Muthiyangana Raja Maha Vihara is one of the most important and revered Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. Located in the heart of the Badulla District, this historic site is not only an architectural marvel but also a focal point for religious practices and cultural heritage. This travel guide aims to provide you with an in-depth look at what makes this temple a must-visit location for anyone interested in Sri Lanka's rich history, spirituality, and culture.
According to Buddhist tradition, Muthiyangana Raja Maha Vihara is a significant religious site visited by Gautama Buddha. It is honored as one of the Solosmasthana, the 16 sacred places in Sri Lanka that Buddha is believed to have visited. The temple's history is closely linked to Buddha's third trip to the island. On that occasion, Buddha was initially invited to Kelaniya by Maniakkitha, a Naga king. Later, he visited Badulla at the request of a local chieftain named Indaka.
According to the tale, after Buddha's sermons in Badulla, Indaka wished for something to venerate as a memory of this divine visit. The Buddha then offered him a few strands of his hair and drops of sweat, which miraculously transformed into pearls, known as "mukthaka." These relics were enshrined by Indaka in what is believed to be the stupa at Muthiyangana Raja Maha Vihara. Over time, Indaka, originally a chieftain of the Deva people, has gained the status of a deity associated with both the Namunukula mountain range and this temple.
Notably, Muthiyangana Raja Maha Vihara isn't mentioned in mainstream historical chronicles like the Mahavamsa, Bodhi Vamsa, or Dhātuvansa. However, it is referenced in the Samantapasadika, a document older than the other mentioned texts. This document states that Buddha visited the island three times, and during his third visit, he was accompanied by 500 monks. While there, he entered into a state of Nirodha Samapatti, an advanced meditative state, thereby elevating the site's religious importance for Buddhists.
The temple also holds significance as one of the 32 religious sites where saplings bred from the original Anuradhapura Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree have been planted, adding another layer of sacredness to the location.
The most significant of the temple complex is its main stupa, meticulously crafted in a bell-like shape typical of Sinhalese architecture. The stupa is covered in white plaster, which gives it an ethereal glow, especially when it is bathed in sunlight or moonlight. It serves as the primary focal point of the temple and is often surrounded by devotees making offerings or engaged in prayer.
Adjacent to the stupa is the Image House, a building richly adorned with intricate details. Inside, you'll find an array of statues that represent various figures from Buddhist teachings. The central statue is a particularly stunning figure of the Buddha in a seated posture, intricately carved and painted to inspire awe and devotion.
The Bo tree is very sacred in Buddhism as it was under a Bo tree that the Buddha achieved enlightenment. The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is a branch of the original Bo tree in India that sheltered the Buddha during his enlightenment.
The Muthiyangana temple premises also house 4 sacred Bo trees, one of which is a descendant of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. Wrapped in colorful cloths and surrounded by smaller shrines, the tree is a serene location for meditation and prayer.
Significance in Religious Practices
Muthiyangana Raja Maha Vihara is not just a historical site but also a thriving center for spiritual growth. Specific corners of the temple premises are designated for meditation, often marked by serene garden settings or quiet halls, offering visitors a peaceful environment for mindful contemplation.
The culture of making offerings is deeply embedded in the practices that occur at this temple. Devotees bring various types of offerings, such as fresh flowers, specially prepared food, incense sticks, and clay oil lamps. These acts are in line with the Theravada Buddhist tradition, which focuses on accumulating merit through good deeds.
As one of the 16 sacred locations associated with Buddha's visits to Sri Lanka, the temple is an integral stop on many religious pilgrimages. The faithful come from all corners of Sri Lanka and from other countries, often walking long distances to reach this revered site. The pilgrimage season sees a significant increase in visitors, turning the temple into a lively space filled with devotion and spiritual energy.
Special Events and Festivals
The temple hosts a variety of special events and festivals throughout the year, which are major attractions for both devotees and tourists alike. Among the most noteworthy are:
- Vesak Festival: Celebrated during the full moon in May, this event marks the birth, enlightenment, and passing away of the Buddha.
- Poya Days: On full moon days, known as Poya, the temple becomes a hive of activity with special rituals and offerings.
Best Times to Visit
The optimal time to visit Muthiyangana Raja Maha Vihara is during the dry season, which runs from December to April. This period offers favorable weather conditions and is less crowded for those interested in a peaceful experience.
Alternatively, visiting during major Buddhist festivals like Vesak and Poson Poya allows you to witness the temple at its most lively, although it's essential to book accommodations in advance due to the large number of pilgrims.
How to Get There
You can get to Badulla by train, bus, or your private vehicle. The train journey from Colombo to Badulla is one of the most scenic train journeys in Sri Lanka, taking approximately 8-9 hours. Trains also operate from Kandy to Badulla, taking around 5-6 hours.
Public buses are available from major cities to Badulla. This option is economical but may be less comfortable.
Badulla is easily accessible by car from major cities. The distance from Colombo to Badulla is approximately 230 km, and the journey can take around 6-7 hours, depending on traffic conditions. From Kandy, it's about a 3-4 hour drive covering roughly 100 km. Both routes offer well-maintained roads and the flexibility to stop at interesting points along the way.
Once you arrive in Badulla, the temple is easily accessible via a short tuk-tuk ride. Local transportation is readily available, making the final leg of the journey convenient for visitors.
Tips and Advice
Here are some tips and advice to keep in mind when visiting this sacred site.
- Dress Code: It is mandatory to wear clothing that covers the shoulders and knees.
- Footwear: Shoes must be removed before entering the temple premises.
- Photography: While photography is generally allowed, please make sure you do not disturb the religious devotees engaged in worship.
- Conduct: Maintain a respectful demeanor, keeping noise to a minimum to preserve the tranquility of the space.
- Language: The primary language spoken in the area is Sinhala, but many of the monks and guides speak English.
While the temple itself is a major highlight, there are other nearby attractions that are worth a visit:
1.Badulla Town: The nearby town of Badulla presents a variety of local experiences. From local markets where you can get a feel for regional produce and crafts to eateries where you can try local cuisine, Badulla is an excellent place to immerse yourself in Sri Lankan culture. Additionally, the town features other places that can be included in your itinerary.
2. Dunhinda Falls: This stunning waterfall is located only a short drive away from the temple. Surrounded by natural beauty, Dunhinda Falls offers visitors the chance to experience Sri Lanka's picturesque landscapes. It's an ideal spot for photography and nature walks, offering a tranquil setting to relax and unwind.
3. Bogoda Wooden Bridge: This ancient wooden bridge is another fascinating attraction not too far from the temple. Dating back to the 16th century, the Bogoda Wooden Bridge is one of the oldest wooden bridges in Sri Lanka. The structure is an engineering marvel that showcases traditional Sri Lankan craftsmanship, and it is situated in a serene environment that adds to its allure.
Muthiyangana Raja Maha Vihara is not just a temple; it's a living piece of Sri Lanka's rich spiritual and cultural tapestry. With its awe-inspiring architecture, deep-rooted history, and significant role in Buddhist practices, a visit to this sacred site offers a multi-dimensional experience that transcends the ordinary. Whether you are a spiritual seeker, history enthusiast, or simply a curious traveler, this temple is an unmissable destination on your Sri Lankan journey.