The Seema Malaka & Gangaramaya Temples, Colombo, Sri Lanka
A temple in the lake
On three island podiums on Beira Lake, Colombo easily visible from
Sir James Peiris Road, is the Seema Malaka, a Buddhist temple, a
beautiful & unexpected site. Amidst the hustle & bustle of the city, the
tranquil temple takes us by surprise. Not to be outdone, we take to the
bridge like walkway leading to the temple in the middle of the lake with
the breeze cutting into us. Set on three linked platforms rising out of
the lake, the temple has a small Bo tree & delicately carved kiosk on
the two outer platforms standing on either side of the larger central
structure. The lake is surrounded by fine old trees, provides welcoming
breezes throughout the day & attracts pelicans, egrets & cormorants
The inspired design
Whereas most Buddhist temples in the country follow strict
traditional design, Gangaramaya temples floating on the middle of Beira
Lake, is one of Sri Lanka's unusual temples. The design is inspired by
the ancient forest monasteries such as those of
Ritigala, which feature similar raised platforms linked by walkways.
Then again the temple building is in the Kandyan style: with overhanging
blue tiled roofs held up by walls apparently made from collected
spindles & banisters. The temple designed by Geoffrey Bawa, one of
Asia's foremost architects, with its peaceful elegance is a world away
from the bustling capital, Colombo. It is intended for meditation &
inaugurations of Buddhist Bhikkus..
After the original 19th century version slowly sunk into the water,
Geoffrey Bawa was commissioned to redesign it in 1979.
The Seema Malake is part of an ever-expanding complex of lavishly
decorated Gangaramaya temple, a couple of hundred meters to the east.
Gangaramaya sits behind an unusually elaborate perimeter wall faced
with polished brass panels decorated with dwarfs (symbols of prosperity)
& topped with Buddha statues. The complex has a library, a museum &
extraordinarily eclectic array of bejeweled & gilt gifts presented by
devotees & well-wishers over the years.
To one side of the courtyard, a sacred old Bo tree grows out of a
raised platform draped in prayer flags. Next to it sits a richly
decorated Kandyan-style wooden pavilion. Just behind the main courtyard
is a tier of stacked-up Buddha statues from Thailand. Close by is the
temple's most surprising feature; a fine selection of vintage cars,
presented by well-wishers over the years
The principal image house
Across the courtyard lies the principal image house, its base
supported by dwarfs in quasi-yogic positions. Inside, the entire
building is occupied by an eye-popping tableau vivant, centered on a
large Buddha statue sitting majestically in the meditation posture,
flanked by elephant tusks & surrounded by dozens of other
larger-than-life Buddha statues.
The temple museum
Next to the entrance, the temple museum fills two big rooms with an
astonishing treasure-trove of wonderful objects of great delicacy &
value alongside pieces of pure Kitsch: collection of ancient Sanskrit
ola leaf texts, large sapphires & other precious stones, sandalwood &
ivory carvings, brass gods jade & crystal monstrosities & elephant
tusks, coins, innumerable Buddha images & statues of other Buddhist &
Hindu deities, oil lamps, votive dagobas, old clocks, porcelain, ivory
carvings & gramophones.
Gangaramaya temple has been instrumental in establishing the
Buddhist temple on Staten Island (U.S.A) & the Buddhist Center in
New York, Birmingham Buddhist Vihara (U.K.) & the Buddhist Centre
Ultimate honour to the temple was bestowed on 27th July 2007. Sacred
relic - Kesha Datu (a lock of Hair) donated by Chittagong
Buddhist temple of Bangladesh & government of Bangladesh to Sri Lanka in
July 2007 was deposited at the temple. The Sacred relics were received
by Minister Rohitha Boggalagama, Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, Ven.
Thibbatuwawe Medankara & Ven. Assaji of Malwatte & Asgiriya Viharas of
Sri Lanka. The representation was sent to Bangladesh by the President of
Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapakse of Ruhuna.
Navam Perahera procession
The temple is also the focus of a major festival, the Navam Perahera
procession, held on poya day of every February, when up to fifty
elephants descend. Although established only in 1979, this has quickly
grown to be one of the most popular peraheras in Colombo.
on photo to enlarge