Kelaniya Rajamaha Viharaya, simply known as Kelaniya Temple, is the most important Buddhist place of worship in Sri Lanka’s Western Province. Kelaniya is a suburb of Colombo, situated on the opposite side of the Kelaniya river. The ancient Pali names of the temple, the town and the river is Kalyani. This name is well known from the history of Myanmar (Burma), as it remembers the most significant monastic reform in Myanmar’s Buddhist order. In the 15th century a new line of ordination was introduced by Southeastasian monks having received higher ordination in Kelaniya.
The temple flourished during the Kotte era in the 15th century, when the Sinhalese capital shifted to the area of Colombo for the first time. But Kelaniya, like most temples in the coastal plains of Sri Lanka, was destroyed by the Portuguese invaders who promoted Christianity in a violent way. Today’s temple at the historical site is from the late 19th century. The main shrine is an image house. It’s famous for it’s murals, some of them are in the Kandyan style, large paintings are from Solias Mendis, Sri Lanka’s most important artist in the first half of the 20th century.
The Kelaniya sanctuary attracts Buddhist and Hindu worshippers alike. The place is said to have been hallowed by a visit of Lord Buddha at the beginning of his third and final stay on the island. Even earlier on, the demon Vibhishana, brother and successor of the mythical King Ravana, took his residence in Kelaniya. He was rewarded with the kingship by Lord Rama, whom he helped to liberate his wife Sita from captivity in Ravana’s kingdom. This story is told in the Indian Ramayana epic. Vibhishana became the guardian deity of the west of the island. He is also venerated by Sinhalese Buddhists. The Vibhishana temple just in front of the main shrine of Kelaniya attracts pilgrims from India, too.
Nuwan Chinthaka Gajanayaka