Amazing Buddhist statues and paintings in Dambulla cave temple, Sri Lanka

I had heard that the Dambulla cave temple in central Sri Lanka has some of the best preserved murals. Moreover, the site has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This was reason enough for me to plan a trek to reach these rock caves. But, on a hot June afternoon, my energy was at its lowest after hiking in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.

  Buddha in Mahaparinirvana posture at Dambulla Cave
Buddha in Mahaparinirvana posture at Dambulla Cave

My experience at Mihintale had warned me that climbing this hill station should be done only in the morning or evening. So after analysing the situation, I decided that I would start climbing the rock after the afternoon has passed, around 4 pm.

View of Sigiriya from Dambulla Cave View of Sigiriya from Dambulla Cave
View of Sigiriya from Dambulla Cave

You can climb this rock from two starting points situated in opposite directions. One where we buy tickets, the other where a huge golden temple is situated. I bought the ticket from the ticket window and came in the direction of the golden temple, as I was told that climbing from this point is relatively easy. I moved ahead after seeing a huge golden statue and a golden pagoda situated at the entrance.

The stairs were wide and easy to climb. At some places the stairs were not carved properly. There we had to climb the rock surface. At one point our path split into two. One path is a flat path with a steep slope but is relatively shorter. The other path has easy stairs. I used the stepped path to climb and the flat sloping path to descend. I recommend you to use both these routes as these two paths lead from two sides of the rock and the landscape on both sides is very different. From the stepped path you will see the impressive Sigiriya rock standing proudly in front of you along with its twin rock. From the sloping path you will see greenery of many colors against the backdrop of beautiful hills.

History of Dambulla Cave Temple

Golden Stupa at Dambulla Rock TempleGolden Stupa at Dambulla Rock Temple
Golden Stupa at Dambulla Rock Temple

Dambulla is a combination of two words, Damba and Ula, which means rock and waterfall. Waterfalls? Yes, one of the largest caves here has water dripping from inside continuously. I was amazed by the fact that all these caves are natural. As soon as you enter the cave, you will see the natural shapes of the rocks. The painters have skillfully painted these rocks according to these shapes. These caves are not like Ajanta, Ellora or Barabar caves because those caves were excavated by humans.

According to inscriptions, in ancient times, around 1st BC, King Vattagamini Abhaya took refuge in these caves. Later, he converted these caves into temples.

Read more – Polonnaruwa – The finest ancient city of Sri Lanka

King Nishankamalla, about whom we learnt in Polonnaruwa, covered them with gold leaves. This is why they were named Rangiri. Gold is called run in the Sinhalese language of Sri Lanka.

Rock paintings tell stories Rock paintings tell stories
Rock paintings tell stories

There are more than 150 statues of Buddha in these caves. Apart from these, there are also images of Hindu gods and goddesses and members of the royal family.

According to the modern history of Sri Lanka, these are the caves from where Buddhist monks started the national movement against British rule in 1848.

Dambulla Cave Temple

5 major caves

There are a total of 80 caves in this area. There are 5 major caves among them which tourists usually visit. Being natural, the shapes and sizes of these caves are different.

Dambulla Caves in Giant RockDambulla Caves in Giant Rock
Dambulla Caves in Giant Rock

When you first encounter the caves, you will see many pure white gates arranged in rows under a huge rock. The architecture appears to be colonial, mainly the first gate which is closest to you. I was told that these gates were installed over time, around the 20th century. That is why they bear the imprint of the architecture prevalent during that period.

There is a narrow corridor in front of the caves. The entrances have been made like the doors of a temple on which figures of gatekeepers, guards and angels are engraved.

Read More – Anuradhapura – A Glimpse of the Ancient Capital of Sri Lanka

Red and yellow colours predominate inside the caves. On the ceiling above the statues, paintings have been done similar to printed cloth. There are mainly white, black and red square blocks on them. It appears as if a cloth tent has been put up over the statues.

1. Devraj Lena or the Cave of the Divine King

This cave is relatively small. The main feature of this cave is the statue of Buddha in Mahaparinirvana position. It is called main because this statue occupies almost the entire space inside the cave. Since this was the first statue I saw, I was stunned to see its hugeness. The bright colors of the murals and idols are very attractive.

Painted feet of BuddhaPainted feet of Buddha
Painted feet of Buddha

The most interesting and attractive creation here is the depiction of the soul of Buddha, which has been beautifully depicted with a combination of the shapes of Dharmachakra and Padma flower.

On the right side is the image of seated Buddha with a wonderful halo behind him. Ananda is sitting at his feet. On the walls are images of the king and ministers standing with folded hands. The ceiling has a unique painting in two parts, in which one part has geometric shapes and the other part has floral designs.

Buddha, his followers and vinesBuddha, his followers and vines
Buddha, his followers and vines

There is a small temple near the first cave inside which are the idols of Vishnu and Kartikeya.

2. Maharaja Lena – The main cave temple of Dambulla

Stupa in the largest caveStupa in the largest cave
Stupa in the largest cave

This is the largest cave here. Standing inside it gives a strong feeling of its subtlety. The seated and standing statues of Buddha all around overwhelm you. The clothes of most of the statues are painted in golden yellow. The cave has two entrances, one of which has a stupa near it. The vast surface of the cave's ceiling is completely painted. Not even the smallest spot on the ceiling surface is devoid of painting. All around Buddha are pictures of Maras trying to disturb his meditation.

lined up buddha statues lined up buddha statues
lined up buddha statues

There is a picture on the ceiling of the cave in which Sahastra Buddha is sitting in meditation. This image is also found on the walls of Ajanta caves.

Mural of Buddha in Bhumi Sparsh MudraMural of Buddha in Bhumi Sparsh Mudra
Mural of Buddha in Bhumi Sparsh Mudra

This cave also has pictures of King Vattagamini Abhaya and King Nishankamalla.

3. Cave 3

seated buddha statues seated buddha statues
seated buddha statues

This cave is a miniature replica of the main cave. As soon as you enter, you encounter a huge statue. There are statues of meditating Buddha all around.

4. Cave 4

By the time you reach here, you start to imagine what you are going to see inside the cave. This is also a small cave inside which there is a statue of a sleeping Buddha.

5. Cave 5

Stupa surrounded by Buddha images and statuesStupa surrounded by Buddha images and statues
Stupa surrounded by Buddha images and statues

There is a small stupa in this cave too, around which there are idols of Buddha and stories are painted on the walls.

After visiting all the five caves, stand under the open sky and enjoy the amazing surrounding scenery. You will also enjoy watching the devotees coming here and experiencing their devotion. You will immediately notice the difference between tourists and devotees. Many tourists come here out of curiosity and observe the place, praise it but do not feel any attachment to the place. On the contrary, devotees are not concerned with the art and heritage of this place, they come here only with the desire to experience the Supreme God and become one with him.

Read more – Ramayana related places in Sri Lanka – An exciting travel story

I saw many school students here who came to pray and play.

There is a huge golden statue of Buddha on top of the Dambulla cave temple and a museum at the foot of the rock. From here, a beautiful view of the plains and the Sigiriya rock can be seen.

Travel Tips

Buddha in Dambulla Cave Buddha in Dambulla Cave
Buddha in Dambulla Cave
  • To visit the Dambulla cave temple, climb in the morning or evening only. The hot afternoon sun is painful.
  • Keep drinking water with you.
  • Although guides are available at the Darshan Sthal, but this is not a huge or complex place. Therefore, if you study about it or get prior information, you can easily visit it yourself.
  • Climb up from one side of the cliff and descend from the other. This allows you to enjoy the views from both sides of the cliff.
  • There is no entry fee for Sri Lankan citizens. The entry fee for foreign tourists was 1500 Sri Lankan rupees at that time.
  • The caves are extremely humid and hot. The atmosphere outside the caves is pleasant. While visiting the caves, I had to come out several times and breathe in fresh air.
  • It may take one and a half to two hours to observe these caves.

The nearest resting place for visiting these caves is Kandy which is not very far from here. Otherwise you can go to Habarna like me. Cinnamon Lodge You can stay in. From there you can drive for 30 minutes to reach the caves.

25 Interesting Things to Do in Sri Lanka – Watch this video on my Youtube channel.

You can watch this video in HD and plan your trip.

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