This revered temple at the summit of a rocky outcrop is one of Sri Lanka’s pancha ishwaram, five historical Hindu temples dedicated to Shiva and established to protect the island from natural disaster. It houses the lingam (Hindu phallic symbol) known as the Swayambhu Lingam. It’s an ancient place of worship, but the current structure dates to 1952. Pilgrims from across the nation flock here; its puja (prayers) at 6.30am, 11.30am and 4.30pm are always well attended.
The site is thought to have been a place of worship for at least two millennia. There was certainly a temple here by AD 300, which was later built up over the years by everyone from the Cholas to the Jaffna Kingdom, until being destroyed by the Portuguese.
On one side of the temple compound is Swami Rock, a 130m-high cliff nicknamed Lovers’ Leap. It’s associated with Francina van Reede, a Dutch woman who is said to have jumped from here in the late 17th century. It’s also a famous spot for spotting blue whales, especially from February to November. Note the odd cubic-shaped rocks below.
You can park about 300m south of the temple. The walk is lined with vendors selling offerings and gifts – bring socks for walking the hot pavement after you’ve removed your shoes. A couple of simple cafes sell fresh lime juice and coconut water that you can enjoy while taking in the sweeping views.