The Gangarama Temple located beside a bo tree on the waters of Beira lake is a Buddhist temple containing many statues and antiques. It is accessible via a wooden platform. The most significant Buddhist temple is the Kelaniya Raja Mahavihara, 11 km from Colombo Fort. Dating back to over 2000 years the temple was constructed and destroyed a number of times since the time the Buddha is believed to have preached here. Images of the reclining and the preaching Buddha, frescoes depicting incidents from his life and a hollow paddy heap shaped dagaba are the main features of this temple. During the Duruthu Perahera festival in January, the temple becomes the focus of celebrations involving scores of elephants and dancers. Other important Buddhist centers in Colombo are the Vajiramaya temple at Bambalapitiya, the Raja Maha Viharaya at Bellanwila, the Gotami Viharaya at Borella with George Keyt's murals, Colombo's oldest Buddhist temple built in 1806, the Dipaduttaramaya, in olombo 13 and the Paramananda Purana Viharaya also in Colombo 13. The lssipatanaramaya at Thimbirigasyaya has some beautiful frescoes, the Buddhist Cultural Center at Dehiwala is famous for the rare collection of books on Buddhism and the Karagampitiya Temple also at Dehiwala has Buddha statues with sapphires for eyes.
South of Fort, on a long, narrow island, was where the slaves had their night quarters; the land was thus called Slave Island. Slavery was abolished in 1845. Today the spot, surrounded by what remains of the former Beira Lake, is scarcely recognizable as an island; and it has undergone a rapid transformation in the 1990s. Elegant office buildings and stores have sprung up and overflowed into the adjacent city districts. But the island also manages to accommodate various government departments, from the tax authority to the Air Force; a residential area inhabited mainly by Moors; and the Arulmihu Shiva 5ubrahmaniya Swami Kovil (temple dedicated to the god Subrahmaniya/Murugan/ Skanda), of which the entrance tower, consecrated in 1993, is on Kew Street. Slums, Christian churches, hotels and the important Buddhist Gangarama Temple complete the varied picture. Anyone looking for peace and quiet can visit the Sima Malaka meditation island, which belongs to the nearby temple. Designed by contemporary architect Geoffrey Bawa, this simple temple is ornamented with Thai statues of the Buddha.