Sri Lanka has many cave temples but the Rangiri Dambulu Viharaya or the Golden Rock Temple of Dambulla is the most venerated, celebrated and most probably the most visited.
The cave complex that consists of the five viharayas has a spectacular setting on a massive rock some 1118 ft. above sea level and surrounded by the plains of Kurunegala on one side and the rock of Sigiriya and the mountain of Ritigala on the other.
The rock which soars upwards some 600 ft above the surrounding plains at one point, gape and enfolds to creates the caverns that mother the caves. Almost as if in thanksgiving to nature’s gift the cave temples celebrate – a veritable art gallery filled with thousands of images of the Lord Buddha in sculptures and paintings.
It is believed that the initial temple here was built by King Valagamba in the first century BC in gratitude for giving him refuge and shelter when fleeing the the invading Cholas. But it is most probable that these caves were in occupation many centuries before. After King Valagamba succeeding kings added to its maintenance, repair and prosperity.
Today the pilgrim or tourist in you will not be disappointed. The sloping rock leading towards the holy precincts only will serve to heighten the sense of reverence and excitement. In front of the caves is a pleasantly paved midula. The cavern itself extends to some 170 feet with a breadth of about 75 feet and a height of about 20 feet in front receding to the back till it meets the ground. There are four big caves and two smaller ones.
Cave No 1, the Davarajalena is entered by passing through a great Makara Thorana and includes a massive rock-cut figure of the Lord Buddha in the parinibbana mancaka or in the final passing away, attended at his feet by his devout disciple Venerable Ananda. The presence of a large wooden image of Vishnu who is considered here as the Lord of the Gods by whose divine power the construction of the Dambulla caves was possible, explains the name given to this cave.
Cave No 2, the Maharajalena or the cave of the great kings is the most impressive and is filled with statues (nearly 60) both religious and secular carved out of the living rock, wood or stucco and thousands of colorful paintings all around the cave on the walls and the ceiling. This cave includes seated, lying and standing Buddha images, the images of the four gods; Natha, Maitreya, Upulvan, and Saman, a life-size wooden statue believed to be that of King Valagamba, and a statue of King Nissankamalla. The presence of the statues of the kings obviously influenced the name given to this cave.
The main statue in the cave is a life-sized image of the Lord Buddha carved in the standing posture under a Makara Torana . On either side of the main image is a unique grouping of the images of the Mahayana Bodisatvas : Maitreya on the left and Natha or Avolokatesvara on the right.
The ceiling and walls are covered with colourful murals that follow the natural folds of the rock depicting the history of Buddhism and the history of Sri Lanka. Here amongst the murals is found the striking mural of Dutugemunu-Elara in combat where King Dutugemunu is shown to carry the Sinhala flag.
The cave includes a small dagoba surrounded by 11 seated Buddha statues. This cave is also sacred due sto the miraculous water droplets which fall with unerring regularity from a crevice in the ceiling. The devout believe that the water will never cease even during a drought. The water is collected in a vessel and is considered sacred.
Cave No 3 the 18th century Maha Aluth Viharaya or the Great New Temple which is second only to the Maharajalena due its number of statues and paintings, was built by one of the last kings of the Kandyan Kingdom Kirti Sri Rajasinghe whose life size image distinguished by his full beard and royal robes is also found here.
Cave No 4 the small and beautiful Pacchima Viharaya includes a seated image of Lord Buddha showing Dhyana mudra under a Makara Toran as its main image In the middle is a small dagoba referred to as the Soma chetiya, after the queen of King Valagamba.
Cave No 5 or the Devana Alut Viharaya or the Second New Temple and the newest of the five caves was formerly a store house.
Here are also found Buddha statues including a colossal reclining Buddha and the images of Vishnu, Skanda and a local god known as Devata Bandara.
This port gradually faded in importance while port Mahathiththa/ Mahathota/ Mantota (now Mantai) located at the mouth of Malvatu oya developed as a key intersection of sea-routes and the Dambakola Patuna Viharaya was lost in time. The Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka, the Mahavamsa and Samanthapaasasdika mention pilgrims coming from “Yonaka” country to Jambukola to worship the Jambukola Viharaya in the ancient times.
Unfortunately today there is nothing on the temple which shows any antiquity. Most of the the structures in the temple including the stupa which has been completed in a record 65 days have been done by the Sri Lankan Navy. Even the current bo tree was planted in 1998 by the Navy.
- Ancient Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka
- Other Places Tagged with Dambulla
- Other Places of Interest Within 25 kilometers
Map of Dambulla Cave Temple
The map below also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites.
Zoom out the map to see more surrounding locations using the mouse scroll wheel or map controls.
Driving Directions to Dambulla Cave Temple
Route from Colombo to Dambulla
Route from Kandy to Dambulla
|Though : Ambepussa – Kurunegala
distance : 155 km
Travel time : 3.5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
|Though : Kandy – Jaffna Road
distance : 72 km
Travel time : 1.5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
first published : May 6, 2007