The Most Visited temple in the city, the Gangaramaya Temple which organizes Sri Lanka’s largest and the most colourful Vesak festival annually, has a history of 120 years. It was established in 1885 by Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Nayaka Thera at a time when Buddhist and cultural resurgence were much needed as the country was under the colonial rule.
The area that was once a swamp beside the Beira Lake, has now turned to be an iconic complex which consists of the temple, the assembly hall in the breathtaking lake and the vocational training institute. Earlier, devotees had to cross the Beira Lake on a boat in order to reach the then small temple which was converted to what is today by the Devundara Sri Jinaratana Nayake Thera, a pupil of Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Nayaka Thera who appointed him as the chief incumbent of the temple.
One of the grandest festivals of the Gangaramaya Temple, the Navam Perahera, the inception of which dates back to 1979, is held annually in the month of February, displaying the rich religious and cultural tradition of Sri Lanka. It is quite a fascinating sight that hundreds of elephants nicely adorned with elegant costume walk with pride and dignity carrying the casket of the sacred relics while many troupes of traditional drummers, flutists, dancers and other traditional performers and hundreds of Buddhist monks clad in colourful robes, parade in the Perahera.
The Gangaramaya Navam Perahera, a colourful pageant in the city of Colombo, plays a big role in preserving the Buddhist culture and taking it for future generations. The Perahera attracts thousands of people not only from the whole island but also beyond the ocean as , it is popular throughout the world.
Buddha Rashmi Nationnal Vesak Festival
Yet another grand festival held by the Gangaramaya Temple in commemoration of the Birth, Enlightenment and Passing-away of the Lord Buddha, is the annual Vesak Festival known as ‘Buddha Rashmi Pooja’, the largest and the most attracted Vesak festival in the island. During this colourful festival, the temple and the area around turn into a sparkling dreamland with thousands of beautifully crafted and illuminated Vesak lanterns some of which are afloat the Beira Lake and millions of lights on the trees around and Sima Malaka embellishing the Buddha Rashmi Pooja.
In addition, a number of religious observances and events are conducted parallel to the Vesak festival with a view to improving the knowledge of the devotees on Buddhism.
A temple well – known for its unparallel social service, the Gangaramaya Temple led by the Ven Galaboda Gnanissara Nayaka Thera, is always committed towards the social well-being of the masses. The conscientious endeavours of Podi Hamuduruwo to support the needy are really appreciable and commendable. It is worth mentioning that a towering strength to Podi Hamuduruwo is Ven Dr Kirinde Assaji Thera who plays a big role in all these worthy causes.
Some of the temple’s enormous social services are: community development projects e.g. Na Sevana, vocational training centers, orphanages for the street children, homes for the differently abled and the elderly, homes for the abandoned, publication of Buddhist literature, helping to develop thousands of rural temples, cultivation projects, and many more.
Initiated by Ven Sri Jinarathana Nayaka Thera as a collection of artifacts and other objects of religious, cultural and historical value, the museum of the temple was much developed to what is today by Ven Galaboda Gnanissara Nayaka Thera with the help of devotees and donors here and abroad particularly the Asian region. Today the museum is replete with a range of ageless treasures from ancient Sri Lanka as well as around the globe, including valuable Buddha statues of different influences, ancient ola leaf writings, old coins, vehicles and other relics in a classic display of tradition and culture.
Text by Sisira Kumara