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Buddhist Pilgrimage Tours

Best Buddhist Pilgrimage Tours in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is one of the oldest countries that maintains the pure Theravada Buddhist traditions unaffected for over 2500 years. It has a rich Buddhist culture and it is one of the oldest living Buddhist traditions in the world. About 70% of Sri Lankans are Theravada Buddhists. Over 30000 Buddhist monks are devoted to serve and preach Lord Buddha’s teachings in over 6000 Buddhist monasteries spread out all across the Island.

There are many sacred Buddhist places of worship in Sri Lanka that have high religious significance and one should visit at least once in your lifetime. Check the religious importance & the historical value of below pilgrim destinations and customize your Buddhist pilgrimage tour package in Sri Lanka with the best pilgrimage tour operator in Sri Lanka.

Popular Pilgrim Tour Destinations in Sri Lanka

Ruwanweliseya / Swarnamali Maha Seya – Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

The Ruwanweliseya is sited in Anuradhapura in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka – the first ancient capital city of Sinhala kindom. It was built by King Dutugamunu (137 BC – 119 BC) and completed by his younger brother, King Saddhatissa, after his death. The Ruwanweliseya is ranked among the tallest ancient monuments in the world.
The Ruwanweliseya has a diameter of 90 metres at the base and is 92 metres (300 ft) high. The circumference is 292 metres (950 ft ) high. The shape of the Ruwanweliseya is like a bubble floating on water (diya bubula). The largest collection of (Two quarts or one Drona) the Gothama Buddha’s relics anywhere in the world are enshrined in the Ruwanweliseya stupa, and it is considered as the most sacred Buddhist temple among the Buddhist in the world.

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Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi - Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is a sacred bo tree in the Mahamewna Gardens, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. It is said to be the southern branch from the historical Sri Maha Bodhi at Buddha Gaya in India under which Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment. The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi of Anuradhapura is the oldest living tree of the whole world with a written history.

The sacred city of Anuradhapura has been nominated by UNESCO as a World Heritage. The main reason for the historical city of Anuradhapura to become a sacred city was the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi.

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Jethawanaramaya Stupa – Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Jethawanaramaya Stupa was built by King Mahasena of Anuradhapura (276-303) was completed by his son Sirimeghavanna. It is the largest stupa in Sri Lanka. It was originally 400 feet (122 meters) in height and was the third tallest building in the world at that time. Even today as a brick monument, Jethawanaramaya still remains the tallest of its kind in the world. King Parakramabahu (12th century) in the Polonnaruwa era again tried to renovate this stupa and it was rebuilt to the current height, a reduction from the original height. Today it stands at 232 feet (71 meters).

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Abhayagiriya Monastery – Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Abhayagiriya Stupa is the second largest of the stupas in Sri Lanka. It has been built by King Vattagamini alias Valagamba (89-77 BC). This extends up to the extent of nearly 200 hectares. According to Chinese Bhikkhu Fa-hsein who visited Sri Lanka in the fifth century, there had been five thousand resident bhikkhus in the Abhayagiri. In its glorious days, it is believed to have stood around 115m tall, only slightly smaller than Jetavana Dagoba, making it the fourth tallest in the ancient world after Khufru & Khafra at Gizeh, Egypt & Jetavana Dagoba. Following a restoration by King Parakrambahu the great, the dagoba may have stood over 100m high. The loss of its pinnacle has now reduced its height to around 70m tall.

Buddhist buildings found in the environs of Abhayagri indicate that this complex had been an important educational institution both locally and internationally.

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Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya, Colombo, Sri Lanka

The Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara or Kelaniya Temple is a Buddhist temple in Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, seven miles from Colombo. Buddhists believe the temple to have been hallowed during the third and final visit of the Lord Buddha to Sri Lanka, eight years after gaining enlightenment. Its history would thus go back to 500 BCE. The Mahawansa records that the original Stupa at Kelaniya enshrined a gem-studded throne on which the Buddha sat and preached. The temple flourished during the Kotte era but much of its land was confiscated during the Portuguese empire.

The glorious pageant called Duruthu Maha Perahara in January, second in splendor only to the famous Kandy Esala Perahera Pageant in August, is held annually in celebration of the event of Buddha’s visit.

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Gangaramaya Temple - Colombo, Sri Lanka

Gangaramaya is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Colombo, started by the famous scholar-monk Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Nayaka Thera in the late 19th Century. This Buddhist temple includes several imposing buildings. It has the main features of a Vihara (temple), the Cetiya (Pagoda) the Bodhi tree, the Vihara Mandiraya, the Seema Malaka (assembly hall for monks) the Relic Chamber, a museum and a library.

Gangaramaya is the focus of the Navam Perahera on the February poya (full moon) day each year. It is today the most important cultural pageant in Colombo, with many foreign visitors. It is a fascinating show replete with whip crackers, fire dancers, flag bearers, hundreds of beautifully caparisoned elephants, traditional Uda Rata, Pahatha Rata, and Sabaragamuwa dancers, drummers, and flutists.

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Mirisawetiya Stupa – Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Mirisawetiya Stupa was built by the great King Dutugemunu who reigned during the time (161-137 BC) and united Sri Lanka under a single flag. It is believed that King Dutugemunu had a sceptre that contained a sacred relic of the Buddha. While going to the tank ‘Tissawewa’, for a water festival, the King has planted the scepter in a certain place. When he came back, it is said that his men could not remove the sceptre from the place. Witnessing the miracle, the King decided to build a dagaba (pagoda) enclosing the scepter. Thus was the creation of Mirisawetiya.
It was the first dagaba built by the great king Dutugemunu.

The present dagaba is 192 feet (59 meters) in height and 141 (43 meters) feet in diameter. A British scholar who examined this monument in the late 19th century recorded the diameter of the original stupa 168 feet (51 meters) and the height of about 200 feet (61 meters).

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Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya - Colombo, Sri Lanka

Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya is a Buddhist temple situated in Bellanwila, Colombo District, Sri Lanka. Located around 12 km south to the Colombo city, near Dehiwala – Maharagama road, the temple attracts hundreds of devotees daily and is famous for its annual Esala Perehera festival which usually takes place in the month of August or September.

Being one of the most venerated Buddhist temples in Colombo, Sri Lanka, many devotees flock to worship the sacred Bo tree of Bellanwila Rajamaha Vihara, which is considered to be one of the first offshoots of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.

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Mahiyangana Raja Maha Viharaya – Mahiyanganaya, Sri Lanka

Mahiyangana Raja Maha Vihara is an ancient Buddhist temple in Mahiyangana, Sri Lanka. It is believed to be the site of Gautama Buddha’s first visit to Sri Lanka. In the ninth month after Enlightenment, the Buddha made his first visit to Sri Lanka. At that visit, the ‘yakka’ commandant Saman, appealed to the Buddha to give him something as a token of symbolic worship, in the absence of the Buddha. Buddha gave the Yakka’s commandant Saman a handful of hair from his head, which enshrined it in a small tope 10 ft. high and 24 ft. in circumference (Mhv. 1:36). It is the first Stupa in Sri Lanka, built during the lifetime of the Buddha.

After the Mahaparinibbana (demise) of the Buddha in 543 BC at Kusinara (now Kushinagar) in India, 45 years later, the Arhant Sarabhu Maha Thera, having recovered from the funeral pyre, where the Buddha was cremated, the left clavicle (collar-bone) as a relic, brought it to Sri Lanka, and had it also enshrined in the same chetiya, and enlarged it to a height of 18 ft (Mhv. 1:39).

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Nagadeepa Rajamaha Viharaya - Nainativu Island, Jaffna, Sri Lanka

The most sacred Buddhist shrine in the Northern province of Sri Lanka, ‘Nagadeepa Raja Maha Viharaya’ is located on Nainativu island in close proximity to the Sri Nagapooshani Amman Kovil. Nainathivu is an island that maintains peace and religious coexistence among citizens of ethnic differences. There are Hindu temples, a Buddhist pagoda, and a Muslim masjid.

The Rajayathana stupa at Nagadeepa Rajamaha Viharaya was constructed by two warring Naga kings, Chulodara and Mahodara, at the site where Lord Buddha during His second visit to Sri Lanka, five years after attaining Enlightenment, intervened and mediated in settling a dispute over the possession of a gem-studded throne. The precious throne was offered to the Lord Buddha, was returned to the Naga Kings and was later enshrined in this Rajayathana stupa.

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Sri Padaya / Adam's Peak Mountain – Sri Lanka

According to Mahawamsa, the great chronicle of Sri Lanka, The Lord Buddha has visited Sri Lanka three times. During the third visit to Sri Lanka, the Lord Buddha has traveled from Kelaniya to Sri Pada, and then to Digavaphi. It is said that Buddha left his footprint on the Sri Pada rock at top of the mountain at the invitation of the Deity Saman (Saman Deviyo).

The climb to Sri Padaya or Adam’s Peak Mountain is just a magical experience. The view of sunrise from the peak is magical. To witness this breath-taking site, you will have to start the climb at midnight and continue it all night long to be there by dawn. People of all ages in Sri Lanka climb Adam’s Peak Mountain as a yearly pilgrimage, and they never get enough of this amazing experience.

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Deeghavapiya Stupa – Ampara, Sri Lanka

Dighavapiya Rajamaha Viharaya is a Buddhist sacred shrine and an archaeological site in the Ampara District of Sri Lanka. The importance of Dighavapi is connected with legends about visits to this site by the Lord Buddha himself.

Deegavapiya Rajamaha Viharaya is one of the sixteen most secret places to worship in Srilanka – where Lord Buddha visited and has a history back to 3rd century B.C.E. Lord Buddha visited Sri Lanka 3 times. On the 3rd time, first, he visited Kelaniya, then to mountain Sri Pada and rest in Diva Guhawa. On his return journey, he has stayed some time In Deegawapiya. It was stated that he was accompanied by 500 arahaths. It says that a dagaba call “Naka Seya” was constructed with the “Niya Dhathu” (nail of Lord Buddha) at that time.

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Muthiyangana Rajamaha Viharaya – Badulla, Sri Lanka

Muthiyangana Raja Maha Vihara is an ancient Buddhist temple located in Badulla town in the Badulla District of Uva Province in Sri Lanka. The history of this sacred shrine starts with the Lord Buddha’s 3rd arrival to the island.

The Lord Buddha and 500 Arahaths visited this Island for the third time on the invitation of Naga King Maniakkhitha to Kelaniya. On that visit, Buddha came to Badulla on the invitation of King Indaka (now elevated to the Deity status), ruler of the Namunukula Mountain Range. King Indaka built Muthiyangana Stupa enshrining some hair and Mukthaka Dathu (drops of sweat turned in to pearls) of the Lord Buddha on the location where Buddha made his sermons. Since then this Stupa and the temple have been expanded, reconstructed and renovated by many kings.

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Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic – Kandy, Sri Lanka

Sri Dalada Maligawa or the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a Buddhist temple in the city of Kandy, Sri Lanka, which houses the sacred relic of the tooth of the Lord Buddha.

The Sacred Tooth Relic of the Lord Buddha at Sri Dalada Maligawa is considered the foremost sacred Buddhist shrine in the Buddhist world. The city is a world heritage site declared by UNESCO, in part due to this temple.

Rituals are performed three times daily: at dawn, at noon and in the evenings.
Once a year, in July or August, the Esala Perahara procession journeys Kandy city streets, to pay homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha. The Esala Perahera in Kandy is the grandest of the country’s traditional festivals.

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Kiri Vehera & Kataragama Devalaya - Kataragama, Sri Lanka

According to the Dhatuvamsa, the Buddha stopped here briefly during his third visit to Sri Lanka before going to Tissamaharama. A sapling from the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Tree at Anuradhapura had been planted at Kataragama. The stupa was renovated in 1912 and sits on a platform 130 feet square and 10 feet high. The stupa is 95 ft. in height with a circumference of 280 ft. This structure probably dates back to the 3rd century BC.

In July/August every year a festival procession that happens in Kataragama, the Kataragama Perahera is part and parcel of the Esala Perahera in honour of the god Skanda, also referred to as Kataragama Deviyo. While elephants take center stage at this parade, regional dance performances burst into view, followed by ceremonial fire walkers, fire eaters, singers, musicians and a myriad of acrobatics and jugglers.

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Gal Viharaya | Uththararamaya – Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

Polonnaruwa Gal Viharaya ( Uththararamaya) is one of the main attractions in Polonnaruwa. This was done by king Parakamabahu the great (the year 1153 -1186 A.C.) in Polonnaruwa Kingdom time.

The Gal Viharaya is a rock temple & the central feature of the temple is four rock relief statues of the Buddha, which have been carved into the face of large granite rock. The images consist of a large seated figure, another smaller seated figure inside an artificial cavern, a standing figure, and a reclining figure. These are considered to be some of the best examples of ancient Sinhalese sculpting and carving arts and have made the Gal Vihara the most visited monument at Polonnaruwa and a World Heritage Site of UNESCO.

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