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Inside Dambulla cave temple

Dambulla Cave Temple


Dambulla Cave Temple

Dambulla cave temple ( Singhalese:දඹුල්ල ලෙන් විහාරය – Dambulla Len Viharaya ) also known as Dambulla golden temple is located in the central region of Sri Lanka. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and also one of the world’s best-preserved cave art to date.



This cave temple complex is the largest and most sacred cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. There are more than 80 caves in the region. This cave complex is positioned 160 meters above the ground level in the midsection of a huge rock boulder. The boulder dominates the entire landscape making climbers see the wast unspoiled forest lay in a 360 degree. The Temple mainly consists of 5 separate cave structures. All caves are focused on telling the life stories related to Lord Buddha and the ethics of Buddhism. Whereas cave bares 153 Buddha statues, 4 God statues including Wishnu and Ganesha, and not to mention 3 statues of past Sri Lankan Kings who corporated in building the layout.

History of the Dambulla cave temple

Dates back to 1st century BC, at the time of the temple, was initialized, it was a centuries-old monastery where enlightened Buddhist monks meditated, studied, and preached Buddhism. Cave had the perfectly shaped rock boulder leaning forward making a huge cave over 100 meters long, 25 meters wide, and 7meters in height. In the first place, a drip line was carved to preserve the interiors and meditating monks from rainwater. The main entrances were gabled and arch colonnaded. This provides the temple a unique, designated, sacred, and spiritual exterior.

The Interior is entirely and eternally decorated by traditional arts. Mostly relying on Kandyan art style and crafts heavily depending on rituals and patterns of Buddhism and Sinhalese culture. Arts are consisting of statues of Buddha, Bodhisathwa (practicing Buddha to come), Goddess, and past rulers of the nation.

Why a monastery converted to one of the main Buddhist attraction

Dambulla cave temple was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991. This is mainly due to the arts which are known as best-preserved cave arts in the entire World. Dates from 2nd to 1st century BC, King Walagamba of Anuradhapura ( 1st reign: 104 -103 BC / 2nd reign: 89 -76 BC ) converted this monastery to a temple of the state. It was an interesting lesson, where King had to escape from his northern Kingdom of Anuradhapura to the inland Dambulla area due to continuous genocidal attacks from south Indian clans. The monks who lived in this cave during that period have majorly assisted the king in providing shelter and protection.

15 years later, with the large influence from Buddhist monks and Sinhalese people, the king overthrew the Tamil chiefs, re-claiming the throne, and never forgot the cave and monks he was once protected, sheltered, and helped by in uniting the locals against invaders. Since then, many succeeded kings sponsored the temple in adding re-instating the paintings and statues. King Nishankamalla of Polonnaruwa kingdom was highlighted due to his major devotion of 70 Buddha statues to the temple during his reign in 1190 AD; 1200 years from the temple’s first establishment. The gabled entrances, arched colonnades were added during the Kandyan Kingdom in the 15th century and ceiling paints, statue paints were also restored.

In contrast, this cave today rests in central Sri Lanka as one of the most respected and most visited temples. Not to mention it is an attraction equally important in terms of the world’s unique art styles.


The Five Caves

Cave No. 1: The Devraja Viharaya ( Temple of King of God’s)

Out of five, this Devraja Viharaya is the first cave to meet when you walk from the entrance. Devraja viharaya is the smallest cave out of others. Nevertheless, the chamber is embraced by the largest sleeping Budhha out of all caves. The Lord Buddha is in the status of Parinirvana( passing away). The difference between Parinirvana from sleeping is clarified with the foot swellings carved out from the feet. The statues and paintings of Lord Buddha’s other disciples including Venerable Ananda thero can be found near the Lord with their equanimous facial expressions as enlightened monks.

The Image of God Wishnu, “the king of Gods”, painted on the wall is special to the chamber. This must-have lead to the name of the cave as Devraja Viharaya. At this very moment, Lord Buddha spoke to God Wishnu and made him the trustee of ancient Lanka. Notably, Lord Buddha has visioned Sri Lanka as the last surviving country of Buddhism. What’s most fascinating about this Buddha statue is that it is carved out from the main rock which must have been a very difficult task considering the final finishing.

The cave was constructed during the reign of King Walagamba(89-77 BC) of the Anuradhapura era, 2100 years ago. This has proven with the Studying from the art classifications and stone readings in nearby stone inscriptions. Paintings were continuously renovated over and over until the fall of the Kingdom of Kandy in 18th century AD. However, some paintings were faded due to the fumes of oil lamps and incense.

Cave No. 2: The Maharaja Viharaya ( Temple of Great King’s)

This is the largest cave of the Dambulla temple complex which is 125 ft long, 75 ft wide, and has a max height of 21 ft at the entrance doors. The name of the cave derives from the statues of 2 kings placed in the cave belongs to King Walagamba and King Nishshankamalla. Some of the Buddha & other statues in this cave are made out of wood which is unique to this cave.

This cave is the most attractive out of others due to its large appearance, hundreds of Buddha and other statues, and the color vibrations used by the artists on statues and murals. The center of attraction is the Stupa placed in the middle surrounding 11 seated Buddha statues with different postures. However, according to the critics, the prime artwork of the cave is the real-life dimension standing Buddha with the hood of Makara Thorana( Dragon arch). This believed to be one of King Nishshankamalla’s gilded statues where gold stripes and spots can be seen even today. The statues of many gods including god Saman, Naatha, Maithree, and Upulvan are also placed paving their honors to Lord Buddha.




According to the art critics, this softly glared holy temple has a serenity of its own and an amazing charm where no other temple in the world has to offer. Thousands of murals describing the life of Lord Buddha and the history of Buddhism seem to be endless on the rock ceiling. The uneven rock surfaces are subtlety filled with traditional artwork and colors. In the middle, a water bowl is placed to collect a drip line of water created by a rock ceiling crack. The water is believed to be from a natural pond on the top surface of the rock, which is located more than 30 feet above the cave complex.


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