See the World - Long Term Travel Photography Blog - YOMADIC

Buddhist Hell, Sri Lanka – Gruesome Photos Banned By Facebook, Revealed (WARNING: LOL’s)

Buddhist Hell - Dikwella Temple, Sri Lanka

Like me, you may have assumed Buddhism was such a happy religion. Until I discovered Buddhist Hell, deep in the South of Sri Lanka, I figured that Buddhist temples were full of kind, enlightened, robe-wearing folks, living out their days in this world performing good deeds, and getting a stack of good karma to boot. From a Western perspective, brand-Buddhism is pacifism, tranquility, and paying a hundred bucks to see the Shaolin Monks world tour, and being ripped off by Buddhist monks selling plastic beads. But wait, there’s more.

Unfortunately, visiting Sri Lanka, one of the most stunning island nations on the entire planet, has taught me everything I never wanted to know about Buddhism. Like all religions, Buddhism has a special dark place where people just don’t want to end up in this life, or any other. Buddhists refer to it as “Naraka” or “Niraya”. You may know it as “hell”. One artists vision of this tormented and gruesome place is on display inside the Buddhist temple named Wewurukannala Vihara, in the town named Dikwella. And the Buddhist version of hell, makes your version of hell seem like not such a terrible place.

Buddhists have developed a complex, and rather specific, number of hell’s and punishments. There’s sixteen hells. A small sample includes “Nirarbuda”, a place where miscreant beings roam around a dark, frozen plain surrounded by icy mountains, where bodies blister from the icy cold, and are covered in blood and pus.Or maybe “Samghata”, where the residents are continually crushed by huge rocks until they are nothing but a bloody jelly. The rocks then move apart, the being is restored, and the brutal process is repeated. For precisely 10.0368 trillion years.

Other Buddhist hell’s are a mixed bag of flesh eating animals, a lot of blood and guts, fire, and weaponry of various ingenuity. I liked the one where you get stabbed with red-hot-spears, until fire comes out of your nose. No matter which one is your favourite Buddhist Hell, down in Dikwella they’re all gruesome, and the wifi sucks. And of course, more hell’s are actively being discussed by those Buddhists for whom sixteen hells is simply not enough.

Buddhist Hell, Wewurukannala Vihara Temple, Dikwella

As always, the ticket to Wewurukannala Vihara Temple proudly proclaimed “largest Buddha in Asia”. I would suggest “proud home of Buddhist Hell” would be more accurate.

Man being stabbed in Buddhist Hell

Over on Facebook, I titled this photo “man being stabbed inside Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka”. I was then banned from Facebook due to Buddhist fundamentalists. Buddhist Hell, Wewurukannala Vihara temple, Dikwella, Sri Lanka.

hell for buddhists in Sri Lanka

There are no “tour guides” at Buddhist Hell in Sri Lanka. This man is a “donation collector”. When not collecting money, the onsite Buddhists are sleeping. Buddhist Hell, Wewurukannala Vihara temple,Diwkella, Sri Lanka.

"Naked lady being ripped apart by wild animals inside Buddhist Temple, Sri Lanka".

“Naked lady being ripped apart by wild animals inside Buddhist temple, Sri Lanka”.

Wewurukannala Vihara Temple, Dikwella, Sri Lanka.

This is a painting of a man, walking nude through another man’s house whilst a pretty lady serves a cool drink. These are images from the “don’t do this” row of paintings. Doesn’t seem like something punishable by Buddhist hell to me, and yet, here we are. Wewurukannala Vihara temple, Dikwella, Sri Lanka.

buddhist diwkella temple hell

“Man being stabbed in the mouth and head, inside Buddhist temple, Sri Lanka”.

hell temple of Buddhists, Sri Lanka

“Man killing another man with a pretty big sword, inside Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka”


Giant Buddha temples in Asia, they’re a dime a dozen. And all of them have a sign that proudly states “this is the largest Buddha in Asia”. But how many have kitschy mid-century models of demon like creatures, and hundreds of paintings interpreting Buddhist hell? Not enough, that’s my opinion. Which is why Wewurukannala Vihara temple is just so god-damn good. But here in Sri Lanka, a land dominated by Buddhism, writing about the somewhat unknown Wewurukannala Vihara temple comes with a hellishly big bag of problems.

Mentioning Buddhists and gruesome torture in the same sentence in Sri Lanka, can be a dangerous past-time (but hey, it’s a living). When I first posted photos of “Buddhist hell” on the Yomadic Facebook page, I was inundated with threats, insults, judgments, rudeness, and incredulity that this temple even existed within Sri Lanka. The photo was reported to Facebook for “violating guidelines”. My account was suspended. Facebook administrators suggested it would just be easier to remove my entire Facebook presence, permanently. All at the request of Sri Lankan Buddhists. Seems strange, until you delve into the dark history of the island nation formerly known as Ceylon.

Recently, Sri Lanka has suffered through a bloody civil war. Lasting 26 years, taking 100,000 lives, and ending less than five years ago, the war was won by the well equipped Buddhist soldiers. I know that sounds inflammatory, but it’s as true as saying that the American armed forces are Christian soldiers, or the Iraqi soldiers are Muslim soldiers. And nobody would really find that particularly inflammatory. The sad fact is, as with Christians and Muslims, many of the never-harm-an-insect Buddhists are very willing to kill humans of a different religion.

With just one trip to Sri Lanka, the decades long marketing job that brand-Buddhism did on my mind, had completely fallen off the rails. I now realise that Buddhists are capable of war, torture, terrorism, and killing. They’re also capable of insults, and of attempting to censor the internet to fit their own beliefs.

It should have come as no surprise.

Because Buddhists, are just like every one else.

Buddhists hang at malls, and shop for designer labels. They scan the internet looking for information on the newest iPhone. In high-finance business dealings, they will rip you off. They’re violent, judgmental, tech-savvy, materialistic, racist, and rotten to the core. Behind your back, they’ll laugh at you. To your face, they will lie.

They’re also beautiful, friendly, warm, welcoming, generous, and honest. They lead live simple lives, respecting and helping others, expecting nothing in return. They’ve got an old Nokia that they use, preferring to give the money they save on the purchase of a new phone to a local orphanage. They never judge a person, and never engage in any violent activity. They have hearts of gold – not because they fear hell, purely because they are naturally good people.

The point is, as with all religious practitioners, some Buddhists are good, others are not. Although I do know human nature, I wouldn’t be so bold as to claim I know everything (or even just a little bit) about the religion or philosophy of Buddhism. Due to my chosen life path of not believing in fairy tales, I haven’t had time to read the official Buddhist training manual. So, Wewurukannala Vihara temple was my introduction to “Buddhist Hell 101″.


Wewurukannala Vihara Temple, Dikwella, Sri Lanka - Buddist Hell

This man is doing something to a chicken, I’m just not sure exactly what. It seems quite illegal though. Buddhist hell temple, Dikwella, Sri Lanka.

buddhist chicken hell, Sri Lanka

“He who has relations with his pet chicken, shall have his eyes gouged out and flesh ripped from his bloody bones by giant chickens in Buddhist hell”. Translation may not be absolutely accurate, but I believe I’m close.

buddha hell

Don’t kill cows, or else…

...stabby stabby in Buddhist hell.

…stabby stabby in Buddhist hell.

paintings of buddhist hell

This corridor has hundreds of paintings. The guy on duty woke up when I entered, turned on a dim bulb to help light my descent into Buddhist hell, asked me for a donation, and then went back to sleep.

Burning in Buddhist Hell, Sri Lanka.

Burning in Buddhist Hell, Sri Lanka.

hell buddhist temple

Note to self: update this caption when I figure out what the hell is going on. Wewurukannala Vihara temple, Dikwella, Sri Lanka.

Ouch. Fire. Etc.

Ouch. Fire. Buddhist Hell. Etc.

the crime of buddhist hell


Wewurukannala Vihara Temple AKA BUDDHIST HELL



Buddhist Hell – Closing Thoughts on the Wewurukannala Vihara Temple in Dikwella, Sri Lanka

We live in an age of travel where tourist sights and activities around the world seem to have come off the same boring assembly line. Wewurukannala Vihara temple is different. Buddhist Hell may not be a real place, and sadly it’s also not really an attraction. Kitschy, tacky, decaying, full of naive art and covered with imagery of torture and gore – this just isn’t what most tourists are into these days. Wewurukannala Vihara was empty, and the town of Dikwella was a tourist-free zone.

Perhaps, one day, maybe, just maybe, gruesome artistic visions of Buddhist Hell will become the hot new attraction on the Sri Lankan tourist-circuit.

Update: probably not.


PS, personal update – it’s been almost 600 days on the road, and I’ve finally managed to pull myself away from Europe – just for a couple of months. In the last few weeks I have covered three continents. More soon….

PPS, next week – the mean streets of Colombo – street photography from Sri Lanka’s capital, and largest city. Apart from hellish Buddhist visions, there is a LOT to see in Sri Lanka. Street scenes, beaches, and sunsets. Pop your email address in below to receive the post by email (secret: the photos are larger in the email). Your email will never be shared or spammed, and you will be joining thousands of other happy people, who all waste a few minutes each week being entertained and educated, for free, by

Add your email for free updates and exclusive content:



, , , ,

25 Responses to Buddhist Hell, Sri Lanka – Gruesome Photos Banned By Facebook, Revealed (WARNING: LOL’s)

  1. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) Feb 28, 2014 at 12:59 am #

    I’m sure it says more about me than anything else that when your first picture loaded, I actually burst out laughing. Now these are the kind of religious complexes that I’m interested in seeing! Controversial or not, these are the kind of places that are pretty unforgettable, aren’t they?

    Excited to hear more about your time in Sri Lanka—Tony & I will be heading there at the end of April and are planning to spend about a month there. It sounds like an awesome & not very touristed country, so will be curious to hear which parts sans Buddhist eviscerations stand out to you.

    • Nate Robert Feb 28, 2014 at 1:07 am #

      Hey Steph.. I will write one, or maybe two more articles about Sri Lanka, hopefully you’ll get something out of them. I managed to only see the West/South West coast – some really nice beaches, great food, and for the most part – great people. There is a definite and overwhelming sensation that exists – where I was simply seen as a walking wallet by more than 90% of the people that approached me. But I absolutely must say that I met some incredibly friendly people as well, who were warm and generous. It’s a land of extremes, that’s for sure! I think a month is good – I spent 12 days, and that was only enough to see a small part of the country.

  2. Polly Feb 28, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    My mind is racing, just thinking about how many strange versions of hell there might be tucked away in little temples around the world. Clearly this is another reason to explore the whole world.

    Once again, a wonderful piece — thanks for sharing!

  3. Mary Winter Wilson Mar 1, 2014 at 11:58 am #

    I saw similar art at a Buddhist Temple in Xian, China. I had always thought of Buddhism as a philosophy, and not a religion, but now I have a different view. I am trying hard not to judge, and have spent many years reconciling differences and finding similarities amongst the world’s religions. I didn’t take one photograph of the scenes of Hell from the basement of the temple. I was disturbed that any religion or philosophy could display with such glee and such detail the sufferings of Hell.

    • Paul Mar 2, 2014 at 3:38 am #

      To be fair, the most gruesome descriptions and imagery that I’ve ever come across in this world have been those that are found in religious texts. Violent and explicit films are inherently accepted to be fiction but religion actually pushes this stuff as being real.

    • Nate Robert Mar 4, 2014 at 12:05 am #

      I agree, it is disturbing that these are the images that religion needs to “convince” people to behave correctly, Mary. I’ve also been to Xian, probably the same temple – the one with a relic of the “actual” Buddha. Maybe it was a fingernail or something like that…

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. Jeannie Mar 1, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

    Interesting read! This is a place that would appeal to me too. Only because it shows a different side to this religion. I think any religion has practitioners who practice it for the love and goodwill it can bring not only themselves but to others, while there are those who see it as only an identification/label and use it for their own means, usually not in a positive way (Crusades anyone?). Buddhists can’t be different! Fantastic photos, btw.

  5. Frank Mar 3, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

    Wow, some pretty great photos there. Hey, that guy is literally choking the chicken. Now I know where the term comes from :)
    Frank (bbqboy)

  6. sachira Mar 7, 2014 at 8:24 am #

    This is different than the common “Hell” define by other religions unlike dantes this has 16 rings, and each ring is based on the breaking main vows of Buddhism (stealing,lying etc) and that will effect you back (ie: karma) as Buddhist believe in eternity the suffering would only last for a certain period .

  7. Don Mar 7, 2014 at 12:52 pm #

    I kept expecting to see a ‘log flume to hell’ or some such thing. Bizarre..

    Incidentally, it occurs to me that this might be the only way of getting one’s Facebook account well and truly deleted. I must remember that!!

    • Nate Robert Mar 7, 2014 at 9:45 pm #

      ha! Hey Don, feel free to borrow my photo if it helps out with Facebook ;)

  8. Ivana Mar 7, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    I am SO glad I now, 30 something of age, know a different side of something always presented as… well, we all know what. The fact is: everything has two sides. Everything! The other fact is: faith it one of the greatest things humans have. And one of the most terrible. Put it in wrong hands and next you`ll know there are 16 circles of hell :D

  9. ben Mar 18, 2014 at 9:53 am #

    Like here in the Philippines, we have so many religious belief that made me confused on what to believe in.

  10. Monnette Apr 11, 2014 at 7:44 am #

    A guided tour could have meant a bigger donation… maybe… :-P

  11. Graham Apr 20, 2014 at 6:21 am #

    Well if there is a Buddhist hell President Mahinda Rajapaska and his murderous crew deserve to end up there.

  12. kalu May 8, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    Reply to Graham, We know so called human rights thieves and some Americans like to refer “President Mahinda Rajapaska and his murderous crew” But they saved lives of real people and a civilized country. Nobody talks about when American killers kill innocent people in other countries.

    You all became what you are by robbing, murdering and stealing from countries those who have a civilization of 1000s of years.

    You people are pathetic!

  13. Kinu Jun 27, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    It’s hard to do anything shocking today. I think telling people that I fully believe that Hell is real is may shock some people. I have many reasons I will not go into right now. My faith is not out of fear but I am motivated to never end up in Hell. I also see hell as much worse then the images above show because it goes on for eternity and there is never an end.

    What I don’t get is that people will endlessly watch horror movies (not me) and other painful and scary things in the name of entertainment but then you tell them you know it is real they can’t handle it. Places like this will and should never become mainstream but they do open up interesting conversations about life after death and faith.

  14. Vira Jul 5, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

    This is really interesting to know – a temple depicting Hell!

    I always thought when it comes to organized religion then not one stands true to what their holy books say.

  15. Indika Aug 6, 2014 at 1:58 am #

    Please Learn Sinhala or ask someone to translate those words under the photos, then you will get clear idea behind these paintings.. Buddhism is one of the most clam region in the planet .so don’t come to assumptions without knowing. i was ROFL After read your article ..

  16. Rebecca Oct 13, 2014 at 11:27 am #

    This place really and truly exists and we have photographs very similar to these from our trip to Sri Lanka last week. We too were quite surprised to find out there was a “Buddhist hell” of sorts and quite shocked at how graphic the paintings and dioramas were! There is another temple (I believe near Kandy) that had a few paintings like this, although they were much more artistic. Lonely Planet guide was our source, so if you are up for it…

Leave a Reply