Sri Lanka is full of beautiful Buddhist temples, some of them hundreds of years old. This weekend I was lucky enough to have the chance to visit three very old and very beautiful temples in the countryside outside of Kandy. The last few weeks I’ve been working with a translator doing interviews with women in rural clinics. Upeksha, my translator, invited me to tag along with her and her boyfriend, Darminda (I think I spelled this right), to visit Gadaladeniya Temple, Lankathilake Temple, and the Embekke Devale.
I met Upeksha and Darminda around ten on a Sunday morning and we rode off in Darminda’s car to see the first temple. Riding in an air-conditioned car felt luxurious after months of riding in three-wheelers, or worse, riding a crowded bus where my head almost touched the ceiling. Our first stop was the Gadaladeniya Temple, which sits on top of a rock, and had some excellent paintings.
The second temple, Lankathilake, is on a hilltop with amazing views of the Hantana range and was built in the 14th century. Darminda told me that Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka are located in the highest point in the area, which certainly makes for a beautiful setting. When we arrived local men and women were washing the dagoba in preparation for the Vesak Poya Day, May 9. We were able to see inside the temple, but only for a moment because the morning puja was beginning.
My favorite was the third temple, Embekke, built 400-500 years ago, and covered in detailed carvings. Similar to Lankathilake, the temple was being spiffed up for the coming holiday. The puja was ending while we were there, and the drumming was loud and beautiful.
The best part of the temple is the wood carvings. A local man showed us around the temple, explaining some of the different carvings and telling us about the significance of the temple. It was built for the deity Kataragama, who is important for Hindus and Buddhists. Kataragama’s animal is the peacock, so part of the roof was designed to mimic the peacock’s tail. Twenty-six beams meet and are joined by a single wooden nail.
One of the carvings represented a Portuguese man on a horse, and was amazing for its detail and beautiful design.
After the visit to the three temples we went to Upeksha’s house for a delicious lunch of rice and curry. My favorite was the garlic curry, made with whole cloves of cooked garlic. Next best was the mango curry, which manages to be sweet, a little hot, and sour all at once. The lunch was especially tasty after our temple visits.