Travel Guide - Dambulla Cave Temple

Dambulla cave temple is a scent of unique interest. Its rock temples are the most extensive in the Island, and one of the most ancient, and in the highest state of preservation and order.

Dambulu–gala (Dambulla Rock), in which these temples are situated, is almost insulated and of a vast size. Its perpendicular height above the plain is about six hundred feet. Very few parts of it are covered with wood, and in general its surface is bare and black

Dambulla Cave Temple History

The caves of Dambulla Cave Temple, like in Mihintale caves, were occupied in very early times by Buddhist hermits. The antiquity of this place has been authenticated by the presence of pre-Christian inscriptions in Brahmi character immediately below the drip-ledge of the central cave. The shape of the letters of all the short inscriptions in Brahmi form at Dambulla is distinctly those of the first century B. C.

Dambulla cave temple became a popular place of residence of Buddhist monks at least from the reign of this king. Vattagamani Abhaya is one of the few kings of ancient Sri Lanka whose name and fame are not dependent on the written records. To him are credited by the common people of the country tile numerous caves with drip-ledges which were abodes of Buddhist monks in ancient days.

Things to do in Dambulla Cave Temple

There are five caves (shrine rooms) in Dambulla cave temple. All of these caves arc full of statues of Buddha and various personages of the Buddhist Order or History. There are 150 Buddha images in these caves. Cave No. 5 (the last in order) has no historical value as it was done in the second decade of this century.

All of the other caves contain statues and paintings representing various epochs of Sinhalese sculpture and painting. The early paintings of Dambulla cave temple are believed by some to belong to the 8th century A. C.

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But this cannot be proved at all because of over painting. Nevertheless this place is a mine of decorative designs, the patterns of which resemble those of Sigiriya. To a student of the history of Buddhism a careful study of the paintings of Dambulla provides a good deal of source material.

It is generally accepted that the classical school of Sinhalese painting ceased to exist after the fall of the Polonnaruve kingdom at the end of the twelfth century. There are no extant examples of this style after the 13th century. It is from the 17th and 18th centuries that we have, once again, examples of the work of a school of indigenous painters.

  • Cave No 1
  • Cave No 2
  • Cave No 3
  • Cave No 4
  • The visitor to the Dambulla cave temple through the gateway first comes across Cave No. l, called Dev-Raja-viharaya (temple of the King of Gods).
  • It is believed that this cave is so called, because the god Sakka (King of Gods) gave the finishing touches to the principal image of this cave. The parinibbana (the last moment) of the Buddha in the typical style is about 47 feet in length. It is carved almost in the round from the natural rock to which it still remains joined all along from behind, and is well preserved.
  • The next cave into which the visitor centers is by far the largest and the most impressive one amongst the cavee in Dambulla cave temple. 
  • The cave is painted all over in brilliant colors. It is 172 feet in length, 75 feet in breadth, and 21 feet in height. The height from this place gradually decreases in an arc towards the floor on the interior side. This cave contains 53 images. The majority of the statues are of Buddha in different attitudes.
  • This Cave, called Maha Alut Viharaya (The Great New Temple), is separated from Cave No.2 by a wall of masonry. This is said to have been used as a store room before the 18th century.
  • The cave is about 19 feet long, 81 feet wide, and is shelving rock whose height is about 36 feet. The immense surface of rock of this cave is also painted of the richest colors.  This cave contains 50 figures of the Buddha.
  • This cave is called the Paschima Viharaya or the Western Temple. It is about 54 feet long and 27 feet wide; and its shelving roof, which dips rapidly inwards, is about 27 feet high.
  • This cave contains 10 figures of the Buddha. The principal image which is under a torana, is of the same size as the other statues. This is a very beautiful figure of the Buddha seated in the dhyana mudra (posture of meditation) hewn of the natural rock that forms the cave itself. 
  • These figures are well executed and brilliantly painted, and most of them are large as or larger than life-size. There is a neat stupa called Soma stupa at the middle of the cave. 
Dambulla cave temple Sri Lanka
Dambulla cave temple Sri Lanka

This new school does not seem to have had its roots in the artistic traditions which created the masterpieces of Sigiriya and Polonnaruva.

There may have been old painting at this place but perhaps these are lost or have been painted over later. It can be surmised that the designs of the decorative patterns, embody ancient ideas and may even be considered as continuing tradition of the designs at Sigiriya.

But as the Dambullu Tudapata referred to above clearly reveals cave No. 1, 2 and 4 of Dambulla cave temple were painted by the Kandyan artists of the seventeenth century by the order of king Senarat (1604-1635 A.C). In the reign of Kirti Sri Rajasinha, the paintings of Dambulla cave temple were renovated and over painted again. Paintings in Cave No. 4 clearly represent the new school of Sinhalese painting which flourished in the Kandyan provinces after the 17th century.

  • Cave No 1
  • Cave No 2
  • Cave No 3
  • Cave No 4
  • The visitor to the Temple of Dambulla through the gateway first comes across Cave No. l, called Dev-Raja-viharaya (temple of the King of Gods).
  • It is believed that this cave is so called, because the god Sakka (King of Gods) gave the finishing touches to the principal image of this cave. The parinibbana (the last moment) of the Buddha in the typical style is about 47 feet in length. It is carved almost in the round from the natural rock to which it still remains joined all along from behind, and is well preserved.
  • The next cave into which the visitor centers is by far the largest and the most impressive one amongst the cares in this place. 
  • The cave is painted all over in brilliant colors. It is 172 feet in length, 75 feet in breadth, and 21 feet in height. The height from this place gradually decreases in an arc towards the floor on the interior side. This cave contains 53 images. The majority of the statues are of Buddha in different attitudes.
  • This Cave, called Maha Alut Viharaya (The Great New Temple), is separated from Cave No.2 by a wall of masonry. This is said to have been used as a store room before the 18th century.
  • The cave is about 19 feet long, 81 feet wide, and is shelving rock whose height is about 36 feet. The immense surface of rock of this cave is also painted of the richest colors.  This cave contains 50 figures of the Buddha.
  • This cave is called the Paschima Viharaya or the Western Temple. It is about 54 feet long and 27 feet wide; and its shelving roof, which dips rapidly inwards, is about 27 feet high.
  • This cave contains 10 figures of the Buddha. The principal image which is under a torana, is of the same size as the other statues. This is a very beautiful figure of the Buddha seated in the dhyana mudra (posture of meditation) hewn of the natural rock that forms the cave itself. 
  • These figures are well executed and brilliantly painted, and most of them are large as or larger than life-size. There is a neat stupa called Soma stupa at the middle of the cave. 
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