Dambulla is a popular destination in the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka. With a history that dates back to the 1st century, Dambulla has historic statues and paintings in its caves that has made it a popular destination for archeological studies. Some major attractions in the area include the Dambulla cave temple, the Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium, the Iron wood forest and the Na Uyana Aranya.

Things to do in Dambulla

  • Visit the historic sites including the Dambulla cave temple
  • Take a trip to Sigiriya
  • Go on safari to Minneriya
  • Visit Sam Popham’s Arboretum
  • Try hot air ballooning
  • Visit Namal Uyana

About the Dambulla cave Temple

The Dambulla cave temple (also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla) is a World Heritage Site (1991) in Sri Lanka. The Dambulla cave monastery is still functional and remains the best-preserved ancient edifice in Sri Lanka. This complex dates from the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, when it was already established as one of the largest and most important monasteries. King Valagambahu sought refuge here from South Indian usurpers for 15 years during his exile from Anuradhapura. After reclaiming his capital, the king converted the caves into a temple in the 1st century BC. Many other kings added to it later and by the 11th century, the caves had become a major religious centre and still are.

The temple is composed of five caves under vast overhanging rock, carved with a drip line to keep the interiors dry. The cave’s base is built at the base of a 150m high rock. Inside the caves, the ceilings are painted with intricate patterns of religious images following the contours of the rock. There are images of the Lord Buddha and bodhisattvas, as well as various Gods and Goddesses. There are a total of 153 Buddha statues, 3 statues of Sri Lankan kings and 4 statues of Gods & Goddesses.

It is believed that Prehistoric Sri Lankans would have lived in these caves as there were burial sites that contained human skeletons aging 2700 years old.

The first cave is called Devaraja lena (lena in Sinhalese meaning cave), or “Cave of the Divine King.” This cave is dominated by the 14-meter statue of the Buddha, hewn out of the rock. At the feet is Buddha’s favourite pupil, Ananda; at his head, Vishnu, said to have used his divine powers to create the caves.

In the second and largest cave, in addition to 16 standing and 40 seated statues of Buddha, are the gods Saman and Vishnu, which pilgrims often decorate with garlands, and finally statues of King Vattagamani, who honored the monastery in the first century B.C.

The third cave, the Maha Alut Vihara, the “Great New Monastery” acquired ceiling and wall paintings in the typical Kandy style during the reign of King Kirti Sri Rajasingha (1747-1782), the famous Buddhist revivalist. In addition to the 50 Buddha statues, there is also a statue of the King.

The fourth and fifth caves are smaller; they date from a later period and are not of such high quality. There is a small Vishnu Devale between the first and second caves.

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