Buddha statue at Gangarama temple
I have been trying to live like a tourist in Colombo, which has a few gems. Pettah, for example. This week I visited a few temples, which are now some of my favorites. My favorite Buddhist site is still the austere Medavachchiya rock temple, but Gangarama temple in Colombo is stunning in the opposite direction. It is full of wonderful things, elephants, statues, printing presses, trees, light. Then there is the Sri Ponnambalam Vanesar kovil in Kotahena which, unlike the usual panopoly of gods and color, is a very minimal Hindu temple carved out of South Indian marble. Both are beautiful places, well worth a visit.
Devotees praying at Sri Ponnambalam
Sri Ponnambalam Vanesar Kovil
This temple is on the port road, near St. Anthony’s church and the Kotahena junction. It’s on the land side and is hard to miss, you can park inside (I think, I didn’t). What makes this kovil different is its restraint. Kovils usually have an entire architecture of statues, this is basically blocks of stone. Inside the pillars rise heavy into relative darkness. The 6am pooja here is actually quite moving, you can stand in the prayer line and see the flame and incense in the inner temple. The light wavers and it looks like another world. Quite lovely.
The statues inside are the simple type that you’ll find at roadside temples, which I find the most compelling. I didn’t take that many pictures here because it didn’t feel right.
Inland from the Beira Lake is one of the best endowed temples in Sri Lanka. The sheer amount of statues, lamps, elephants, trinkets and even antique cars is literally awe inspiring. I have stopped there before to feed the miserable elephant, chained by both legs, and have often wondered why the street across was lined with classic locomotives and carvings. I went inside for a meditation class and was stunned. There are experiences which a camera is entirely inadequate for, just the 360 amount of wonder and detail. Literally every corner had something amazing in it, and I was just passing through. Gangarama also has some of the only decent modern statues I’ve seen.
It is truly a remarkable endowment.