The Dambulla Cave Temple is without a doubt the most well-known tourist destination in the Dambulla area. For the vast majority of tourists, a trip to Dambulla is not complete without a trip to the Golden Temple of Dambulla. Because of its prominence as a place of interest for visitors to Sri Lanka, the Dambulla Golden Temple…
Table of Contents
- Dambulla cave temple
- Temples in the Dambulla Caves
- Visit to the temple in the Dambulla Caves
- A review of what has happened in the past
- The fifth chamber of the Dambulla Cave Temple
- The fourth chamber of the Dambulla Cave Temple
- The third chamber of the Dambulla Cave Temple
- The wall murals
- The second chamber of the Dambulla Cave Temple
- The wall murals
- The first chamber of the Dambulla Cave Temple
- The Golden Temple
- Museum of Dambulla cave temple
- In opposition to Dambulla cave temple
- Statue of the Buddha Aukana
- The Buddha of Sasseruwa
Dambulla cave temple
Dusty little DAMBULLA is known for its incredible cave temples, which are five magical, dimly lit grottoes packed with statues and decorated with some of the best murals in the country. These Buddhist cave temples are a picture-perfect example of Sinhalese Buddhist art at its best, and they are roughly in the centre of the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka.
Its location at a major junction of the Colombo–Trincomalee and Kandy–Anuradhapura highways makes Dambulla an ideal departure point for exploring Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle. Dambulla is home to a number of ancient cave temples. However, the town itself is one of the least scenic in the area since it is dispersed across a single, lengthy, dusty main road. This makes the town one of the least scenic in the region. The traditional clocktower serves as a landmark for the town core. To the north of it is where you’ll find the majority of the shopping district, and it’s comprised of a monotonous row of brand-new, unattractive concrete buildings. To the south of the town clocktower is where you’ll find the majority of the inns and hotels, as well as the town’s wholesale market and bus terminal.
Temples in the Dambulla Caves
The Dambulla Golden Temple is without a doubt the most well-known tourist destination in the Dambulla area. For the vast majority of tourists, a trip to Dambulla is not complete without a trip to the Golden Temple of Dambulla. Because of its prominence as a place of interest for visitors to Sri Lanka, the Dambulla Golden Temple is included in the majority of the Sri Lanka’s vacation packages. The enormous 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, which is more than 20 km away, is the source of inspiration for the Dambulla cave temples. These temples are located in Dambulla, which is located in Sri Lanka.
It is strongly suggested that you explore the caves in the reverse order of the numbering system, beginning with cave 5 and working your way backwards. Because of this, you will be able to see the caverns in ever-more-beautiful detail, with the most gorgeous cave being number 2.
Visit to the temple in the Dambulla Caves
Because it enables visitors to experience some of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful and significant tourist destinations, a visit to the Dambulla Cave Temple is one of the most well-liked activities available to tourists in Sri Lanka. The trip of the Dambulla Cave temple can be reserved as a separate excursion, or it can be incorporated into one of several other multi-day tour packages of Sri Lanka. The one-day trip to Dambulla from Colombo is bookable with most tour providers, such as Seerendipity Tours. The trip lasts for one full day. The typical itinerary for the one-day trip to Dambulla includes a rock tour of Sigiriya as well as a safari in Minneriya national park.
A review of what has happened in the past
The cave temples were constructed during the reign of Vattagamini Abhaya, who also went by the names Valagambahu and Valagamba. He governed between the years 89 and 77 BC and 103 BC. After a troop of Tamil invaders stole his kingdom, Vattagamini was forced to spend the next fourteen years in hiding. He took sanctuary in a network of underground tunnels throughout this time. Since the rock had provided him with a place to hide, King Vattagamini of Anuradhapura, who was responsible for restoring his kingdom, decided to construct temples here as a gesture of gratitude. Under what had been a single substantial rock overhang in the past, walls eventually evolved to create divisions. This resulted in the formation of the separate caves that are now home to the temples. The Kandyan kings Senerath (1604–35) and Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747–82), who also constructed the remarkable Cave 3 and commissioned many of the countless murals that now adorn the interiors, finished substantial restorations and remodels, and Nissankamalla added additional embellishments to the cave temples. The Kandyan kings also built Cave 3. The majority of what you see now was created during the reigns of these two most recent kings. However, it can be challenging to precisely date individual paintings due to the fact that painters continued to enhance and alter their works well into the twentieth century, frequently repainting them as the colour of the paint that was originally applied faded.
The fifth chamber of the Dambulla Cave Temple
In contrast to the majority of the other statues at the site, which are constructed of solid rock, the figures in the little and evocative cave 5 are built of brick and plaster. This cave is known as the Devana Alut Viharaya (“Second New Temple”). As a result, when compared to the other temples, it is the most recent. The centrepiece of the exhibit is a Buddha statue that is 10 metres in height and is reclining. Paintings of a dark version of Vishnu are hung on the wall behind his feet. To the right of him are Kataragama and his peacock, while to the left is a depiction of Bandara, a local deity. As you leave, you will notice to your right that there is a painting of a nobleman holding lotus blooms; it is possible that this individual was the one who donated to the temple.
The fourth chamber of the Dambulla Cave Temple
Cave 4, also known as the Paccima Viharaya (or “Western Temple”), is considerably smaller than Cave 5, which was created at a later time and is located to the west of Cave 4. One of the larger statues is draped and rests beneath a complex makara torana arch. The walls are covered with several identical sculptures of Buddhas in a seated position, in which they are meditating. Thieves broke into the small dagoba because they thought Queen Somawathie, who was Vattagamini Abhaya’s wife, was transporting valuables. The structure that serves as the centre focus is a dagoba. Similar to Cave 5, it has sculptures of Buddha as well as floral and chevron patterns carved into its walls. The majority of these decorations underwent significant renovations in the early 1900s.
The third chamber of the Dambulla Cave Temple
Cave 3, also known as the Maha Alut Viharaya (which literally translates to “Great New Temple”), was constructed on a much grander scale by Kirti Sri Rajasinha. The ceiling of the cavern is sloped and can reach a height of ten metres; this gives the impression that the cavern is a big tent that is filled with more than fifty Buddhas in seated and standing positions. There is a statue of Kirti Sri Rajasinha located to the right of the entrance, and behind him on the wall are four of his attendants painted in various poses. When you consider that each stone had to be chipped away with abrasive chisels in the past, it is astonishing that both the meditating Buddha in the centre of the cave and the sleeping Buddha on the left wall are carved out of solid rock.
The wall murals
Cave 3 is home to a multitude of murals that are quite captivating. Two paintings affixed to the ceiling depict Maitreya, an incarnation of the future Buddha, giving a sermon in what appears to be a Kandyan pavilion. Look up as you approach the cave; in the second, he addresses a gathering of wonderfully embellished gods in the Tusita paradise, where he is thought to be residing until his return to Earth in around five billion years. In the first, he speaks to a group of stern followers; in the second, he speaks to a gathering of exquisitely ornamented gods. You’ll find another amazing painting just as you walk out the other side. It depicts an idealised setting with square ponds, trees, elephants, and cobras, as well as Buddhas (behind a pair of seated Buddhas). This little rustic addition from the nineteenth century has supplemented the historical murals from the Kandyan era.
The second chamber of the Dambulla Cave Temple
Cave 2 at Dambulla is the largest and most impressive of all the caves in the area. It is also known as the Maharaja Vihara, or “Temple of the Great Kings.” It is a roomy burial area that stands seven metres tall and extends for more than fifty metres in length. It is believed that Vattagamini Abhaya was the one responsible for its creation; nonetheless, in the seventeenth century, it underwent significant reconstruction and modification. The statues of two kings that were found inside the cave are the source of the cave’s name, “Two Kings’ Cave.” The first image is a painted wooden figure of Vattagamini Abhaya himself, and it can be found to the immediate left of the door that is the farthest away from the main entrance. In the second image, Nissankamalla can be seen tucked away at the very end of the cave on the right, almost hidden behind a large reclining Buddha statue. This most pompous of Sinhala rulers had a mysterious course of events in store for him.
A vast number of Buddha statues are carved into the cave’s walls on all sides, including the back wall. There are remnants of the gold leaf coating that once decorated the primary Buddha statue. These remnants can be found to the left of the cave, beneath a makara torana that is positioned in the abhaya (“Have No Fear”) mudra. Maitreya and Avalokitesvara, who is also known as Natha, are carved in wood and stand on either side of the doorway. There are statues of Saman and Vishnu resting on the wall behind the big Buddha, and beyond that, there are paintings of Ganesh and Kataragama on the wall. This blend of gods from Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Theravada Buddhism crammed into such a little space is extremely diverse.
The wall murals
Because of the beautiful mural display that is seen throughout Cave 2, it is considered to be the best in all of Sri Lanka. The ceiling of the westernmost portion of the cave, which is located to the left as you approach it, is covered in Kandyan-style strip panels that depict scenes from the life of the Buddha as well as representations of dagobas that can be seen in religious spots around Sri Lanka. It is difficult to make out the little white elephant, which is said to symbolise the unique qualities that would be inherited by the Buddha’s unborn child. While the Buddha’s mother was still pregnant, she had a dream in which she saw it. When compared to the three nearby ceiling panels that represent the Mara Parajaya (also known as “Defeat of Mara”), which describes the temptations that the Buddha endured while pursuing enlightenment at Bodhgaya, these murals pale in comparison. They show the “Defeat of Mara.” In the first one, he is depicted sitting beneath a bo tree that has been well maintained while hordes of hairy, grey devils shoot arrows at him. One of them even carries a gun. The majestic Mara maintains a watchful eye on everyone below from her perch atop an elephant. The subsequent panel, titled “The Daughters of Mara,” shows the Buddha giving in to temptation as he is confronted with a sizeable number of seductive maidens. This illustrates that the attempt to divert the Buddha’s attention was unsuccessful. The next panel, which is called the Isipatana panel, is a memorial that celebrates the Buddha’s victory against the incredible acts of female inventiveness. It depicts the first time the Buddha gave a sermon, which took place in front of a huge group of gods who were clothed in exquisite attire.
There is a wire-mesh enclosure on the other side of it in the cave’s right corner that houses a pot that receives constant moisture from drips that come from the roof. It is not anticipated that it will run dry, even in the worst-case scenario of the drought.
The first chamber of the Dambulla Cave Temple
The establishment of the temples is commemorated by a Brahmin inscription that can be found outside of the temple on the right. Cave 1, also known as the Devaraja Viharaya or “Temple of the Lord of the Gods,” is named after Vishnu, who is believed to have constructed the caves. This cave also goes by the name “Temple of the Lord of the Gods.” The 14-meter-long statue of a sleeping Buddha occupies practically the entirety of the room. The Buddha statue is carved out of a single piece of rock and has minute traces of delicate gold plating on his elbow, although this detail is typically covered up. A figure of Ananda, the Buddha’s most devoted disciple, stands at his feet. Representations of Vishnu and other deities are concealed behind an artistically painted wooden screen. It is believed that some of the paintings in the cave are some of the oldest in existence; however, over the years, other paintings have been painted over them, which has substantially damaged them in certain spots. Uncomfortable 20th-century decorations include the colourful murals that are located behind Ananda’s head. These frescoes portray a strange tree with a cherub that is styled in an Italian fashion.
A small blue church that is devoted to Kataragama can be found just outside the doorway, and a bo tree can be found directly across from it.
The Golden Temple
The unique Golden Temple may be found at the bottom of the stairs that lead to the cave temples. It features a golden Buddha that is thirty metres tall and sits atop an extravagant, retro-style building. It is not even the largest Buddha statue in Sri Lanka; the true tallest Buddha monument is in Leshan, China, and it is over twice as tall at 71 metres. A nearby sign makes the erroneous claim that this Buddha statue is the tallest in the world, despite the fact that it is not even the largest in Sri Lanka.
Museum of Dambulla cave temple
The Golden Temple Buddhist Museum is located at the base of the golden Buddha statue. It can be accessed by going through the mouth of a massive golden beast that has the appearance of a lion. Despite its size, the museum only has a limited number of exhibits available to view. There are several unimpressive replicas of the cave temple murals, a few Buddhas donated from all over the world, and some other items that cannot be identified.
In opposition to Dambulla cave temple
Namal Uyana Conservation Forest and two of the island’s best old Buddhas can be found tucked away in the area northwest of Dambulla on the route to Anuradhapura. Both of these locations can be reached by travelling along the route to Anuradhapura. If you have your own car, you can easily combine all three attractions into a pleasant and quick day trip, starting in Colombo and ending where you started.
Statue of the Buddha Aukana
A beautiful standing Buddha that is 12 metres tall and is considered to be one of the most important symbols of the art and religion of Sri Lanka can be seen in the village of Aukanna. The Buddha monument is located in close proximity to the large Kala Wewa tank, which was constructed in the fifth century by the tragic King Dhatusena. It does, however, date to the same period as the images at Buduruwagala and Maligawila as well as Polonnaruwa’s Gal Vihara and Lankatilaka, which means that it is most likely three or four centuries older than those other images. The Indian school of thought known as Mahayana, which places an emphasis on the transcendental characteristics possessed by the Buddha, may have played a role in the brief surge in demand for these enormous religious structures.
If you are able to rent a car and a driver at such an early hour, the “sun-eating” statue, also known as Aukana, is best viewed in the early morning, when the soft light enhances the statue’s minute features. However, this only applies if you are able to view the statue. The statue is positioned in the asisa mudra, also known as the blessing posture. It is facing the observer with its right hand bent sideways as if it were getting ready to make a quick karate strike. This particular stance is unusual for Sri Lanka. The figure is carved in the round and is only connected to the rock it is cut from at the back. The lotus plinth that the figure rests on is crafted from a separate piece of granite. Originally, the walls that are now at the base of the statue were used to enclose a vaulted image chamber.
The Buddha of Sasseruwa
The Sasseruwa Buddha, also known as the Reswehera Buddha, is a figure of incompleteness. This Buddha is located in a secluded area, and it is not commonly seen by tourists. He is nearly twice as tall as the Aukana Buddha. The figure is holding an abhaya mudra and is positioned in the “Have No Fear” pose that was seen at Aukana. It appears as though it had been within its own image home in the past, as evidenced by the beam holes etched into the rock that surrounds it. The monument was formerly a part of a monastery that was built by Vattagamini Abhaya. Originally, it was a part of the monastery. During his flight from the Tamil invasion, it is reported that the King found safety there and took sanctuary there. Surrounding the statue are the remnants of the monastery complex. These include two cave temples, one of which contains a big reclining Buddha and the other of which contains more Buddha statues as well as murals from the Kandyan period.
A story that involves not one but two Buddhas
The Buddhas of Aukana and Sasseruwa are linked by two different stories. During the creation of the Sasseruwa Buddha, fissures are said to have begun to appear in the statue’s body, according to the first and more widely held theory. As a direct result of this, the statue was dismantled, and its replacement may be found in Aukana. According to a second, more poetic account, the two Buddhas were carved at the same time by an experienced craftsman and one of his students. When the dissatisfied pupil saw that the teacher had finished his Aukana Buddha before him, he became disheartened with his own deficiencies and abandoned his attempt to complete the Sasseruwa image. A third and possibly more convincing theory is that the two monuments were sculpted at entirely different dates in history. It is said that the Buddha statue known as the Sasseruwa Buddha, which dates back to the third century AD, exemplifies the Greek-influenced Gandharan sculpting style. This style originated in what is now Afghanistan and was used as a model for Buddha statues throughout South Asia. The huge proportions of the Sasseruwa Buddha and its ungainly square head make a dramatic contrast with the graceful chiselled appearance of the Aukana figure.