Though not the highest mountain of Sri Lanka, the striking pyramid of Adam’s Peak (7,360 ft) is certainly the most remarkable. A depression in the rocky summit resembles a huge footprint, which has been venerated as a sacred sigh from remote antiquity. This was identified by Buddhists as the Buddha’s footprint, by Hindus as that of Shiva, and by Muslims as Adam’s. Later the Portuguese attributed it to St. Thomas the Apostle.
The Mahawamsa tells how the sacred footprint was imprinted by the departing Buddha on his third visit to Lanka, but the site did not become an object of regular Buddhist pilgrimage until the Polonnaruwa period, when Vijayabahu I built resting houses for pilgrims and King Nissankamalla himself, in the year 1201, climbed to the top and worshipped the spot.
The Muslim tradition of a footprint of Adam, first of the prophets, goes back to gnostic sources as early as the Mahawamsa itself. According to the legend, Adam was hurled from Paradise for his disobedience and stood in penance for a thousand years on one foot at the top of Adam’s Peak, after which he was reunited with Eve on Mt. Arafat overlooking Mecca. By the ninth century, this footprint was consequently considered one of the most sacred sites in the world.