.

You have to behave yourself as you are entering a sacred place, respected and worshipped by Buddhists.

  • Respect the clergy.

Monks are some of the friendliest people you will meet during your stay. But never forget to show them respect. Never touch a monk or talk to them in a disrespectful manner.

  • Respect the Buddha statues.

Never pose for a picture by turning your back or touching the statues of Lord Buddha, as it is considered inappropriate and an act of disrespect. Moreover, never take selfies with Buddha statues as well.

  • Take photos only if you are allowed.

Sometimes, in certain temples, photography is prohibited due to various reasons. Therefore, keep in mind to obey the rules and regulations of the temple.


I hope you will have a wonderful journey!

Cover Image Credit: Ayoshi Perera  | Written By: Dinethri Weerasekara

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