Sri Lanka has many cave temples but the Dambulla Cave Temple (also known as Golden Rock Temple of Dambulla, Rangiri Dambulu Viharaya, Dambulu Raja Maha Viharaya) is the most venerated, celebrated, and most probably the most visited.
The cave complex that consists of the five temples has a spectacular setting on a massive rock some 1118 ft. above sea level and is 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 create 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 Walabamba in the first century BC in gratitude for giving him refuge and shelter when fleeing the invading Cholas. But it is most probable that these caves were occupied many centuries before. After King Walagamba, succeeding kings added to its maintenance, repair, and prosperity.
Today the pilgrim or tourist in you will not be disappointed. The sloping rock leading toward the holy precincts only will serve to heighten the sense of reverence and excitement. In front of the caves is a pleasantly paved courtyard. 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.
Caves of Dambulla Temple
Cave No. 1
This cave named Davarajalena is entered by passing through a great Dragon Arch (Makara Thorana) and includes a massive rock-cut figure of the Lord Buddha in the parinibbana manchaka or the final passing away, attended at his feet by his devout disciple Venerable Ananda Thero. 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
Called 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 colourful paintings all around the cave on the walls and the ceiling. This cave includes seated, laying, 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 Walagamba, 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 Buddha carved in the standing posture under a Dragons Arch (Makara Torana). On either side of the main image is a unique grouping of the images of the Mahayana Bodhisattvas: Maitree 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 to 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 to its number of statues and paintings, was built by one of the last kings of the Kandyan Kingdom Kirti Sri Rajasinghe (1798 – 1815) whose life-size image distinguished by his full beard and royal robes is also found here.
Cave No 4
This small and gorgeous Pacchima Viharaya includes a seated image of Lord Buddha showing Dhyana mudra under a Makara Torana (Dragon Arch) 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
This cave is known as the Devana Aluth Viharaya or the Second New Temple and is the newest of the five caves. This cave was formerly a storehouse of the Dambulla Cave Temple.
Here are also found Buddha statues including a colossal reclining Buddha and the images of Vishnu, Skanda, and a local deity known as Devata Bandara.
Dambulla Cave Temple Ticket Prices
Tourists are charged a nominal fee for the upkeep of the temple. The adult ticket price is LKR 1500 (approx USD 4.75) and for children between 5-12 years of age, it’s half the adult price. Younger children are not charged.
Dambulla Cave Temple Opening Times
The Cave Temple is open from 7 AM to 7 PM throughout the year. The ticket counter closes at 5 PM each day.
Alternate names : Dambulla Cave Temple, Dambulla Pansala, Dambulla Rajamaha Viharaya, Dambulla Viharaya, Dambulu Rajamaha Viharaya, Golden Temple Dambulla, Rangiri Dambulu Viharaya, Dambulu gala
Map of Dambulla Cave Temple
The map above 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
|Through : Ambepussa – Kurunegala
Distance : 155 km
Travel time : 3.5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
|Through : Kandy – Jaffna Road
Distance : 72 km
Travel time : 1.5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map