Dambulla Cave Temple

Dambulla Cave Temple

Dambulla Cave Temple is also known as the Mahavamsa Jambukola Viharaya (Jambukola Temple), was constructed under a massive gneiss boulder with a height of 183 m (600 ft) and a length of 610 m (2,000 ft) in antiquity and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

BY Palitha Weerawansa
PUBLISHED ON April 6, 2021 | LAST MODIFIED ON May 26, 2021

Who would like to visit the World's Most Acclaimed Cave Complex with Majestic Buddha Images and Rock Paintings of Vibrant Colors and Forms built and drawn from about the 2nd Century BC (Anuradhapura period) and continued up to the Kandyan era of the 18th Century?

Dambulla Cave Temple

Dambulla Cave Temple is situated at an elevation of 341 m (1,118 ft) above sea level and rises a 183 m (600 ft) high and over 610 m (2,000 ft) long rock from Dambulla's surrounding plains. The Sinhalese refer to it as 'Dambulu Gala' (Dambulla Rock), and the temple is known as 'Rangi Dambulu Viharaya' (Golden Rock Dambulla Temple).

How to get to Dambulla Cave Temple

The Dambulla Rock Cave Temple is located in the Cultural Triangle of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, and Kandy and can be reached from Kandy via the A9 road that runs up via Dambulla and Anuradhapura. It is located on the main road, 68 kilometers from Kandy, and the entrance to the Rock Temple is located on the main road, 2 kilometers from Dambulla city.

After exiting the main route, the route continues for a few hundred feet along the gravel path before one reaches the beginning of the rock with a steady ascent. There are hundreds of rock-cut and rock-paved stairs leading up to the Temple terrace. There are excellent viewpoints along the way that allow you to see the surrounding countryside for up to 20 kilometers. Dambulla Cave Temple's premises must be reached through a Vahalkada entry, which is typical in Sinhalese temple architecture.

Coming through the gateway leads to the Cave Temple's stone-paved terrace. The Bo tree is directly in front of you, and the Devaraja Viharaya is to your back.

Location Map To Dambulla Cave Temple

History of Dambulla Cave Temple

The Dambulla Rock Cave Temple was built during the reign of King Vattagamini Abhaya ( 103 BC and 89-77 BC ). The Sinhalese commonly refer to him as King Valagamba. During a South Indian invasion, the king was forced to flee Anuradhapura.

King Valagamba had been in hiding for 12 years and had frequented these caves for his protection. To express his gratitude for his haven after regaining the kingdom of Anuradhapura and becoming King, he transformed those caves into Buddhist temples by building walled partitions underneath the rock overhang that spans the whole region as a single wide cave. He had drip ledges installed along the length of this wide cave, making it ideal for wet weather and preventing water from seeping into the caved areas. He built the three cave temples known as Devarajalena, Maharajalena, and Paccimalena.

For several centuries after King Vattagamini Abaya's reign, this cave temple was not patronized by any other Kings until Vijayabahu I (1055-1110 AD), who made Polonnaruwa his kingdom. He had renovated the Cave temples, and it is suspected that Buddhist monks lived in this and surrounding caves at the time. King Keerthi Sri Nissankamalla (1187-1196 AD) was heavily involved in uplifting the site, constructing several additional Buddha images and gold plating seventy-three Buddha images in the Dambulla Cave Temple.

Other Kings credited with elevating the prestige of the Dambulla Cave Temple include King Buwanekabahu (1372-1408 AD), King Vickramabahu III (1360-1374 AD), King Rajasinha I (1581-1591 AD), and King Vimaladharmasuriya I (1592-1604 AD).

Dambulla Cave Temple

Another intriguing finding is that archeologists believe that this cave, as well as the other caves around the main rock, were used for dwelling in prehistoric times based on evidence discovered so far.

Dambulla Cave Temple

Cave # 1 - The Devaraja Lena - The Lord of the Gods Cave

The first Dambulla Cave Temple is known as Devarajalena Vihara or the Temple of the Lord of the Gods. The massive 45-foot Sleeping Buddha statue is said to represent the Lord Buddha's Parinirvana or final passing away. Near the foot of the gigantic Sleeping Buddha statue is a statue of Venerable Ananda, Lord Buddha's devoted disciple. The name Devaraja Lena is thought to have come from the God Vishnu image that was built during the reign of King Vatta Gamini Abhaya (89-77 BC). The current names of the Cave temples are said to date from after the original temple building periods, as they were first recorded in temple history around 1700 AD. Scholars believe that the Buddha images date from after the 2nd century BC since the practice of building Buddha images began after that time in Sri Lanka. The old paintings discovered in the caves have been repainted during repairs and most likely date back to the 17th and 18th centuries. The paintings in this cave have disappeared as a result of the worshippers' use of oil lamps and incense in the past.

Cave # 2- The Maharaja Lena - The Great Kings Cave

The Maha Raja Vihara Lena, or Cave Temple of the Great Kings, is the name given to this cave. There are statues of King Valagamba and King Nissankamalla here. The portrait of King Valagamba is made of wood, and the statue specifics are drawn. It's close to the cave's entrance. This cave contains approximately sixty photographs. The cave is roughly 125 feet long and 75 feet wide, with a maximum height of 21 feet by the cave's entrance. In this temple, there is a Stupa flanked by eleven sitting Buddha images. The deity statues discovered here belong to the god's Saman, Upulvan, Maithree, and Natha. This cave is the largest and most beautiful due to the vast number of Buddha statues depicting Samadi Mudra, Abhaya Mudra, Varada Mudra, and Vitarka Mudra in sitting, lying, and standing postures. The intriguing life-size granite standing Buddha statue is the cave's biggest attraction. A Makara Torana, or Dragon Arch, is built above this statue. This is said to be one of King Nissankamalla's gilded sculptures, as portions of it can still be seen today. This dimly lit cave exudes the beauty and serenity that can only be found in a Buddhist Temple. The rock paintings shown here depict early Buddhist historical activities. Thousands of murals with spectacular patterns and colors have been painted on the rock ceiling and walls. Another intriguing aspect is the dripping water droplet collection bowl located on the cave's right side. Except after a prolonged drought, this water supply does not dry up and is said to have existed since ancient times.

Cave # 3- The Maha Alut Viharaya - The Great New Cave Temple

This temple, founded by Kandy's King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747-1782 AD), is second only to the Maharajalena temple in importance. To enter this cave shrine, there are two doorways with Dragon Arch designs. This cave is approximately 90 feet long, 80 feet wide, and 36 feet high near the entrance wall. A 30-foot-long reclining Buddha statue made out of living rock can be found here. Around fifty Buddha statues circle the famous sitting Buddha Statue, which is surrounded by a Dragon Arch style carved out of granite in the middle of the cave. Within this cave, there are approximately forty-two standing Buddha images and approximately fifteen sitting Buddha statues. On the right side of the gate, there is also a statue of King Kirti Sri Rajasinha. A mural of four of his attendants appears on the wall behind his statue. The beautiful mural paintings on the rock have typical Kandyan style artwork and a fascinating thousand seated Buddha portrait paintings on the rock ceiling.

As one travels along the passage from Cave #4 to Cave #5, one comes across a now-partially decayed, beautifully built timber structure. A close-up of the cave's chiseled-out drip ledge architecture is also interesting. One also cannot comprehend the rock-cutting technology of yesteryears, as well as the technical skills of those craftsmen who produced all of the splendid stone sculpturing found in the island's various temples.

Cave # 4- The Paccima Viharaya - The Western Cave Temple

Originally, this cave temple was the westernmost, but an adjacent cave was later added to the west side of this cave temple. This cave is approximately 50 feet long and 27 feet wide. The key draw is the lovely sitting Buddha image with a Makara Torana in the 'Dhyana Mudra' pose. This cave is surrounded by nearly identical images of the main seated Buddha figure. This cave contains a small dageba that was thought to hold the jewels of Somawathi, the queen of King Valagamba. Because of this, this Chetiya is known as 'Soma Chetiya.' Murals were painted on this small Chetiya, but they are now fading. This cave also contains statues of the gods Vishnu and Saman.

Cave # 5- The Devana Aluth Viharaya - The Second New Cave Temple

This is the most recent of Dambulla's cave temples, and its exact construction date is unknown. The main reclined Buddha image is about 32 feet long, and there are eleven standing and sitting Buddha images in this temple. The Hooded Muchalinda Cobra is draped over two of the sitting Buddha figures. Both of these monuments are made of brick and plaster, while the majority of the depictions in the other caves are made of granite rock.