The Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara or Kelaniya Temple is a Buddhist temple in Kelaniya, near Colombo in Sri Lanka. It is located 11 km (6.8 mi) north-east of Colombo.
Legend says Gautama Buddha set foot in Kelaniya with 500 enlightened monks on his third and final visit to Sri Lanka over 2,500 years ago, at the invitation of a Naga king Maniakkhika, to preach the Dhamma.
The image house is divided into four sections. The oldest are located in the King’s image house where scenes from the Jataka stories are depicted. The murals in the new image house depict scenes from the Buddha’s life and also illustrate the Buddha’s legendary first visit to Sri Lanka where he preached to the indigenous tribe of Yakkas in Mahiyanganaya.
The paintings show, the bringing of the sacred Bo sapling by Sanghamitta, daughter of India’s Emperor Asoka and the manner in which Indian princess Hemamala brought the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha hidden in her coiffure to escape detection.
The stupa is 90 foot tall, is built in the shape of a paddy heap, similar to the Jethavana and Abayagiri stupas in Anuradhapura. Many people believe the gem crusted throne upon which the Buddha sat is enshrined within this stupa.
The main highlights in the temple’s calendar is the Duruthu Perahera held on the January full moon Poya day. On the first day, the procession will be circling the upper terrace of the temple, called the Udamaluwe Perahera. Elephants, drummers and dancers perform. The sacred casket of relics is placed on a cushion and is carried around the temple thrice by the Chief Basnayake Nilame.
The second night sees the tenor, tempo and colour increase as more elephants, drummers and dancers join the parade. The procession makes its way around the lower temple square, called the Pahala Maluwe Perahera. The processions of the three Devalas Kataragama, Vishnu and Vibishana, join the perahera.
The perahera is a celebration of Sri Lanka’s cultural arts. Yet, above all, it has been able to awaken, rekindle and reaffirm the spirit of a nation.
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, dating back to before 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, much of the land was confiscated by the Portuguese. During the Dutch era, there were new gifts of land and under the patronage of King Kirthi Sri Rajasingha the temple was rebuilt. It was refurbished in the first half of the 20th century with the help of Helena Wijewardana.
The temple is also famous for its image of the reclining Gautama Buddha and paintings by the native artist Solias Mendis which depict important events in the life of the Buddha,
According to history, Buddhism in Sri Lanka has been celebrated at Kelaniya Temple for as long as anyone can remember, especially the Duruthu Maha Perehera procession each January, where a 18-foot stone statue of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara has been erected at the temple.