Sri Lanka, a predominantly Buddhist land has been influenced by many religions and cultures over time. Starting off as an animistic nation, then later Buddhist with Hinduism, Islam and relatively recently Christianity amalgamating into the religious sects of the nation, the island is home to historical gems that pay heed to all religions. As much as there are temples dotting every corner of Sri Lanka, there are also churches, mosques and Hindu kovils. Due to the influence of the South Indians at one time in Sri Lankan history, Hinduism became popular in Sri Lanka, in some areas more prominently than others. Religious devotees built monumental structures to pay respect to their religion and associated deities, and some of these age old constructions are seen to this day, carefully preserved over time.
The Munneswaran Temple is situated to the north of Colombo city, situated in the fishing village of Chilaw near the Puttalam District. The temple has existed since at least 1000 CE, and locals associate the temple with the Ramayana, the Indian epic and its hero, Rama. The shrine is devoted to Lord Shiva and the temple compound is a collection of five small temples, including a Buddhist place of worship. The central shrine devoted to Shiva is the most prestigious; however the Kali temple has risen in popularity amongst Roman Catholics and Sinhala Buddhists, as seen by their frequent visits to the complex.
The temple has been reconstructed over the centuries, firstly by King Parakramabahu VI and then later after the Portuguese invasion. After their arrival in Sri Lanka, the Portuguese began a forced campaign to destroy all Buddhist and Hindu temples. The Munneswaran was completely destroyed, save for the basement and the temple complex was used as a Roman Catholic Church. Despite the conversions and destruction of the faith in the village around the temple, the Munneswaran survived due to devotees who in the 18th century developed the temple and restored its glory.
In this day, the Munneswaran Temple is renowned for its festival celebrations of Navaratri and Shivaratri. The former lasts nine days and pays homage to the presiding Gods and Goddess whilst the latter is celebrated to honour the great Shiva. Both these functions attract Hindus to the temple; however the annual Munneswaran Festival attracts people of all faiths where they join in the 28 day religious celebration hosted by the temple. Pujas and daily offerings are made at the temple during the 28 days and on the final day, the idols of the Gods are dipped in a nearby river and hundreds of devotees also take part by bathing in the river before joining the procession back to the main temple. This event is truly spectacular and well worth experiencing.
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