The temple on the hill of Bahirawakanda, called the Sri Maha Bodhi Viharaya, is most well-known to tourists for its giant Buddha statue, which can be seen from almost any point in the city of Kandy. Built in 1972, the statue shows Lord Buddha seated in the Nirvana pose, which is the position associated with his first Enlightenment. Reaching a height of more than 25 metres, it is one of the tallest statues of Buddha in Sri Lanka.
Bahirawakanda means “Gnome Mountain”, and this name harks back to the legends surrounding the temple’s hill. The villagers who lived in the surrounding areas once believed that the hill was the home of an evil gnome that devoured unsuspecting humans. In an effort to appease it, the villagers would sacrifice a virgin girl (or several virgins, depending on the version of the story) to the hill. Over time, the fear of the hill and the superstition of the villagers faded.
The temple is a mere 2 kilometres from the Temple of the Tooth Relic. Guests at the temple are asked to remove their hats and their shoes; flowers or the lighting of oil lamps may be used as offerings to the temple. Behind the great white statue of Buddha, a flight of stairs allows visitors to climb higher up and view the magnificent landscape of the temple’s surroundings; the views are best at night, when the city of Kandy is lit up by thousands of twinkling lights that sparkle like a reflection of the night sky.