The breathtaking cave temple of Dambulla is located in the centre of Sri Lanka about 150km east of the capital Colombo. Since the first century BC, 5 caves of the rocky mountain have been decorated with colourful Buddha and royal statues and elaborate frescoes.
The Dambulla Cave Temple is located in the centre of Sri Lanka about 150 kilometres east of the capital Colombo. It dates back to the first centuries BC and is the largest and best-preserved Buddhist cave temple in the country.
Since 1991, the impressive cave system, also known as the "Golden Temple of Dambulla", has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The impressive caves also have a fixed place on our list of the top 10 sights of Sri Lanka.
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PICTURES: Dambulla Cave Temple
In the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC, the cave temple of Dambulla was considered the most important monastery in Sri Lanka. In the 1st century BC, the first cave was developed into a temple by King Valagambahu, after it had served him as a hiding place from the South Indian persecutors for over 15 years during his exile from Anuradhapura.
By the 11th century, others had followed his example and over time created the massive gilded temple complex and thus the religious centre of Sri Lanka that still exists and can be visited today.
Visit the cave temple of Dambulla
Intotal, there are more than 80 caves in the 160m high rocky mountain, which were opened to the public in 1938 through passages and portals. After an ascent of about 120 metres in altitude, in the course of which the small, partly thieving monkeys have to be fought off, you can dive into the mystical semi-darkness with a scent mixture of must and incense sticks.
Tip: The Dambulla cave temple may only be entered with long trousers or skirts and covered shoulders. In case of emergency, you can borrow cloth panels on site to comply with the dress code.
Sights of Dambulla
Besides the more than 150 Buddha statues, the temple caves also contain 3 statues of Sri Lankan kings, one each of the Hindu gods Vishnu and Ganesha, and two more. The thousand-year-old frescoes were restored in the 18th century and depict, among other things, the temptation of Buddha by the demon Mara and Buddha himself giving his first sermon, as well as other divine scenes.
Cave of the Divine King
The main attraction of the Dambulla cave temple are five caves that serve to worship the life of Buddha and are magnificently decorated with paintings and statues. In the first and largest cave, the "Cave of the Divine King", there is a 14-metre-long reclining Buddha statue carved directly out of the stone, whose colourful painting has already been renewed countless times.
At their feet sits Buddha's favourite disciple Ananda and enthroned above his head is Vishnu, who is said to have helped create the caves.
Cave of the great kings
In the adjacent "Cave of the Great Kings", in addition to over 50 colourful Buddha statues, there are also figures of King Vattagamani Abhaya from the first century BC and King Nissanka Malla, who, according to an inscription near the entrance, had 50 of the statues gilded in the 12th century.
Water, which is said to have healing powers, emerges from a crack in the wall here. The mysterious spring is said to come from a river that flows uphill and does not dry up even after months of drought.
Cave: "The new monastery
The third cave, "The New Monastery", also houses around 50 Buddha statues. In the fourth cave there is a small dagoba that is said to have contained the jewellery of the Queen of Valagambahu, and in the last cave there are also Buddha and king figures.
Tip: If you want to explore the temple without a guide, you should bring your own torch. The caves are illuminated, but the light is usually sparse.
From the entrance to the cave, by the way, you have a fantastic view over the plains of Sri Lanka. Incidentally, 20 kilometres away you can see the next fascination in the rock - the mighty Sigiriya rock temple.
A little away from the cave temple is evidence that the caves were also used before Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka. Some human skeletons buried here 2,700 years ago have been found in Ibbankatuwa.