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Updated by Joanna James on Jun 23, 2019
Headline for 06 Facts About the Amazing Dambulla Cave Temple – Ancient Heritage
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06 Facts About the Amazing Dambulla Cave Temple – Ancient Heritage

The Dambulla Cave Temple is housed within an ancient network of over 80 caves. The temple occupies 05 of these caves which have a history that dates back to the 1st century. Listed below are a few facts about this fascinating network declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The Network is Massive

The network of caves is huge and likewise well preserved, it stretches a total of 148 sq.kms east towards Colombo and 72 sq.kms north towards Kandy. The caves are located on the enormous Dambulla Rock which is 160 metres high; there are over 80 recorded caves around it. From the summit of the rock, one is rewarded with expansive views of the countryside, with a lush forest located at the back. Around half an hour away from the caves, Cinnamon Lodge Habarana, is a good base from which to explore the area.


The Caves Were Once a Refuge for Royalty

The history of the cave dates back to the 1st century, when the exiled King Valagamba from Anuradhapura used the network of caves as a refuge when hiding from Tamil invaders. King Valagamba on regaining the throne 15 years later, built the temple within the cave as thanks for providing him with a safe refuge. And over the years many preceding kings added to the splendour of the caverns. Easy to reach from a Dambulla hotel, this network of caves holds within its folds a vast number of historic treasures waiting to be discovered.


The Temple is a Network of Five Caves

Five of the caves make up the temple complex, each one holds within its folds a unique collection of artefacts pertaining to the Buddha and ancient kings. Some have murals covering the entire cave from ceiling to floor; listed below are each caves treasures.


The Cave of the Divine King

The name in Sinhala translates to Devaraja Lena, at the entrance to this cave there is an ancient Brahmi inscription which suggests the monastery within the cave was founded in the 1st century. The most iconic attraction within this cave is the 14 metre statue of Buddha, carved into the rock face. This statue has been painted many times over the centuries and enhanced with statues of Vishnu at the head and Amanda, the Buddha's favoured tutor at the base.


Cave of the Great Kings

This cave has 16 standing statues of the Buddha in addition to 40 sitting statues. There are also statues of gods Saman and Vishnu as well as one of King Vattagamini Abhaya and King Nissanka Mala. Hewn out of the rock are a Buddha statue and wooden figurines of Buddha and other monks. Within this cave is a dagoba and vessel to which water drips from a spring in the ceiling, the water is believed to possess curative powers. The roof is decorated with 18th century pictures of the Buddha's life


Great New Monastery

The Maha Aluth Viharaya or Great New Monastery is resplendent with wall and ceiling paintings which are a reflection of the Kandyan era style paintings. There is also, a statue of a king together with 50 statues of the Buddha.