Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara
Ten kilometres east of Fort lies Colombo’s most important Buddhist shrine,the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara . It’s believed Buddha visited the site of this temple on his third visit to Sri Lanka. Suitably grand and labyrinth, it has a dramatic past. The original temple was destroyed by Indian invaders, restored and destroyed again by the Portuguese in the 16th century.The Dutch restored it again in the 18th century in order to curry favour locally. The dagoba, which is hollow, is the focus of the Duruthu Perahera in January each year.
Made from unusual dark orange-coloured stone, the exterior is richly decorated, with ornate doorways and pillars, plus entertaining friezes of galloping elephants and pop-eyed dwarfs around the base. Inside, the shrine’s walls are covered in myriad paintings, including numerous strip panels in quasi-Kandyan style and some striking modern murals by Soliyas Mendis showing the Buddha’s three legendary visits to Sri Lanka, including a memorable depiction of an incandescent Buddha floating in mid-air above a crowd of cowering demons. A superb bo tree stands on the other side of the image house, its perimeter wall usually covered with piles of floral offerings and draped in innumerable prayer flags. The temple is the focus of the extravagant two-day Duruthu Perahera celebrations every January. Buses run to Kelaniya from just outside Bastian Mawatha bus station.The complex is some 7km northeast of Fort, just off the Kandy Rd.