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Updated by Joanna James on Jul 13, 2023
Headline for 5 things to know about the Dambulla rock cave temple of Sri Lanka – Be enriched by the experience!
Joanna James Joanna James
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5 things to know about the Dambulla rock cave temple of Sri Lanka – Be enriched by the experience!

A natural overhanging rock provides seclusion to this UNESCO World Heritage Site situated in proximity to the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. This rock cave temple entices visitors from all over the world to explore the beauty, the ancient history and the treasures it beholds.


Unique internal layout

There lie five cave temples within the main cave shrine. The earliest inhabitants had been Buddhist monks who carried out meditation in the forests. The natural caves have been transformed over the centuries providing huge internal spaces which are spatially differentiated using subtle arrangements of sculpture and outstanding craftsmanship to provide devotees as well as visitors a systematic direction to move through. Whilst the visitors such as those from Kandalama hotel explore in order, those coming for reverence move from one holy ritual to the next in a systematic manner.


Preserving the ancient Murals and Statues

Being a site for pilgrims for 22 centuries, this cave temple remains not only the largest but also the most well-preserved cave complex on the island. Mural paintings depicting the life of Prince Siddhartha who later became Lord Buddha spans an extensive area within the cave complex, making it a pictorial admired and venerated by many including visitors from hotels such as Heritance Kandalama. Nearly 200 Buddhist statues complement the murals adding to awareness and veneration. Lighting within the caves are dimmed to preserve the different hues of the murals.


Maha Rajalena Vihara

So named due to the huge statues of two great rulers of the nation during ancient times, King Nissankamalla and King Valagambahu, this massive cave which is the 02nd cave of the five is home to 53 statues of the Lord Buddha in different contemplations, positions or Mudras, some statues being larger than life while others are of life-size not smaller. Historical paintings too are a part of this cave a very notable one being the lucid illustration of the combat between Dutta Gamini of Sri Lankan origin with King Elara from India who ruled the Northern part of Sri Lanka during that era and felling of King Elara by Dutta Gamini.


Other 4 caves

The 01st cave is called the 'Devarajalena Vihara' the main feature here being the massive 'parinirvana' (final passing away) position of the Lord Buddha among other statues, the 03rd cave called 'Maha Alut Vihara' was created by King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe is second in size to Cave 02. Two doorways with Dragon Arch designs mark the entrance to this cave. The 04th cave is called 'Paccima Vihara", the main feature here is the serene statue of Lord Buddha in Dhyana mudra posture. The 05th cave called 'Devana Alut Vihara' features a large reclining statue of Lord Buddha.


The ingenuity of ancient practices

Walking through the five caves is both interesting and enlightening, take time to view the large metal bowl placed centuries ago within the cave. This bowl ensures the droplets of rain on the cave roof does not fall uselessly to the ground, instead are collected in the bowl to retain water to be used in the dry season. A good practice to emulate.