A myriad of Sri Lankans gather at Galle Face beach in Colombo to take a walk, watch the sun descend over the Indian Ocean, and wash their feet in the waves. "There is lots of color," says photographer Palani Mohan. "There are children screaming, young lovers holding hands, people flying kites. The whole place is full of activity."
There was beautiful light pouring through a nearby window, and hardly anyone was there," says Mohan of this scene in Mihintale, a sacred mountain pilgrimage site. "I remember wondering why there weren't thousands of tourists here. It was such a special place." Today Mihintale is considered the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka with its many temples and lodgings for monks as well as ancient remains of stone steps, a stupa built in the first century A.D., a Lion Bath, and stone ponds built in the first century A.D.
I was driving through Kalutara and saw a row of 20 women selling flowers to the people going into the temple," says Mohan. "The driver told me that people go back to buy from the same woman every time." In Sri Lanka, water lilies, lotuses, and frangipani are popular offerings at Buddhist temples. In Buddhism lotuses represent a person's progress toward spiritual enlightenment—the emergence from darkness and corruption, growth from water, and the emergence towards the sunlight
A 100-year-old clock tower rises from the center of Colombo, "a great small city by the ocean," says Mohan. The tower is a symbol of the city's Old World charm. Rapid growth is changing the face of the colonial city with skyscrapers rising next to early British-built buildings. "Though it's crowded and hot, the people are warm, the buildings are fantastic, and there is just a charm about it," says Mohan
In the early morning a woman sweeps leaves off of the ruins at Polonnaruwa. The former capital of Sri Lanka was long deserted and revived in modern times. "The women do this every morning," says Mohan. "Slowly walking around sweeping the fallen leaves and talking as they work."
Elephants are very hard to photograph in a lot of ways," says Mohan. "They really make you work for the image." Mohan took this photograph from a Sri Lankan restaurant that overlooked the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage, a 24-acre (9.7-hectare) plot where some 60 elephants are bathed, fed, and protected.
There are hundreds of roadside Ganeshas found in Sri Lanka, according to Mohan. This elephant-headed deity is the god of knowledge and the remover of obstacles, and one of Hinduism's best known and venerated representations of god. "These shrines are literally everywhere," says Mohan. "It's just another place of worship."
Sri Lanka "is a rich place for the senses," says Mohan. He captured this split-second shot of monks watching just as a young man jumps from the ramparts of the fort in Galle into the waters of the Indian Ocean below. These monks are among 130 from a monastery in Kandy who were traveling the country.
Aboy awaits the school bus outside of his home in Galle Fort. The Portuguese built a small fort in Galle in the 16th century. During the 17th century, the Dutch rebuilt the town and strengthened the fortifications, when the English took over in the late 1700s. Today, there are fewer than 200 homes inside the historic fort, whose architecture mimics the area's blend of national and colonial Sri Lankan influences. "Galle is a wonderful place to walk around and get lost," says Mohan. "I would put my camera on my shoulder and stop to watch a woman bringing back vegetables from the market."
These young Sri Lankan men enjoy an afternoon of playful mischief on the beach ouside the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo. Mohan witnessed their tireless games and laughter. "They get very dirty and run into the surf to wash," says Mohan. "This goes on for hours and hours."