Sri Lanka being a multi cultural society practices a variety of religions and boasts of several places of worship significant to all faiths. As of the 2011 census 70.2% of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, 12.6% are Hindus, 9.7% are Muslims and 7.4% Christians (6.1% Roman Catholic and 1.3% other Christian)
Buddhism came to Sri Lanka from India during the reign of the Indian emperor Ashoka in third century BC and played a significant role in the establishment of Sinhalese kingdoms since the early times, dating back to over two thousands years. Buddhism was regarded the highest ethical and philosophical expression of Sinhalese culture and civilization. From then on, the royal families had helped to encourage the spread of Buddhism, aiding Buddhist missionaries and building monasteries. Around 200 BC, Buddhism became the official religion of Sri Lanka. The Sacred Tooth Relic was brought to Sri Lanka in 4th century by Prince Danta and Princess Hemamala. Sri Lanka has the longest continuous history of Buddhism of any Buddhist nation. During the periods of decline, the Sri Lankan monastic lineage was revived through contacts with Myanmar and Thailand.
Sri Dalada Maligawa: Temple of the sacred tooth relic
The Sacred Tooth Relic (Dālada) of the Buddha is the most venerated object of worship for Buddhists. Its present house, the Temple of the Tooth Relic (Dālada Māligāwa) in Kandy, is considered the foremost sacred place of worship in the Buddhist world. According to legend, the tooth was taken from the Buddha as he lay on his funeral pyre. It was smuggled to Sri Lanka in 313 AD, hidden in the hair of Princess Hemamali who fled the Hindu armies besieging her father’s kingdom in India. It immediately became an object of great reverence and was enshrined in a series of nested jewelled reliquaries. The tooth was brought out for special occasions and paraded on the backs of elephants, which are sacred to the Buddha. The tooth relic is removed from its shrine only once a year, during the Esala Perahera, a 10-day torchlight parade of dancers and drummers, dignitaries, and ornately decorated elephants. It is now one of the better-known festivals in Asia, and it may be the largest Buddhist celebration in the world.
Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara: Kelaniya Temple
The Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara or Kelaniya Temple is a Buddhist temple in Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, seven miles from Colombo. Buddhists believe the temple to have been hallowed during the third and final visit of the Buddha to Sri Lanka, eight years after gaining enlightenment. Its history would thus go back to before 500 BCE. It is described in the chronicles that the ancient Stupa first built at Kelaniya enshrined a gem-studded throne on which the Buddha preached the sermons to the Maniakkitha, the Naga king, on whose invitation the Buddha had visited.
Gangaramaya Buddhist temple is a beautiful and vibrant temple with a history that dates back over 2,000 years. This temple was said to have been built in the 19th century by a trader and ship owner named Don Bastion, who had played a leading role in reviving Buddhism. Located beside a Holy Bo Tree on the waters of Beira Lake, the temple is only accessible by crossing a wooden bridge. The Nawam Perahera, conducted by the Gangarama temple is a major tourist attraction. This beautiful festival of arts has over 1,000 performers and over 100 elephants brought from different parts of the island is the highlight of the pageant.
Hinduism is mainly practised by Tamils in Sri Lanka who ethnically belong to South India where Hinduism was predominantly practiced. Around the fifth and the sixth century A.D., the Chola dynasty of South India usurped the throne of the Sinhalese Kingdom and conquered the island, leading to the considerable number of immigrants from South India into the northern Sri Lanka. Thus Hinduism was introduced in Sri Lanka and during the reign of Tamil kings, Hindu shrines were widely constructed. Major Hindu Gods that are worshipped in Sri Lanka are Vishnu, Shiva, Kali, Ganesha and Skanda.
Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil or Nallur Murugan Kovil
This is one of the most significant Hindu temples in the Jaffna District of Northern Province, Sri Lanka.
The temple complex is a collection of five temples, including a Buddhist temple. The central temple dedicated to Shiva (Siva) is the most prestigious and biggest, and is popular amongst Hindus. The other temples are dedicated to Ganesha, Ayyanayake and Kali.
Christianity first came to Sri Lanka upon the arrival of the Portuguese in the sixteenth century. Under their rule, Roman Catholicism was spread out on a mass scale with many Roman Catholic schools for the Sinhalese and the Tamils. With the attempts of the Portuguese to Christianize native people, Buddhism and Hinduism were severely affected. When the Portuguese were driven out by the Dutch, Protestantism and the Dutch Reformed Church was introduced. During the British rule conversions to Christianity increased.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka
This is a Roman Catholic Church with basilica status is located in Tewatte, Ragama, Sri Lanka. Being thus located in a suburb of Colombo, it comes under the purview of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Colombo and is a site of pilgrimage for Sri Lankan Catholics. The church is home to the venerated statue of Our Lady of Lanka.
St Anthony’s shrine – Kochchikade
In Sri Lanka St. Anthony has many devotees and several Churches have been erected in his honor. Perhaps the most popular one that daily attracts people of every cast, creed or race is the one at Kochchikade, in the heart of the city of Colombo.
Several old churches scattered around cities in the island
Muslims first visited Sri Lanka towards the end of the 7th Century. They comprised mainly of Muslim merchants of mixed origins, Arabs, Persians and Abyssinians who spoke the Arabic language. After the 10th Century Muslim influences in Ceylon continued on account of the growth of commercial activity. In the 16th Century with the advent of Dutch rule in Sri Lanka small numbers of Malays were brought to Ceylon from Java by the Dutch for military service. Ever since, the Muslim community in Sri Lanka has been part of the social fabric of Sri Lanka.
Masjidul Akbar Jumma Mosque situated at 157, Kew Road, Colombo 2, is one of the oldest Mosques in the City of Colombo. Founded in 1859 by the late Mas Talep Akbar, it is situated in the then commercial centre of the city.
Important Mosques around the country