Discover Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle
Sri Lanka is best known for its golden beaches which wrap around the whole island, but the country has a hidden gem in its interior– the Cultural Triangle. Situated in the centre of the island, the Cultural Triangle is made up of a collection of UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy, and the Cave Temple of Dambulla.
Kandy was the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings, and the temple, Sri Dalada Maligawa, is located within the royal palace complex of the Kingdom of Kandy. The temple is an important site for Buddhists as it is home to the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha. The temple should be at the top of your list of places to visit because while you’re there you will be able to see the interior of the ancient palace complex. Visit Kandy in June when the famous Kandy Esala Perahera takes place; it is essentially a procession where the temple takes the tooth relic around the Kandy Lake. In the perahera, there are Kandyan dancers and drummers, fire dancers and various other acts; the tooth is placed atop an elephant as it makes its way through the city. This is truly a quintessential Sri Lankan experience.
The Dambulla Cave Temple dates back to the 1st century BC, making it one of the oldest functioning temples in Sri Lanka. It is also the largest cave temple complex on the island, made up of five caves filled with about 150 statues of the Buddha and numerous rock paintings. Sitting on top of a rock overlooking the plains of the central province, this site is great for solo travellers because the climb itself is very easy- taking only about 10 – 15 minutes- and when you get to the temple you just feel like enjoying the calm of the temple.
Anuradhapura is one of Sri Lanka’s ancient capitals, and it is where Buddhism was first introduced to the country. The city has some of the best-preserved ruins; it has around 10 dagobas (brick stupas), ancient pools, and temples some of which are still functional today. Two temples which we highly recommend are Ruwanwelisaya, built by King Dutugemunu c. 140, and Sri Maha Bodhi. The latter is more of a shrine rather than a traditional temple, it is dedicated to the Jaya Sri Bodhi which is one of the oldest Bodhi trees in the world. This is an incredibly sacred place as it is believed this tree is from a sapling of the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment.
Similar to its predecessor Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa is another one of Sri Lanka’s ancient capitals. It too has well-preserved ruins of temples and a palace complex, however, unlike Anurahapura it is more compact with most of the attractions found within the Sacred Quadrangle. In the middle of the Quadrangle, you will find the Vatadage which is a circular relic house of 18m in diameter, it has four entrances leading to four Buddha statues in its centre. Also, another unique attraction to Polonnaruwa is the Gal Vihara, which consists of four large Buddha statues carved into one large granite slab.