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Buddhism enriching tourism in Sri Lanka

Travel writer Mark Daniels takes a detailed look at how Buddhism is enriching tourism in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is a diverse country, which encapsulates the best of Asia through its multifaceted culture, its friendly social order and its unparalleled natural beauty. One of the most prevalent features of the country, though, is the Buddhist religion, which permeates much of Sri Lankan culture and society, enriching life for the island’s residents and the touristic experience for those who visit.

More and more people are becoming interested in the Buddhist features of Sri Lanka, contributing to a tourist boom in recent years. Many admire Sri Lanka as a country that perfectly balances the luxury lifestyle with an exotic culture. Renting a luxury villa in Sri Lanka has become popular with those who travel to the island to experience the Buddhist influence, providing a great base from which to begin a Sri Lankan adventure into the country’s Buddhist past.

The sacred Bodhi tree in the Palace-temple Isurumuniya
The sacred Bodhi tree in the Palace-temple Isurumuniya

Sri Lanka is the world’s oldest continually Buddhist country. Ever since the religion was first introduced back in the 2nd century BC, it has flourished and become a major part of not only Sri Lanka’s culture, but also a major part of its society. Practicing Buddhists have produced many of Sri Lanka’s great art and literary works. Nowadays, approximately 70% of the population practices the Buddhist religion.

The island is dotted with hundreds of beautiful Buddhist stupas – the architecture of which is complemented by the modern Sri Lanka villas that are being built to cater for the increased demand – and boasts some of the most famous religious architecture in the world. The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy is arguably the heart of Buddhism in Sri Lanka due to the fact that it houses the country’s most important relic – a tooth of the Buddha. Tourists are invited to explore the temple’s stunning shrines, artwork and statues alongside locals, which makes for a truly interesting spiritual and cultural experience.

Another fascinating temple to visit is the Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura, home to the world’s oldest historically authenticated tree. Said to be over 2,000 years old, the tree was grown from a cutting brought from Bodhgaya in India and is visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, each admiring its flourishing beauty and its spiritual significance. Many believe that Princess Sangamitta, the sister of Mahinda, who introduced Buddha’s teachings to Sri Lanka, was the one that brought the cutting to the country. Whether that’s true or not, a trip to the temple is a must.

Other notable temples and shrines include Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo, little known but extremely beautiful Mulkirigala Hiding and Nagadipa Temple in Jaffna Peninsula. Each has its own atmosphere and Buddhist story waiting to be discovered. There is a magical aura surrounding these places of religious significance, which defines the touristic experience for visitors to Sri Lanka.

Temple Of The Sacred Tooth Relic
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a Buddhist temple in the city of Kandy,

Apart from the architecture, Buddhism has brought many exciting holidays and festivals to Sri Lanka. Throughout the year there are literally hundreds of celebrations, and many are a cultural and colourful celebration where everyone is invited to celebrate the spirit and life of the Buddha, including visitors to the country and the religion. One of the oldest and grandest festivals is Kandy Esala Perahera where dancers, jugglers, musicians, fire-breathers and brightly decorated elephants roam the streets, revelling in the joy of the convivial event. Held in July or August, the event lasts 10 days and is an unforgettable experience for all who attend. Each May, Vesak festival celebrates the birth, enlightenment and ultimately the demise of Buddha. It seems that every street in the nation is decorated with lanterns and other colourful adornments, and feasts and parties fill the air with the sound of merriment.

Sri Lankan people are world renowned for their generosity and friendliness, which is manifested on a daily basis through simple gestures and acts. Do not be surprised if on your travels you are invited into someone’s house to share food, tea or even spend the night as a guest. This is largely due to the teachings of Buddhism, which is a religion that encourages peace, respect and love. It makes visiting the island of Sri Lanka an absolute pleasure because you never know where the openness of the people will lead you, nor will you leave without having made new friends. There is a communal feeling wherever you travel in the country; Buddhists are famously gentle-spirited, meaning your luxury holiday will benefit from interacting with the Sri Lankan local people.