Seema Malaka: Colombo’s Serene Buddhist Island Vihara

central Colombo - Seema Malaka on the small lake just south of Beira Lake

central Colombo – Seema Malaka on the small lake just south of Beira Lake

It began with a pleasant early morning walk from my guesthouse (The Wayfarers’ Inn) on Rosemead Place in Colombo’s Cinnamon Garden District.  I walked on the path which traces the northern edge of a beautiful green space called Viharamahadevi Park. The previous afternoon I had visited the National Museum on the south side of the park; today I was headed to the Gangaramaya Vihara or Temple.  The map below will make clear my destination –  the east side of the small lake just below Beira Lake.

Seema Malaka and Gangaramaya Vihara Complex

Seema Malaka and Gangaramaya Vihara Complex – click here for the interactive Google map

Colombo’s Fort District is perhaps 1.5 kilometers to the north and Galle Face a little less. Both seem a world away from this serene little corner of the city.  My first destination was the structure you see in the image below – a set of three pods built in the 1980’s on a  design by Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s most famous contemporary architect.

Seema Malaka on BeiraLake in Colombo

Seema Malaka on Beira Lake in Colombo

Known as Seema Malaka, this serene “island” is part of the Gangaramaya Vihara complex about two hundred meters away. The vihara’s  monks are ordained here.  It also provides a place for other rituals as well as an everyday meditation retreat.

Seema Malaka - the entranceway

To reach the central pod, you walk across a wooden pontoon bridge past the footprint of the Buddha and the reclining Buddha figure you see in the image above. Note the coins left by merit-seeking visitors in the footprint’s indentation!

Thai Buddhas line a Seema Malaka wall

Thai Buddhas line a Seema Malaka wall

Saving a visit to the central pod for later, I turned to the left and visited the second of the pods – the one with the Bo Tree and a number of Buddha statues large and small. Often in my viewfinder were the bronze Buddha statues donated to the Vihara by the government of Thailand. They illustrate nicely the various mudras (hand gestures) used by Buddhist artists to convey the Buddha’s story.

approaching the Bodhi tree buddhas at Seema malaka

approaching the Bodhi tree buddhas at Seema Malaka

the Bodhi tree Buddha at Seema Malaka

the Bodhi Tree Buddha at Seema Malaka

Seema Malaka's Bodhi Tree Buddha

Seema Malaka’s Bodhi Tree Buddha in the meditation (dhyana) mudra

For a moment I let the various Buddhas slip from my consciousness as I looked northwest to the ring of high-rises, a sign of better economic times for Sri Lanka now that the brutal civil war that scarred a generation has ended.

looking towards Galle Road and Downtown Colombo

looking towards Galle Road and Downtown Colombo]

And then it was back to my meditation on the bronze Thai Buddha and their mudras. This spot is a serene little island that lends itself perfectly to contemplation – and photography!  I was there at about 9:00 a.m.; it would have been nice to return near dusk for the very different light that a setting sun – and the lights of the city beyond –  would have provided.

refocussing on the Buddhas!

refocusing on the Buddhas!

Seema Malaka- three Buddhas, three mudras

Seema Malaka – three Buddhas, three mudras

Thai Buddhas and the dagoba

Thai Buddhas and the dagoba or stupa

Finally I approached the steps that lead into the main shrine room – the large building covered with the blue roof. The image below shows the moonstone and the two guardstones that mark the entrance. Spend any time in Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa and you will become very familiar with these classic Sinhalese architectural touches! The fearsome nagaraja figures, each with a halo of six cobra heads, stand guard.

concrete version  of classic Sinhalese architectural elements - guardstones and moonstone

concrete version of classic Sinhalese architectural elements – guardstones and moonstone

Seema Malaka - interior of main shrine room

Seema Malaka – interior of main shrine room

On the way out of the shrine room I passed by the third and smallest island pod. With its signboard reading “Treasury of Truth”, it serves as a library for the monastic community and was not accessible the morning I was there.

Seema Malaka - wooden bridge to small pod

Seema Malaka – wooden bridge to the smallest pod – “The Treasury of Truth”

Once over the pontoon bridge and past the parinirvana Buddha figure and the gigantic footprint – over a meter long – I looked back and I thought -“That was a great way to spend an hour”.  An hour and a half later I would have to revise that thought to include what was coming up – my visit to the main Gangarmaya Vihara complex just around the corner.  I didn’t know it yet but if the Seema Malaka was Zen, then the main vihara was Buddhist Baroque to the max.

 the Seema Malaka from the entrance

the Seema Malaka from the entrance

Next Post – Buddhist Baroque: Colombo’s Gangaramaya Temple Complex  The image below is of the vihara’s large central Buddha statue…

the main shrine of Gangaramaya's Temple

the main shrine of Gangaramaya’s Temple

Your comments and questions are always appreciated, as are any suggestions on how to make this post more useful to future travellers. Just drop me a line or two!

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