What is a Pilgrimage?

A pilgrimage is a journey undertaken for a religious motive. It is a journey to a shrine or location of importance to a person’s belief and faith. A pilgrimage is not all about a vacation, luxury and perfection. It is completely the opposite. It is not a break like a vacation.

A pilgrimage is a challenge. Most of the pilgrimages take us out of our comfort zones. This involves difficult travelling.

There are six stages that characterize every pilgrimage.

  • The Call
  • The Separation
  • The Journey
  • The Contemplation
  • The Encounter
  • The Completion and Return

Why a Pilgrimage?

People in almost all religions have made pilgrimages. There were pilgrims even before writing was invented.

There are many reasons why people make pilgrimages. People that travel on pilgrimages are happy. They gain more faith and peace in their hearts.

  • To practice prayer, fasting
  • To visit holy places
  • To pray for healing and learn to let go
  • To experience the diverse cultures.

For a successful pilgrimage, it involves a commitment to leave behind the problems and instead focus on gaining spiritual refreshment.  

History of Pilgrimage Tradition

Some pilgrimage traditions have been carried out for more than 1000 years. Most of the religions attach spiritual importance to some places.

Thousand years have passed, the purpose of pilgrimage still remains unchanged. In the past, pilgrimages were tough. There were less or no facilities. Nowadays, pilgrimages have become easy with comfortable travel options.

Why Relics are important in Pilgrimage?

The relics are the significant attraction in most of the pilgrimage destinations. The relics are categorized into two as first-class relics and second-class relics.

The first-class relics consist of the relics of a saint. They are corporeal relics and most of them are entombed in a shrine.

The second-class relics are the personal belongings of a Holy person or a saint. This can include clothing as well.

Types of Pilgrimages in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is an island with the presence of four major religions including Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Catholic. The island has important pilgrimage destinations of Buddhist, Hindu and Catholic.

Buddhist Pilgrimage

Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country. More than 70% of the nation’s population is Sinhala Buddhist. As a result, lots of ancient Buddhist monuments and structures are found throughout the island.

Hindu Pilgrimage

Hinduism makes up about 13% of the entire Sri Lankan population.  Murugan pilgrimage route is the most popular Hindu pilgrimage traditions in Sri Lanka. There are several interesting pilgrimage destinations found in Polonnaruwa.

Catholic Pilgrimage

The percentage of Catholic people is 7%. Sri Lanka does not have any pilgrims with historical value. Christianity was introduced to Sri Lanka during the 16th century when the western nations visited the country.

Pilgrimage Destinations In Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is hailed to be a democratic tradition matched by few developing countries. The island’s culture dates back for more than 2500 years. The culture is primarily influenced by Buddhism and secondarily by Hinduism since the past. The island is home to Sinhalese and Tamil, which are the two main traditional cultures.

Buddhist Pilgrimage Destinations In Sri Lanka


Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura Sri Lanka, Pilgrimage Destinations In Sri Lanka

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura Sri Lanka

Anuradhapura is one of the ancient capital cities in Sri Lanka established at about 380 B.C. The city remained the nation’s capital for more than 600 years. The ancient city is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

For pilgrimage, the pilgrims visit eight great places of veneration (Atamasthana) in Anuradhapura.

  • Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi
  • Ruwanwelisaya
  • Thuparamaya
  • Lovamahapaya
  • Abhayagiri Dagaba
  • Jetavanarama
  • Mirisaveti Stupa
  • Lankarama

There are other interesting structures in Anuradhapura that are worth a visit.

  • Isurumuniya
  • Mangul Uyana
  • Vessagiriya
  • Rathna Prasadaya
  • Ranmasu Uyana
  • Dakkhina Stupa
  • Samadhi Statue
  • Kuttam Pokuna
  • Sela Chetiya


Polonnaruwa became the capital in Sri Lanka replacing Anuradhapura. It was first established by the Chola dynasty. After the defeat of Cholas, Sinhalese made Polonnaruwa their capital city. The ancient city of Polonnaruwa is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The city remains as one of the best planned archaeological relic sites in Sri Lanka.

  • Polonnaruwa Vatadage
  • Polonnaruwa Hatadage
  • Rankoth Vehera
  • Polonnaruwa Gal Viharaya
  • Nissanka Latha Mandapaya
  • Kiri Vehera


Temple of the Tooth Kandy Sri Lanka, Pilgrimage Destinations In Sri Lanka

Temple of the Tooth Kandy Sri Lanka

Kandy is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is the last capital of ancient kings in Sri Lanka. Kandy is home to the Temple of the Tooth Relic (Dalada Maligawa). The relic played a vital role in Sri Lankan politics. Kandy became a world heritage due to the temple.


Solosmasthana is known as the 16 sacred places in Sri Lanka. These places are very important to Buddhists.

  1. Mahiyangana Raja Maha Viharaya
  2. Nagadeepa Purana Viharaya
  3. Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya
  4. Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) in Ratnapura
  5. Diva Guhava in Sudagala
  6. Deegavapi Raja Maha Viharaya in Ampara
  7. Muthiyangana Raja Maha Viharaya in Badulla
  8. Tissamaharama Raja Maha Viharaya
  9. Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura
  10. Mirisawetiya Vihara in Anuradhapura
  11. Ruwanwelisaya in Anuradhapura
  12. Thuparamaya in Anuradhapura
  13. Abhayagiri Viharaya in Anuradhapura
  14. Jetavanaramaya in Anuradhapura
  15. Sela Cetiya in Anuradhapura
  16. Kiri Vehera in Kataragama

Hindu Pilgrimage Destinations In Sri Lanka

Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, Pilgrimage Destinations In Sri Lanka

Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil

Hindu pilgrims go on the Murugan pilgrimage route of Sri Lanka. This is an ancient Arunagirinathar-traversed Pada Yatra route of Tiruppadai temples. The pilgrimage route is given below.

Murugan Pilgrimage Route

  • Maviddapuram Kandaswamy Temple in Kankesanthurai
  • Nallur Kandaswamy temple in Jaffna
  • Pancha Ishwaram Koneswaram temple in Trincomalee
  • Verugal Murugan Kovil on the banks of the river Verugal Aru
  • Thirukkovil Sithira Velayutha Swami Kovil in Batticaloa
  • Panamai in Ampara
  • Ukanthamalai Murugan Kovil in Okanda
  • Kataragama Temple.

More Places

Other than Murugan Pilgrimage route, there are several places in Sri Lanka that Hindu people visit as part of their pilgrimage.

  • Shiva Devale in Polonnaruwa

Catholic Pilgrimage Destinations In Sri Lanka

Pilgrimage Destinations In Sri Lanka, Pilgrimage Destinations In Sri Lanka

Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka in Tewatte

Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu

This is the island’s holiest Catholic shrine. The church is most commonly known as “Shrine of Our Lady Madhu”. This church has a history of more than 400 years and the shrine acts as a centre for pilgrimage and worship for Sri Lankan Catholics.

St. Anne’s Shrine Thalawila

The church is one of the ancient Christian shrines in Sri Lanka. Thousands of pilgrims gather to this place during the Christmas season, in March and August. The pilgrims can witness the stunning views of the Thalawila beach nearby.

Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka in Tewatte

Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka in Tewatte is one of the most popular churches in the island and is a site of pilgrimage for the Catholics in Sri Lanka. Thousands of pilgrims visit the church each year. It is in Tewatta, Ragama that lies 18 km from Colombo.

The church has a history of more than a century. But the shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes was built in 1911. After six years, a grotto was built. The church was consecrated in the year 1974. With the consecration, the church became the National Basilica of Sri Lanka.

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