Hindu temples, or kovils, are found throughout Sri Lanka. Big and small, they are monumental testaments to this multi-cultural and multi-ethnic Buddhist island’s close links with India, its giant northern neighbour.
The most spectacular feature of all temples is the gopuram, or gate tower, often magnificently carved and resplendent with coloured sculptures of Gods, erotic scenes, animals, and floral and geometric patterns.
Some kovils are so tall that they are visible for miles around. Intended to inspire a sense of serenity and enlightenment, they also influence many aspects of everyday Hindu community life, culture, education, and social beliefs.
The website roar.lk provides a useful guide to the different purposes and functions of the inner and outer areas of the temple structure, many of which have special religious significance.
The sikhara translated literally as ‘mountain peak’, is the towering structure directly above the garbhagriha, or ‘womb chamber’, the innermost sanctum of all temples in which sits a stone idol of the primary deity.
Around the garbhagriha is the pradakshina patha, a path that allows priests and devotees to walk around in a clockwise direction and worship the idol.
Says roar.lk: “Just as the Hindu religion is vast, with several gods and even more religious customs, the architecture of a kovil is colossal and revolves around many different beliefs and practices.
“In addition, water bodies also play a significant role in Hindu culture and customs, and there are many rituals that involve ceremonies using ponds and rivers.
“Temples have evolved through the decades from simple caves and flat-roofed structures to complexes that evoke grandeur, magnificence, and majesty, and there is no doubt that the evolution will not stop here.
“Although the architecture of temples has seen many styles evolve over time, the principles continue to remain intact, with all designs following the primary layout and features.”