The Golden Temple of Dambulla
The Rangiri Dambulla Cave temple is the largest and best-preserved cave temple in Sri Lanka which is an outstanding example of the religious art and expression of Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. The Dambulla Cave Temple which was known as Jumbukola Vihara is a complex of five cave temples with statues and paintings related to Lord Buddha and his life. It is located in the central province of Sri Lanka.
The history of the cave temple dates back to the third century BC when it was inhabited by Buddhist monks. One of the inscriptions states; thus, “the cave of the Elder Dlmamma-rakkita, given to the Community of the four quarters, present or future. In the reign of Gamani Adhaya”. According to legend Vattagamani Abhaya sought refuge in the caves of Dambulla when he fled from his kingdom, Anuradhapura. The caves are built on a 150 metre high rock base. A total of 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan kings and four statues of gods and goddesses also stand in the site. An area of 2,100 square meters are covered with murals.
The first cave which is called Devaraja lena is dominated by a fourteen-meter-tall Buddha statue hewn out of the rock. At the feet of the statue sits Ananda who was Buddhas favourite pupil and at his head stands Vishnu. The paintings have been repainted throughout the years.
Cave of the Great Kings or Maharaja Lena is the second largest cave. In it you can see sixteen standing and forty seated Buddha statues, statues of Gods Saman and Vishnu, statues of King Vattagamani and King Nissanka Malla. The valuable tempera paintings on the celiling depits significant moments in Buddha’s life, the dream of Mahamaya and historical events. A spring drips out of a crack in the ceiling and is believed to have healing powers. Other remarkable features of this cave include the wooden figures of the Bodhisattvas Maitreya and Avalokiteshvara or Natha.
The third cave is known as the Maha Alut Vihara and Great New Monastery. The ceiling and walls of the cave are adorned with typical Kandyan style paintings. Together with the fifty Buddha statues stands a statue of King Kirti Sri Rajasinha.
The fourth and fifth cave are smaller in size compared to the other caves and dates from a later period. The paintings and sculptures of these caves display the unique craftsmanship of the ancient Sri Lankan artists.
The Rangiri Dambulla Cave temple is a must visit place for history and art lovers which was declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1991. The climb to the caves is a long one but you can enjoy the breathtaking view of the surrounding while you walk up the many stone steps. Visitors are requested to wear appropriate attire and shoes need to be taken off before entering the temple area.