Dambulla has been a popular place among the Buddhist as well as Hindu pilgrimages ever since the 1st Century BC. It is a cave temple located on top of a rock mountain (elevation 1118 ft) and has a great deal of Buddhist monuments and statues. UNESCO declared the Cave Temple of Dambulla a World Heritage Site by in 1991.
Dambulla is the Sri Lanka’s Largest Rock Cave Temple protecting the world’s images of Budhdha and paintings of thousands of years of age. The temple was constructed in the time of King Valagamba (103 BC and 89-77 BC), who lived in these caves for 12 years hiding from the Indian invaders. After getting his throne back, the King built the caves into a Buddhist temple. The caves built by him were named as Devarajalena, Maharajalena and the Paccimalena. Later on many other Kings including King Vijayabahu, King Keerthi Sri Nissankamalla, made additions and renovations to the temple. It is said that the King Keerthi Sri Nissankamalla (1187-1196 AD) added many Buddha images being and gold plated seventy three Buddha statues inside the caves.
The temple has 5 caves and around 157 statues of Buddha, including a 15 meters long reclining Buddha. In addition, the caves are decorated with colored paintings and frescoes on the walls the rock ceilings which are present till today.
Cave No 1 – The Devaraja Lena – The Cave of ‘ Lord of the Gods’
Devarajalena Vihara is the first Cave temple. It has the large resting statue of Buddha representing the final passing away of the Lord. These Buddha images have been built after the King Valagamba constructed the temple. However, the paintings are believed to be belonging to a later period of time added during the renovations to the temple. Interestingly the cave has a statue of the God Vishnu, representing the Hindus. It is believed that this statue has been added during the time of King Vatta Gamini Abhaya ‘s rein (89-77 BC).
Cave No 2- The Maharaja Lena – The Cave of ‘ Great Kings’
The cave No 2 is the Maha Raja Vihara Lena or the Cave Temple of the Great Kings. It is also the largest of the caves. There are about 60 statues in this cave, among them you can find the statues of the King Valagamba and King Nissankamalla as well. The wooden statue of the King Valagamba can be found near the entrance. Statues of Buddha are depicted in various postures and have different mudras. Apart from the statues, this cave has a small stupa inside the cave surrounded by 11 Buddha statues. In addition to the Buddha statues and the Kings’ statues, you will find images of Gods as well. And the paintings on the walls and the ceiling depict the important events of the Buddhist culture and history.
One of the other important aspects of this cave is the Makara Torana (Dragon Arch), which is constructed above the statue of the King Nissankamalla. Not to mention the water dripping from the ceiling which has never stopped. It is said that the water is dripping continuously in the same manner and it has not stopped even in droughts. And there is a bowl placed to collect the water dropping from the rock.
Cave No 3- The Maha Alut Viharaya – The Cave of ‘ Great New Temple’
This cave has been constructed by the King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747-1782 AD) who was a ruler in Kandy. This cave is the second largest of the collection and has two doorways with Dragon arches above each. It also has statues of Buddha including a 30 ft long reclining Buddha image. In addition, there are about 50 more Buddha statues in this cave and a status of the King who built the cave. The cave paintings have been influenced by the Kandyan style of artwork as it has been constructed by a Kandyan King.
Cave No 4- The Paccima Viharaya – The Cave of ‘ Western Temple’
This Cave temple also has a small stupa and a statue of a seating Buddha with a Dragon Arch above the image. The walls and the ceiling contain a large number of frescos. Among the God statues of this cave, there are God Vishnu and Saman.
Cave No 5- The Devana Alut Viharaya – The Cave of ‘ Second New Temple’
The Devana Alut Viharaya is the last as well as the newest addition to the caves of the Dambulla temple. It also has a large reclining statue of Buddha and 11 standing and seated images of Buddha. One of the differences in this cave is that all the statues are made of brick and plaster while the statues of the other caves are mostly carved on rock.
Dambulla temple is a must stop in the local as well as foreign tourist who is interested in the religion and culture of the island.