Dambulla Cave Temple

Dambulla Royal Cave Temple

Dambulla Royal Cave Temple is situated 148 kilometers east of Colombo, 72 kilometers north of Kandy and 43 km north of Matale. Dambulla Cave Temple is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. There are more than 80 documented caves in the surrounding area. Major attractions are spread over five caves, which contain statues and paintings.

Located at an elevation of 1118 feet from the sea level rises a massive rock from the surrounding plains of Dambulla of 600 feet high and over 2000 feet in length. It is home to the Worlds most acclaimed Cave complex of magnificent Buddha Images and Rock Paintings of vivid colors and shapes constructed and painted from around 2nd Century BC (Anuradhapura era ) and continued up to the Kandyan era of the 18th Century. Sinhalese people call it as ‘ Dambulu Gala’ ( Dambulla Rock) and the Temple is called as the ‘ Rangiri Dambulu Viharaya’ (Golden Rock Dambulla Temple).

The largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka, the rock from which the caves were carved towers 160 meters (520 ft) over the surrounding plains. Major attractions are spread over five caves which contain statues and paintings of Lord Buddha and his life. A total of 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan kings and four statues. The murals found there cover an area of 2,100 square meters (22604 sq ft). Depictions on the walls of the caves include Buddha’s temptation by Mara and Buddha’s first sermon. UNESCO designated the Golden Temple of Dambulla a World Heritage Site in 1991.

History Of Royal Cave Temple

Dating back to the first century the Dambulla Cave Temple represents the most impressive cave temple in Sri Lanka. It has five caves under a vast overhanging rock, carved with a drip line to keep the interiors dry. In 1938 craftsman embellished the architecture with arched colonnades and gabled entrances. Inside the caves, the ceilings had been painted with intricate images of the Lord Buddha and Bodhisathvas, as well as various gods and goddesses following the contours of the rock.

The Dambulla cave still operates as a monastery and remains the best-preserved ancient edifice in Sri Lanka. The complex dates from the third and second centuries, serving as one of the largest and most important monasteries. King Valagambahu has been traditionally believed to have converted the caves into a temple in the first century. The caves in the city provided refuge to King Valagamba (also called Vattagamini Abhaya) in his fourteen year long exile from the Anuradapura kingdom.Buddhist monks meditating in the caves of Dambulla at that time provided the exiled king protection from his enemies. When King Valagamba returned to the throne at Anuradapura kingdom in the first century, he had a magnificent rock temple built at Dambulla as a gratitude to the monks in Dambulla.

Many other kings added to it later and by the eleventh century, the caves had become a major religious center. King Nissanka Malla gilded the caves and added about seventy Buddha statues in 1190 C.E. During the eighteenth century, the Kandyan Kings restored and painted the caves.

The Five Caves

Five caves converted into shrine rooms make up the temple. The caves, built at the base of a 150 meter high rock during the Anuradapura (first century B.C.E. to 993 C.E.) and Polonnaruwa periods (1073 to 1250), represent by far the most impressive of the many cave temples found in Sri Lanka. Devotees and visitors access the caves along the gentle slope of the Dambulla Rock, offering a panoramic view of the surrounding flat lands, which includes the rock fortress Sigiriya, nineteen kilometers away. Dusk brings hundreds of swooping swallows to the cave entrance. The largest cave measures about fifty two meters from east to west, twenty three meters from the entrance to the back, and seven meters tall at its highest point.[3] Hindu deities also have representation, as well as the kings Valgamba and Nissankamalla, and Ananda Buddha’s most devoted disciple.

Cave of the Divine King

The first cave, called Devaraja lena (lena in sinhalese means “cave”), or “Cave of the Divine King,” has an account of the founding of the monastery recorded in a first century Brahmi inscription over the entrance of the cave. The cave, dominated by a fourteen meter statue of the Buddha, has been hewn out of the rock. It has been repainted countless times in the course of its history, and probably received its last coat of paint in the twentieth century. At his feet sits Buddha’s favorite pupil, Ananda. At his head stands Vishnu said to have used his divine powers to create the caves.

Cave of the Great Kings

In the second and largest cave, in addition to sixteen standing and forty seated statues of Buddha, stand the gods Saman and Vishnu which pilgrims often decorate with garlands. The statues of King Vattagamani and King Nissanka Malla also stand in the cave. King Vattagamani, for honoring the monastery in the first century B.C.E., and King Nissanka Malla, for gilding of fifty statues in the twelfth century as indicated by a stone inscription near the monastery entrance. The cave fittingly has been named Maharaja lena, “Cave of the Great Kings.”

Wooden figures of the Bodhisattvas Maitreya and Avalokiteshvara or Natha escort the Buddha statue hewn out of the rock on the left side of the room. A spring, said to have healing powers, drips out of a crack in the ceiling. Valuable tempera paintings on the cave ceiling dating from the eighteenth century depict scenes from Buddha’s life, from the dream of Mahamaya to temptation by the demon Mara. Further pictures relate important events from the country’s history.

Great New Monastery

The third cave, the Maha Alut Vihara, the “Great New Monastery,” received ceiling and wall paintings in the typical Kandy style during the reign of King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747-1782), the famous Buddhist revivalist. In addition to the fifty Buddha statues, a statue of the king stands in the cave.

Fourth and Fifth Caves

The smaller fourth and fifth caves date from a later period. The painting and sculptures display inferior craftsmanship. A small Vishnu Devale, between the first and second caves, attracts many worshipers.

Within the shrine rooms reside a collection of one hundred and fifty statues of the Buddhist Order and the country’s history. The statues and paintings represent many epochs of Sinhala sculpture and Sinhala art. The Buddha statues vary in size and attitude, with the largest fifteen meters long. One cave has over 1,500 paintings of Buddha covering the ceiling.

An excerpt from Epigraphia Zeylanica- Inscription of Kirti Nissanka Malla

The rock temple of Dambulla, called in the Mahavamsa (lxxx.22) Jambukola Viharay, and built underneath an enormous boulder of gneiss, upwards of 500 feet in height and about 2000 feet in length, is from its antiquity, its grandeur and the richness of its decorations, one of the most celebrated Viharas of Ceylon.

It is situated about forty seven miles north west of Kandy , on the main road to Anuradhapura, which is some forty two miles further north. The other rock temple of equal fame, Alu Vihara- where , according to the Sinhalese chronicles, the Buddhist scriptures were first committed to writing, under the patronage of Vatta Gamini Abhaya, in the first century B.C- lies about twenty nine miles to the south; while the famous fortress of Sigiriya rises aloft like a gigantic cylinder at a distance of about twelve miles to the north east. In their vivid descriptions of Dambulla Vihara, Messrs. Davy, Forbes, Tennent and Burrows mention the existence of several inscriptions in the Cave character and of one,by Kirthi Nissanka Malla in Sinhalese Script of the twelfth century,

It is neatly engraved on the rock to the right, immediately after passing the Mirage, in the courtyard of the temple and consists of twenty five lines, covering an area of about 5 ft. 9 in. by 3 ft. 6 in.

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