A Buddhist Break in Sri Lanka
Today, about 70 percent of the Sri Lankan population practises Buddhism. According to Sri Lankan tradition, the faith was introduced in the 2nd Century, during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa and although it has seen periods of decline in times of colonialism, it remains the most prominent faith to this day. Buddhism in Sri Lanka is primarily of the Theravada School - the "teaching of the elders" - which is not only the oldest surviving school, but the one that is most faithful to early Buddhism. On Sri Lanka holidays, you will see not only see the vestiges of Buddhism scattered around the country in the form of relics, ruins and statues, but you may have the opportunity to interact with the monks at one of the many Buddhist celebrations.
The city of Anuradhapura, once the capital of Sri Lanka, contains some of the most sacred Buddhist sites in the country and is the first stop for anyone taking Sri Lanka holidays and interested in the Buddhist culture. It is said that Anuradhapura is home to the Sri Maha Bodhi tree, a sapling from the original Bo tree. This was the tree under which the Buddha himself received "enlightenment", and pilgrims from all over the world are drawn to visit this sacred site. The Atamasthana (8 places of worship) in Anuradhapura are the main Buddhist attractions, and include monastic ruins, dagabas and stupas, but by far the most impressive is the Samadhi Statue. Presiding over the Mahamevuna Park, this granite statue of the Buddha in dhyana posture stands 8 feet tall and leaves visitors experiencing a mixture of peace and wonderment.
Buddhist New Year
Buddhist New Year is celebrated on various days of the year across the world. The festival is held for three days after the first full moon in April in Theravadin countries such as Sri Lanka. Holidays timed to incorporate this celebration, will see the country at its most joyful. Homage is paid to statues of Buddha by the lighting of many candles in temples across the country and visitors will witness monks joining together in impressive displays of prayers and traditional songs dedicated to Buddha himself. Revellers will see in the Buddhist New Year with a feast of mouth-watering meals, prepared and served in the traditional way, followed by a fantastic fireworks display out in the street. The Buddhist New Year not only marks the beginning of a new harvest season, but is a time when people can celebrate with their nearest and dearest. For holiday makers, it is a chance to see Sri Lanka at its most spectacular.
Following the fall of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa rose in importance to become the second capital of Sri Lanka. Now a UNESCO world heritage site, it is arguably the second most impressive Buddhist area in Sri Lanka. Holidays should always include a stop here, so that visitors can take in the various sculptures, dagabas, monastic buildings and shrines. The most impressive sculptures in Polonnaruwa, Gal Vihara, feature the Buddha in 4 different positions. The first granite statue depicts a seated, meditating Buddha, the second a smaller seated Buddha and the third a reclining Buddha. However, the fourth is the most impressive by far. Measuring 23 feet, the final statue depicts the final moments before Buddha achieved enlightenment and left his earthly life behind. Holding a cross-armed pose that is rare in statues of Buddha, this statue makes for a fantastic photo opportunity and highlights the importance of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
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