Visiting a Sri Lanka Buddhist temple here are 9 rules to consider
Sri Lanka is an island in the tropics, the island is small in size but has a population of 21 million people ( More information about Sri Lanka on this link ). Sri Lanka is undoubtedly a popular destination among the traveller, who look for a destination to enjoy pristine beaches, culture, nature and history. The island is the centre of tourist attractions in southern Asia for many decades. Attributed to the rich historical past, culture, awe-inspiring historical man-made structures, wide-open beaches, delicious sea-food, Sri Lanka is on the radar of every traveller. When you plan a Sri Lanka tour and beach holiday, there are several activities that you essentially need to consider, such as visiting cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, Visiting a Sri Lanka Buddhist temple, having the authentic Sri Lankan cuisine, relax on the palm-fringed pristine Sri Lankan beaches ( Top 10 things to do in Sri Lanka ).
Buddhism an art of living
Sri Lanka’s story is told with an explanation of the teaching of Buddha. Buddhism is one essential part of Sri Lankan life and it is the foundation of Sri Lankan culture and tradition. The awe-inspiring gigantic dagobas, palaces, parks and reservoirs of world heritage sites (Learn more on UNESCO world heritage sites of Sri Lanka) in the island show the pieces of evidence of a rich advanced culture that prevailed in the past. Ancient irrigation works of Sri Lanka are incomparable engineering feats of centuries-old engineers. The extensive use of agriculture and the dedication of rulers for the development of the country paved the way to the origin of advanced agriculture-based society in the island. Sri Lanka is a country with a rich historical past and modern present. You will feel it along the crowded streets of Colombo. Or maybe you feel it as you present at Dalada ceremony or better known as Esala ceremony in Kandy.
Sri Lanka had a grim past on various occasions due to the foreign invaders and colonial influence. But, the country has shown the resilience to all these hurdles and recorded a commendable development after every devastating effect. Today, Sri Lanka has become one of the most popular places for holidays in the world. The island attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year and tourism has become one of the leading foreign exchange earners for the people of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has a large number of religious places, scattered throughout the island and most of them are Buddhist temples (click here to visit most sacred Buddhist temple known as tooth relic temple, Pinnawala elephant orphanage and tea plantations in our Kandy-Nuwara Eliya 2 days tour). Therefore, finding a Sri Lanka tour package without a Buddhist temple is unbelievable. Most of these Sri Lanka Buddhist temples are considered as important places because they hold great cultural and historical value, especially the Buddhist temples in the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka Buddhist temples such as the temple of the tooth relic, Sri Maha Bodhi are top religious sites visited by thousands of devotees every day. Therefore visiting such places without offending the local people is a duty of every foreign traveller.
Sri Lanka is a multi-religious country, you will encounter some kind of religious place at every corner of the island. Mainly you will come across Buddhist temples, Hindu temples, Mosques and churches since they are the most widely practised religions in Sri Lanka. By far the Buddhism is the most popular religion in Si Lanka claim for 69% of the population of the country.
Visiting Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka
Visiting a Buddhist Temples is very common activity included almost in every Sri Lanka tour package. Because Buddhism is the predominant religion in the island and visiting a Sri Lanka Buddhist temple is important to get to know the religion. In fact, Religion is one of the important aspects of Sri Lankan life and almost every person is engaged in some sort of religion. The base of Sinhalese (the majority of Sri Lankans) Culture is attributed to the Buddhism; hence visiting a Sri Lankan Buddhist temple is an easy way to learn more on the culture and the way of Sri Lankan life.
Sri Lanka temple etiquette is a complex subject for most travellers, who are visiting the country for the first time. Therefore we thought of making a note on this subject in details for travellers who are planning to visit Sri Lanka in the future.
There are several temple rules to consider and observe before entering a Sri Lanka Buddhist temple, in order to explore the temple without offending the devotees. The rules mentioned here should be thoroughly considered especially when visiting the religious places in the archaeological sites. It is essential to have attention on these etiquettes and rules because Buddhist temples are places with great cultural and historical importance. You may find policemen or moderators at the entrance of fa ew temples instructing you to have the suitable attire. But in most temples there are no moderators, so be your own moderator and follow the guidelines below.
If you have been to a Buddhist temple in one of the other countries such as Thailand, Singapore you will feel a huge difference as soon as you enter a Sri Lankan Buddhist temple. Sri Lankan Buddhist temples differ from temples in Thailand or Cambodia in many ways. Buddha statues and dagobas in fancy styled such as gold-plated statues are very rare in Sri Lanka, only a few temples in Sri Lanka has gold plated Buddha statues such as Dambulla golden cave temple. Sri Lanka has Theravada school of Buddhism while most South-east Asian countries have Mahayana Buddhism. There are many differences between these two forms of Buddhism.
Four major elements of a Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka
Stupa/ Thupa or Dagoba
Bo tree / Bodhiogara (Ficus religiosa)
Living quarters of the resident monks
Every Buddhist temple includes above mentioned 4 major parts and the temple demarcated with a wall or a fence from the outside world. A Buddhist temple is a public place and any visitor (regardless of the beliefs, race or any other criteria) is allowed to enter the temple. Usually, the visitors and devotees can visit all places except the living quarters of the monks. Normally the visitors and devotees are not supposed to enter the house, where the monks live without an invitation from the monks. Make sure you remove the shoes and take off the hats before entering the Image house, Stupa area and Bodhigara.
Apart from the aforementioned 4 major parts of Buddhist temples, some temples are equipped with meditation cottages and libraries. The visitors are strictly prohibited to enter the meditation area because it can disturb the monks making it difficult to concentrate. Some temples maintain museums, child care centres, schools, communication centres etc within the temple as a community service.
Buddhist temple rules
Being a tropical country it is very warm and humid in Sri Lanka and it is very comfortable to wear a hat. The requirement of shoes is also great due to the paved gardens in Buddhist temples. But, as a rule, you are not allowed to have both hats and shoes while entering a Sri Lanka Buddhist temple. Every visitor must remove the shoes and hats before entering the Buddhist religious places. Usually, a person, appointed from the temple secure the shoes of the visitors and he is provided with a permanent hut at the entrance of the temple. The visitors need to pay for protecting their shoes, it is usually 25Rs per person.
It might be difficult to walk barefoot in some places of the temple, especially in the Buddhist temples in the cultural triangle due to the heat. In some places, the garden is paved with stone slabs or sand and temperature can be really high during the day. For instance, Ruwanweliseya Dagoba of Anuradhapura is one of the most important historical Buddhist temples with a garden of stone slabs. Visiting this temple during the day, barefoot, will be very difficult. One can visit such places early in the morning or evening to avoid the heated ground. Otherwise, take a pair of socks all the time with you and wear it as you enter the temple, the visitors are allowed to retain socks, and thereby they can reduce the effect of excessive heat of the stone slabs.
Dress code / what to wear to Buddhist temple
Sri Lanka has many historical places and most of them are popular tourist attractions on the island. Most of these places include historical Buddhist temples. Maybe these Buddhist temples are not functioning as normal. But they are also treated as sacred places and Sri Lankans are careful to behave in such places with great respect. There are police constables in these historical sites and monitoring badly behaving people and visitors, who are in unsuitable dress code are not allow entering those temples. A suitable dress code helps you to hang around the important places without any issue and helps you to enjoy your holiday.
“What to wear to Buddhist temple” is the first question comes into one’s mind even at the stage of planning of a Sri Lanka tour. Because there is no Sri Lanka tour package is complete without a visit to a Sri Lanka Buddhist temple.
It is recommended to have modest clothing while visiting a Sri Lanka Buddhist temple, tight attire for both men and women is not suitable. The Buddhists are very conscious about the dress code and they wear white coloured clothing when visiting a Sri Lanka Buddhist temple. The white colour is considered to be the colour of purity. The devotees need to wear a dress to cover at least up to knee while the upper portion of the dress should cover the shoulders.
In some places, visitors may be allowed to enter the site with the more open dress, but in some places, the moderator adheres to the proper dress code for the visitors. People who find some difficulties to enter the temple due to the inappropriate dress, try your luck with a person who lends temple dresses. There are people who lend dresses to visitors at the entrance of the temples. This facility is available at Buddhist temples that are frequently visited by foreign tourists such as the temple of the tooth relic. If you wearing a short or you have a dress with open shoulders do not forget to have a scarf with you. You can cover the legs and shoulder as you enter the temple and later take it off.
The visitors are allowed take photos in Buddhist religious places on the island. Photography and videography are free of charge in most Buddhist temples. But, visitors should never make photos while standing back to Buddha statues. If you like to make a photo of the Buddha statue, stand sideways in front of the statue. In some historical places, the flashlight should be turned off while it harms the colours of the paintings.
Commercial filming and photography need special permission from the state authorities such as Film Corporation, defence ministry, and ministry of religious affairs.
Don’t touch statues and paintings
It is not allowed to touch the statues and painting in the Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. Some people even tap on the statues to check what material is used to build the statues. The main reason for discouraging people to touch the statues and paintings is to stop the discolouring. Especially in the historical places such as Dambulla golden cave temple (1st century BC), the paintings are very fragile and crumble with the touch.
Keep the silence
It is essential to maintain the silence at every Buddhist temple. Devotees are engaged in meditation and chanting religious verses, therefore they like to have the peace of mind to continue with their activities. If you happened to go to a Buddhist temple with children try to keep the noise as low as possible. Usually, the rule is applied to all Buddhist temples, whether it is a historical place or modern temple.
Don’t smoke in the Sri Lanka Buddhist temple
Smoking is not allowed in Sri Lanka Buddhist temple. Whether you see a nonsmoking sign or not people are not allowed to smoke in Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. Smoking in public places such as Buddhist temples is a severe offence and can lead to an expensive fine and a jail term. Sri Lanka has some strict rules so don’t throw garbage outside the designated areas and refrain from smoking not only in temples but also in all public places.
Don’t shake hands with monks
Devotees pay respect to Buddhist monks and always keep some distance from them. Normally the greeting to Buddhist monks is different than usual methods such as shaking hand. You have to keep the hands together in front of the chest and say “Sadu” while keeping the body on knees.
Don’t smell flowers
The devotees bring flowers when they visit a Sri Lanka Buddhist temple. The flowers in the temple meant for offerings. The devotees bring the fragrant flowers and it may be tempting to smell them. But as a rule, you are not allowed to smell the offerings.
Don’t drink alcohol and enter Sri Lanka Buddhist temple
You can’t get away with bringing bottles of wine or liquor to a Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka. Especially in the places such as the temple of the tooth in Kandy. And don’t try to enter a Sri Lanka Buddhist temple after consuming alcohol. Moderators at the entrance may check you and if they found that you have consumed alcohol, you don’t get the access to the temple.
Buddha tattoo not accepted in Sri Lanka
Mistreatment of Buddha image is an offence and treated with a penalty. Showcasing a Buddha tattoo is not accepted in Sri Lanka and treated as a mistreatment of Buddha image. It is considered as a disrespect for the Buddha and also considered as an act of offending the Buddhist sensibilities. There had been many instances in the past in which several foreigners were deported from the island due to displaying a Buddha tattoo. If you have a Buddha tattoo cover it to be left-out from unnecessary troubles.
Don’t feed monkeys
Spotting the animals in a Sri Lanka Buddhists temple is not a surprise, Cats, dogs and monkeys are most common animals in Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. Usually, the dogs and cats are fed by Buddhist monks and visitors. But visitors are not expected to feed monkeys. Because they start to make it a habit to hang around the temple when they get food from visitors. There had been many occasions in which, the people were facing difficulties due to wild monkeys.
Please do keep in mind all rules we discussed here valid for all any Sri Lanka Buddist temple, regardless if it is old or new. Whether the Buddhist temple is in a modern city or less crowded historical place travellers suppose to respect the above-discussed rules.