Dambulla Cave Temple

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Dambulla Golden temple

Dusty DAMBULLA is known for its incredible cave temples, five magical, dimly lit grottoes packed with statues and decorated with some of the best murals in the country—a picture-perfect example of Sinhalese Buddhist art at its best—located roughly in the centre of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle.
Dambulla’s location at the junction of the ColomboTrincomalee and KandyAnuradhapura highways makes it an excellent starting point for visiting Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle. However, because it is spread out across a single, long, dusty main road, the town itself is one of the least scenic in the region. The traditional clocktower marks the town centre. The main shopping area is located to the north of it, in an uninspired series of new, ugly concrete structures. South of the clocktower lie the majority of the guesthouses, the wholesale market, and the town bus station.

Visiting Dambulla Golden temple

By far the most popular tourist attraction in Dambulla is the Dambulla Golden Temple. For most visitors, visiting Dambulla means visiting the Dambulla Golden Temple. Dambulla Golden Temple is such a renowned tourist site in Sri Lanka that it is included in almost all Sri Lankan vacation packages. The Dambulla cave temples were inspired by a massive granite outcrop that rises more than 160 metres above the surrounding environment and affords breathtaking views across the dry zone plains all the way to Sigiriya, more than 20 kilometres away.
It is best to explore the caverns in reverse order, beginning with cave 5 and working your way back. This allows you to see the caves in ever-increasing detail, culminating in the spectacular cave 2.

Dambulla Cave Temple excursion

The trip to Dambulla Cave Temple is a popular activity among Sri Lankan tourists since it allows them to explore some of the most attractive and essential tourist sites in Sri Lanka. The Dambulla Cave temple tour can be booked separately or in conjunction with other multi-day Sri Lanka vacation packages. Most travel operators, including Seerendipity Tours, offer one-day tours to Dambulla from Colombo. The one-day trip to Dambulla is sometimes coupled with a Sigiriya rock tour and a Minneriya safari.

A review of previous events

The cave temples were constructed during the reign of Vattagamini Abhaya, also known as Valagambahu or Valagamba, who reigned between 89 and 77 BC and 103 BC. Vattagamini spent fourteen years hiding out in subterranean tunnels after his kingdom was stolen by a troop of Tamil invaders. Vattagamini, who had restored his kingdom at Anuradhapura, had temples built here as a thank you for the hiding place the rock had provided him. Walls created divisions beneath what was formerly a single, large rock overhang. As a result, it formed the various caves that now house the temples. Senerath (1604-35) and Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747-82), who also built the incredible Cave 3 and commissioned many of the countless murals that now adorn the interiors, completed significant restorations and remodels, while Nissankamalla added extra embellishments to the cave temples. The majority of what you see was created during the reigns of these two last kings. However, identifying specific paintings with precision is difficult because artists continued to enrich and change them well into the twentieth century, often repainting them as the original paint faded.

Cave 5:Dambulla Cave Temple

The images in Cave 5, known as the Devana Alut Viharaya (“Second New Temple”), are made of brick and plaster, as opposed to the majority of the other statues at the site, which are made of solid rock. As a result, it is the most recent of the temples. The centrepiece is a 10-meter-tall reclining Buddha. Paintings on the wall behind his feet depict a dark Vishnu, Kataragama and his peacock to the right, and Bandara, a local deity, to the left. As you leave, you may notice a painting of a nobleman clutching lotus petals to your right; this man may have donated the temple.

Cave 4:Dambulla Cave Temple

Cave 4, the Paccima Viharaya (or “Western Temple”), is quite modest, despite the fact that Cave 5, which was built later, is further west. The walls are lined with many identical sculptures of Buddhas sitting in meditation poses, interspersed with a few larger images, one of which is draped and rests beneath an ornate makara torana arch. The main structure is a tiny dagoba with a hole in its side from thieves who broke in thinking Queen Somawathie, Vattagamini Abhaya’s wife, was carrying valuables. It, too, has Buddha statues and floral and chevron motifs on its walls, which were mostly rebuilt in the early 1900s.

Cave 3:Dambulla Cave Temple

On a much greater scale, Kirti Sri Rajasinha constructed Cave 3, commonly known as the Maha Alut Viharaya (“Great New Temple”). The cavern has a sloping ceiling that can reach a height of 10 metres, giving the impression of a vast tent filled with over fifty seated and standing Buddhas. The statue of Kirti Sri Rajasinha stands to the right of the entrance, with his four attendants painted on the wall behind him. Given the time when each stone had to be chipped off with abrasive chisels, the fact that the meditating Buddha in the cave’s centre and the sleeping Buddha on the left wall are both carved out of solid rock is astonishing.

Wall paintings

There are some interesting wall paintings in Cave 3. Two ceiling paintings depict Maitreya, the future Buddha, preaching in a Kandyan-style pavilion. In the first, he addresses a group of stern followers (look up as you enter the cave); in the second, he addresses an assembly of finely decorated gods in the Tusita paradise, where he is thought to be residing until his return to Earth in about five billion years. As you exit, you’ll see another amazing image of an idealised setting with square ponds, trees, elephants, cobras, and Buddhas (behind a pair of seated Buddhas). This is a little folkloric nineteenth-century addition to the Kandyan murals.

Cave 2:Dambulla Cave Temple

Cave 2, popularly known as the Maharaja Vihara or “Temple of the Great Kings,” is the largest and most magnificent cave in Dambulla. It is a large burial place that is seven metres high and fifty metres long. Although Vattagamini Abhaya is credited with its creation, it was heavily remodelled and rebuilt in the seventeenth century. The cave got its name from the discovery of two kings’ statues inside. The first image is a painted wooden statue of Vattagamini Abhaya himself, which is located just left of the door that leads to the main entrance. Nissankamalla is nestled away at the very end of the cave on the right, virtually out of sight behind a large, reclining Buddha. This most pompous of Sinhala rulers met a mysterious fate.

A significant number of Buddha sculptures line the cave’s sides and back. Traces of the gold leaf coating that once decorated the main Buddha statue may be found to the left of the cave, beneath a makara torana in the abhaya (“Have No Fear”) mudra. On either side are wooden Natha figures of Maitreya and Avalokitesvara. Behind the main Buddha, there are statues of Saman and Vishnu resting against the wall, and murals of Ganesh and Kataragama on the wall beyond. This mix of Hindu, Mahayana, and Theravada gods in such a small space is extraordinarily diverse.

Wall Paintings

Because of its beautiful mural display on the walls and ceiling, Cave 2 is the best in Sri Lanka. The ceiling at the cave’s western end (on the left as you approach) is decorated in Kandyan-style strip panels depicting episodes from the Buddha’s life and images of dagobas at Sri Lanka’s hallowed spots. The small white elephant, which represents the Buddha’s unborn child’s unique characteristics, is barely visible. While pregnant, the Buddha’s mother saw it in a dream. These murals pale in comparison to the three adjacent ceiling panels depicting the Mara Parajaya (“Defeat of Mara”), which describes the temptations that the Buddha encountered while pursuing enlightenment in Bodhgaya. In the first, he is portrayed sitting under a well-kept bo tree while hordes of hairy, grey devils shoot arrows at him; one of them even possesses a gun. The majestic Mara watches over everyone from atop an elephant. The Buddha succumbs to temptation from a large group of seductive maidens in the following panel, The Daughters of Mara, indicating the failure of this attempt to distract his attention. The following Isipatana panel honours the Buddha’s victory against these great accomplishments of feminine creativity. It depicts the Buddha preaching for the first time in front of a great crowd of beautifully dressed gods.

In the right corner of the cave, a wire-mesh enclosure holds a pot that receives continual watering from drops from the roof. Even in a severe drought, it is unlikely to run dry.

Cave 1:Dambulla Cave Temple

A Brahmi inscription outside the temple to the right records the temple’s establishment. Cave 1, also known as the Devaraja Viharaya or “Temple of the Lord of the Gods,” is named after Vishnu, who is credited with building the caverns. The 14-meter-long sleeping Buddha occupies nearly the entire little room. Buddh is carved from solid granite and has faint traces of delicate gold plating on his elbow (which is frequently hidden). A statue of Ananda, the Buddha’s most devoted follower, stands at his feet; depictions of Vishnu and other deities are veiled behind an artistically painted wooden screen. While some of the cave paintings are thought to be among the oldest, years of painting over them have severely destroyed them in certain spots. The bright frescoes behind Ananda’s head portray a strange tree with an Italian-style cherub, which are likely 20th-century decorations.

A little blue church dedicated to Kataragama stands outside the entryway, and a bo tree stands opposite it.

The Golden Temple

The remarkable Golden Temple, a thirty-meter-tall golden Buddha atop an ornate, vintage building, is placed at the foot of the stairs leading to the cave temples. A neighbouring sign falsely says that this Buddha statue is the tallest in the world, despite the fact that it isn’t even the largest in Sri Lanka (the true highest Buddha statue is in Leshan, China, and stands more than twice as tall at 71 metres).


The Golden Temple Buddhist Museum is located at the foot of the golden Buddha statue, accessible through the golden mouth of a massive beast like a lion. Despite its size, the museum’s exhibits are somewhat limited. A few uninspiring replicas of the cave temple murals, a few Buddhas donated from throughout the world, and a few other unnamed objects are on display.

in contrast to Dambulla

The Namal Uyana Conservation Forest and two of the island’s best historic Buddhas, at Aukana and Sasseruwa, are tucked away northwest of Dambulla on the way to Anuradhapura. If you have your own car, you may easily combine all three attractions into a fun and short day trip from Colombo.

Statue of Aukana Buddha

The beautiful 12-meter-tall standing Buddha, one of Sri Lanka’s key symbols of art and religion, is located in the village of Aukanna. The large Kala Wewa tank, created in the fifth century by the tragic King Dhatusena, is close to the Buddha statue. It does, however, belong to the same time period as the images at Buduruwagala, Maligawila, and Polonnaruwa’s Gal Vihara and Lankatilaka, making it three or four centuries older. The Indian Mahayana school of thought, which concentrates on the Buddha’s transcendental attributes, may have aided the short-lived demand for these massive religious structures.

Aukana, which translates to “sun-eating,” is best seen early in the morning, when the delicate light highlights the statue’s tiny details—that is, assuming you can rent a car and driver at that early hour. The statue is in the unusual (for Sri Lanka) asisa mudra, or blessing position, with its right hand turned sideways, as if prepared for a quick karate punch. The figure is carved in the round and is only joined to the rock from which it was cut at the back; the lotus plinth on which it rests is crafted from a separate piece of granite. The walls around the statue’s base once enclosed a vaulted image chamber.

Sasseruwa Buddha statue

The remote and infrequently seen Sasseruwa Buddha (also known as the Reswehera Buddha) is a figure of incompleteness, standing nearly twice the height of the Aukana Buddha. The figure is holding an abhaya mudra and is in the same “Have No Fear” stance as at Aukana. It appears that it was formerly inside its own image house, based on the beam holes etched into the surrounding rock. The monument was originally part of a monastery built by Vattagamini Abhaya. The King is supposed to have sought refuge there while fleeing the Tamil invasion. The statue is surrounded by the remains of the monastery complex, which includes two cave temples, one with a big reclining Buddha and the other with numerous Buddha statues and murals from the Kandyan period.

A story about two Buddhas

Two stories link the Aukana and Sasseruwa Buddhas. According to the first, more widely accepted theory, cracks began to appear in the body of the Sasseruwa Buddha during construction. As a result, the statue was decommissioned, and a replacement one was erected in Aukana. A second, more poetic story relates that the two Buddhas were carved simultaneously by a master and his pupil. When the teacher finished his Aukana Buddha before him, the unhappy student gave up on the Sasseruwa figure, dissatisfied with his own faults. A third, and probably stronger, argument is that the two monuments were made at completely different dates. The third-century AD Sasseruwa Buddha, according to mythology, epitomises the Greek-influenced Gandharan sculpting style, which began in what is now Afghanistan and served as a prototype for Buddha statues all over South Asia. The Aukana image’s chiselled beauty contrasts sharply with the Sasseruwa Buddha’s huge features and awkward square head.

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