Sri Lanka has become synonymous with endless beaches, delicious food,
exotic teas and the elephants.
Mention Sri Lanka and the first thing that comes to the mind is endless beaches, delicious food, exotic teas and, of course, the elephants. But perhaps not many tourists know that Sri Lanka is also famous for its timeless ruins, some of which are also listed as world heritage sites by UNESCO.
This is hardly surprising, considering the rich history of the country that dates back to pre-historic times – human settlements as old as 125,000 years have been discovered in Sri Lanka. In fact, legends and history are deeply intertwined in the early accounts of this island country. Some say it was Buddha who left his footprint on Adam’s Peak (also known as Sri Pada) while others say the footprint belongs to Adam himself when he was taking a last look at Eden. Whatever the reality, Sri Lanka is replete with ancient sites that remain a source of fascination for history buffs.
Topping the list is Sri Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth) located in Kandy. As the name suggests, the temple was built within the royal palace complex that holds in its compounds the tooth relic of Buddha. A sacred artifact, this relic is revered by Buddhists around the world and has played a significant role in local politics for thousands of years.
Legend has it that whoever has the relic holds the governance which is why ancient rulers went to great lengths to protect and take control of it. Kandy remained the capital of Sinhalese kings from 1592 to 1815 and the city has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO, thanks to the temple. To this day, Buddhist monks conduct ritual worship in the inner chamber of the temple. Every Wednesday, the relic is given a sacred bath with a herbal concoction made from scented water and fragrant flowers. Unfortunately, the temple sustained considerable damage from multiple bombings by terrorists in the past but was fully restored each time.
Sigiriya is the place that is also considered to be the eighth wonder of the world. This is an ancient castle used by King Kasyapa in the fifth century AD. The site consists of the remains of the Sky Palace that was built on the flat top of a rock, a terrace that has the Lion Gate, the Mirror Wall and the well-known Sigiriya frescoes. Other unique features of the site include beautiful gardens, moats and cisterns that hold water to this day.
Close on the heels of the Sigiriya is the Dambulla Cavekovil, popularly known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla. Located in central Sri Lanka, it is the largest and probably one of the best preserved temple complexes in the country. Towering a good 160 meters over the surrounding plains, the complex is spread over five caves which contain statues and paintings pertaining to Buddha’s teachings and his life. Other statues include depictions of the Hindu gods Vishnu and Ganesh and ancient Sri Lankan kings. Expansive murals are found throughout the caves, covering an area of around 2,100 square meters and represent Buddha’s temptations by the demon Mara and his first sermon.
Of course, the world heritage sites in Sri Lanka aren’t just limited to ancient temples and palaces. The Sinharaja