Inspiration from Buddhist temples on the Southern Coast of Sri Lanka.

Peta’s paintings always reflect our travels and lives ~ Stray dogs in Nicaragua, goats in India, sculptures in the Jardins des Tuileries in Paris, ancient artifacts and archaeological treasures in Peru, textured colorful wooden fishing boats in Morocco….

Here in Sri Lanka, her painter’s eye is starting to focus and zoom in on Buddhist art.

And so it is that we explore two Buddhist temples on the Southern Coast of our pearl shaped island, gathering visuals and inspiration.

One of the temples, dating 370 years, is next to the largest Buddhist statue in all of Sri Lanka.

The other temple is up on a hillside, a 235 step climb, housed in caves. (A smaller version of  Dambulla) and less well known, which means we pretty much have the place to ourselves, just as we like it.

The setting of this temple is a hill, (dotted with large leafy trees and huge steel grey boulders), is noteworthy itself.

Each level has a set of small caves with distinct art created at different time periods.

Reclining Buddha framed by the doorway, is a first visual that is  breathtaking. (To get a sense of the size of the reclining Buddha, the kneeling monk in sunflower yellow robe, is about life size. )

The yellow ochre Buddha head is framed by a creamy wall mural with charcoal grey, crimson and blue geometric elements.

Love the detail of the hand resting every so lightly on the leg, just above the foot. Right hand down means the Buddha is speaking. Offerings of flowers rest in Buddha’s lap.

Depending on where one stands, the perspective of a reclining Buddha changes dramatically.

Statues of disciples with flowing saffron robes ~ particularly beautiful against the teal blue skin of the figure in the back.

Not one inch of the cave walls and ceiling, remain unpainted. Scenes of Siddhartha’s journey toward Nirvana/enlightenment.

Buddha’s pillow is decorated with a sacred geometry lotus flower. The same lotus flower which is gathered from lakes to be used as offerings to Buddha inside most temples.

The roof of this cave is covered in pink lotus flowers and white daisies, all with yellow centers, each one perfectly geometrical.

This particular cave has a series of disciples one after the other creating bands of crimson red all the way around. They look like stencils, but we have to remind ourselves that they are all hand painted one by one centuries ago.

Evidence of Indian mythology influence. Shiva on the right and a blue ogre to her right. The Sinhalese practice a form of Buddhism known as Theravada Buddhism whose traditions emanate from India.

Some of the steps to the last level up are carved into the side of the rock.

Whew! Lots of steps to climb in the island’s tropical heat, but definitely worth it for the inspiration…

At the top of the hill, a small whitewashed stupa punctures a fluffy cloud which feels close by.

Perfect spot atop an enormous rock, which has a nice flat top for us to lie on and absorb the energy around, with the jungle and temple below.

And down below, back on the ground, a lake filled with waterlilies. This is where the flower offerings come from….

A flower seller outside the temple selling huge lotus flowers which are what have provided inspiration to Buddhist artists for years ~ scroll back up and you can see these pink blossoms on the cave ceiling and as well on Buddha’s pillow.

On full moon and any festival when Buddhists go to temple, they always wear white.  Ben’s bunch of lotus flower offerings really pop against the white of the stupa and temple and his shirt. Behind the bell shaped stupa, is the temple and behind that (center of photo) is the largest Buddhist sculpture  on the island.

Lotus flower offerings placed in a soft line in front of Buddha along with incense.

The statues of kneeling monks (behind the table of offerings, in front of the towering Buddha) are life size.

“Waves” of golden saffron colored robes with paintings of stupas behind.

There is nothing accidental about the colors found in Buddhist imagery. The colors are encapsulated in the Buddhist concept of a “rainbow body” ~ a transitional state of meditation in which matter is transformed into pure light. There are 5 transcendental Buddhas, each personification of the abstract aspects of Buddahood. Blue bodied refers to “Akshobhya”. Blue transforms anger into mirror like wisdom.

The  gorgeous ceiling ~ hand painted using pigments created from plants and rocks.

Corner of the temple which is lit by soft light coming through small stain glass windows near the painted ceiling.

The temple wells are devoted to a delicately painted mural of Buddha and his disciples. This image is firmly entrenched in my mind as one which makes me feel peaceful and meditative. I am looking forward to seeing how it impacts my canvas.

Close ups of (above) mural. Love the saffron/sienna tones against the indigo blues and emerald green of the trees.

And from a different era, a depiction of Persian travelers (guessing Persian ? based on the facial hair, turban and outfit), paying respect to Buddha against an indigo blue background. The sash and turbans are painted in beautiful simplistic detail.

A small shrine next to the temple houses a thin strip of mural which goes all the way around, of a line of pilgrims in procession to pay respects. (From a more recent time period to be sure.)

Bare chested Sri Lankan drummers ~ often seen still today, at festivals and ceremonies.

The head monks years gone by, are painted on one wall in memory and in respect to the knowledge they imparted to the community of this particular temple.

Beautiful portraits (about 50 years old) capture the head monks and the positive energy which radiates from their gaze.

A charcoal gray and creamy white toned mural of the largest Buddha sculpture in Sri Lanka is also depicted on the temple walls. Which is naturally right next to the sculpture

Ben is a sliver of white on the right at the bottom. But even this does not come close to giving an idea of scale and just how large this Buddha actually is!

Buddha’s “backrest” is built so that one can climb to the top to see the view. It does give one an idea of height ~ 7-8 floors high.


We enjoy your comments and feedback!

Ben & Peta


44 thoughts on “Inspiration from Buddhist temples on the Southern Coast of Sri Lanka.

  1. Darlene Foster

    What an incredible visit! I love the colours and the serenity of the place. I am sure you came away totally inspired. Perhaps we will see some of your work based on this visit. Thanks for sharing these incredible pictures.

  2. Joanne Sisco

    From your photos I can imagine how magnificent and awe-inspiring this temple really must be … a grandness that photos can only hint at!

    I had no idea that lotus flowers were that large. Do they also have a scent?

    Best wishes in your creative process, Peta. I’m sure you’ve absorbed a great deal of inspiration!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Joanne you are absolutely correct, that the photos do not accurately convey the sizes of not only the huge seated Buddha but as well the reclining ones.

      These lotus flowers were particularly large, but as well, the seller, opened them by hand to their widest ability, reflecting the geometric shapes that are painted on the cave walls and the temple ceilings. They do not have a scent though.

      The interesting part about all of this imagery is that we also have two temples very close to where we live and so we are able to go there easily. Yesterday I did my first painted sketch there, under the curious eyes of the three resident monks.


    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Mike for your lovely comments. You would have loved all of it!! The zen white of the exterior buildings is completely counterbalanced by the extremely colorful and decorated interiors. I hope you both get to experience these two Buddhist sites in the South when next you head that way. A very interesting contrast.


  3. Lynn

    The steps in the side of the stone are so cool. I can understand how such a beautiful place would inspire your own creativity. Absolutely stunning!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Lynn I liked those steps too… I guess that they were the original steps and then they added more conventional ones as well, over the years so as to make it easier and safer to go up. We took the carved step route, and it was fun.

      Thanks Lynn glad that you enjoyed this post so much. Rich colors, unexpected sizes, rich story telling and a view to boot! Who could not be inspired?


  4. Liesbet

    An overwhelming amount of color, size and inspiration. Looking forward to see some of Peta’s paintings in the future! I really love that shot of the big Buddha through the doorway, and the last one leaning against the multiple floor building. The size of the statues is mind-blowing. I didn’t know that lotus flowers had stems. Always learning something new on your blog. And, of course, it always makes me want to wrap up our life here and get on the road again. 🙂

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Well when you do go on the road Liesbet, we want some credit for that, haha. That first shot through the doorway is Ben’s favorite one as well.

      We never knew that lotus flowers could be so vibrant in color because usually one sees them in a pond or lake at some distance. The fuchsia color is so bright and very intense.


  5. Gilda Baxter

    Wonderful temples, reminded me of the many amazing temples and giant Buddhas we visited in Thailand. Peta was beautifully and appropriately dressed, loved your photos particularly the last one, it really gives a sense of how enormous is the Buddha statue.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Gilda. Bangkok Thailand was our first introduction to large Buddha statues and Buddhist temples and since then we have appreciated Buddhist art and Buddhism in general, in many different countries.

      Glad you enjoyed this post so much.


  6. Alison

    So Beautiful. I especially loved the art work in the first temple. Something must have changed, your end or mine, so that now your vertical photos no longer show up horizontal.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Alison we loved the artwork in the cave temples as well. There was so much to see all around, including every inch of ceiling and wall that it was a bit overwhelming to be able to absorb it all at one time. A good place to return to, to see again, as that will probably yield more visual treasures.

      Oh so glad that our photos have righted themselves up. Frankly, we did nothing different. Magic. All of it is extremely mysterious to both of us. 🙂


  7. Lisa Dorenfest

    Can not wait to visit there and to see Peta’s paintings that emerge from your inspired visit. Love the way you laid out the first photo of the Buddha in this post with verbiage inbetween the head and the body. Nice.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      So when is your sailboat going to make it to Sri Lanka and whereabouts are you now?? Would be very fun to have you visit and meet you in person.

      Ah, Lisa, you notice the small details!! 🙂


    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Johnny. The murals are similar to a fresco style painting yes. Pigment on plaster. Ben agrees with you and would love it if I painted a bunch of images from the temple in our house. Ok chill guys, I just got my brushes out type of thang. Give me a moment here 🙂


  8. Sharon Rosenzweig

    Completely blown away by the cave paintings. Never imagined such a thing. Impressed that you dive in where I would be intimidated.

    Is the tradition of painting still practiced there? Are the pigments still made? There must have been a whole industry around making these.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Yup we were blown away as well. Definitely a lot to take in at once…

      Those are really good questions you ask about the painting and I have not yet been able to find out the answers. However, when we go to our neighborhood temple next, we can speak to the head monk (as we often do) and ask him what he can tell us about the pigments and so on.


  9. Lexklein

    I would have stayed up there for hours and hours! The colors and patterns are captivating and calming. I particularly love the lotus blooms and the blues of various things (that blue body and many backgrounds), and the scale … absolutely unbelievable! Looking forward to seeing what inspires Peta in her painting.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Lex we were up there quite long due to the time it took to climb up, see all of the caves and take some time to enjoy the view at the top. But it definitely was not enough and we will just have to return for a second viewing. I am sure we will see all sorts of things we missed the first time.

      We also loved the use of the various blues, both in bodies and in the background color. So well preserved due to being in caves and very vivid. This temple is very much under appreciated as there is another bigger cave temple (Dambulla, which we have been to and wrote about as well) which is a UNESCO world heritage site and so that one gets all the attention and the tourists! This one is not only closer, but we had it to ourselves which was amazing.

      What is most remarkable that every single inch of wall and ceiling is covered in paint or ceramic. It is artistic beauty 360 degrees around.


  10. Anita @ No Particular Place To Go

    That’s a daunting climb to the first temple but the solitude and tranquil setting look well worth the effort. Love all the attention to detail and the decor that covers every surface. Both temples are simply glorious and the massive scale is awe-inspiring. Thanks for another glimpse into your world!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      You are absolutely right Anita, it is the simultaneity of massive scale on one hand and minute details everywhere that is so surprising and an unusual combination. So glad you enjoyed this post and thanks for keeping up with our adventures.


    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Issa welcome to our Green Global Trek and thanks for reading and commenting.
      “Sit with these Buddhas” is precisely what we did as we were not constrained by either time or throngs of tourists. I actually am looking forward to going back soon. There are two Buddhist temples in our neighborhood as well ~ not as dramatic but still definitely worth visiting.


  11. Caroline Helbig

    The details in the paintings and sculpture are exquisite and your photography captures them so well. I’m particularly drawn by some of the colours. I couldn’t stop staring at the photo of the statue with the teal blue skin next to the reclining Buddha. Just looking at these photos makes me feel more peaceful. Beautiful post!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Caroline for emerging yourself into the experience provided by these Buddhist temples. Yes, serenity all around. One cannot help but feel calmed after spending time both with Buddhas and in nature. A great combination.


  12. Laurel

    Absolutely gorgeous—and inspirational!

    Your photos are wonderful — I especially love the photo of you, Peta, standing in front of the towering Buddha and holding the lotus flowers. I hope you’ll share with us the art that you create inspired by this sacred temple art.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Laurel thank you. Ben really likes that photo as well. We were so lucky to have the temple completely to ourselves and therefore to be able to be immersed in the serenity of the environment.

      I will be happy to share my art, once I get to a few completed works. First I have to figure out how to adjust from oil painting to acrylic…


  13. Dahlia

    It is such a treat and a delight to visit new places from your eyes. Thank you for taking the effort to post such interesting insights and intricate details which I would have probably missed due to sheer exhaustion! 😀 Hope you will share your creation would love to see that too 🙂

  14. judith westerfield

    Fabulous tour! Is there any significance to the colors of the Buddha? (like the lime green).

    Believe it or not this is the first time I’ve actually seen a picture of a giant lotus flower – I had no idea they could get that big.

    Can’t wait to see some of your art.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Judith, yes there is significance to the Buddhist colors. Each color refers to a different state in the Buddha’s journey toward enlightenment.

      These particular lotus flowers were particularly big!



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