Dambulla Cave Temple
Dambulla Cave Temple (also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla) is a Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka’s central region. The location is 148 kilometers east of Colombo. The rock from which the caves were carved climbs 160 meters above the surrounding plains, making it Sri Lanka’s largest and best-preserved cave temple complex. In the area, more than 80 caves have been discovered and documented. The main attractions are spread out among 5 caves, each of which houses statues and murals depicting Lord Buddha’s life. There are 153 Buddha statues on the site, as well as three statues of Sri Lankan kings and four statues of gods and goddesses. Statues of the Hindu gods Vishnu and Ganesh are among the latter. There are 2,100 square meters of murals to be found there. Buddha’s temptation by Mara and Buddha’s first sermon are shown on the cave walls. In 1991, UNESCO classified Dambulla’s Golden Temple as a World Heritage Site. In terms of both presence and practice, Buddhism has a long history in Sri Lanka. With a twenty-two-century history as a pilgrimage place, the Dambulla cave temple is one of the oldest Buddhist monastic locations. The large cave temple complex is unique in Southeast Asia since monks created the caves out of rock. In India, cave temples such as Ajanta, Elephanta, Ellore, and Karla were built in natural caves. Since its foundation, the cave monastery has been a sacred pilgrimage place. The Cave of the Divine King, Great New Monastery, Cave of the Great Kings, and two lesser caves of more recent origin are among the five sanctuaries. The caves, which have been in continuous use for almost two millennia, were built in stages. The centuries-long endeavor to maintain the cave temples reflects Sri Lanka’s ongoing devotion to Buddhism.
During the reign of King Vattagamini Abhaya, the Dambulla Cave Temple was built for the first time ( 103 BC and 89-77 BC ). King Valagamba is how the Sinhalese refer to him. During a South Indian invasion, the king was forced to flee his kingdom of Anuradhapura. King Valagamba had been hiding in these caves for protection for 12 years. To express his gratitude for his safe haven after reclaiming the kingdom of Anuradhapura and becoming King, he turned the caverns into Buddhist temples by erecting walled partitions beneath the rock overhang that spans the entire area as an one enormous cave. He had drip ledges installed down the length of this vast cave, allowing it to resist rainy weather and prevent water from leaking into the collapsed regions. He constructed the Maharajalena, Devarajalena, and Paccimalena cave temples. After King Vattagamini Abaya’s reign, the cave temple was not visited by any other kings for several centuries, until Vijayabahu I (1055-1110 AD), who made Polonnaruwa his kingdom. He had renovated the Cave temples, and it is thought that Buddhist monks were living in this and surrounding caves at the time. King Keerthi Sri Nissankamalla (1187-1196 AD) was heavily interested in the upliftment of the area, constructing many more Buddha images and gold plating 73 Buddha figures in the Dambulla Cave Temple. Other Kings who have been credited for elevating the prominence of the Dambulla Cave Temple are King Buwanekabahu (1372-1408 AD), King Vickramabahu III (1360-1374 AD), King Rajasinha I (1581-1591 AD), and King Vimaladharmasuriya I (1592-1604 AD). Another intriguing feature is that, based on the data gathered thus far, archeologists believe that this cave, as well as the numerous caves surrounding the main rock, were used for dwelling in prehistoric times.
Cave 1 - The Devaraja Lena (The cave of 'Lord of the Gods')
Devarajalena Vihara, or the Lord of the Gods Temple, is the first Dambulla Cave Temple. It can only be accessed by passing through a massive Makara Thorana. The enormous 45-foot Sleeping Buddha statue is thought to represent the Lord Buddha’s final passing away, or Parinirvana. Near the feet of the huge Sleeping Buddha statue is a statue of Venerable Ananda, Lord Buddha’s devoted follower. The name Devaraja Lena is thought to have come from the God Vishnu picture that was built during King Vatta Gamini Abhaya’s reign (89-77 BC). The current names of the Cave temples are considered to date from after the initial temple construction period, as they were first referenced in temple history around 1700 AD. The painted soles of Buddha in a pattern that blends the wheel of dharma and the lotus flower are the most interesting aspect here. The Buddha images are thought to date from after the 2nd century BC, according to historians, because the art of making Buddha images began during that time in Sri Lanka. The old paintings discovered in the Dambulla cave temple had been repainted during repairs and are thought to date from the 17th and 18th century. Geometric and floral designs separate the sceneries on the ceiling. Due to the lighting of oil lamps and incense by worshippers in the past, the paintings of this cave have faded.
Cave 2 - The Maharaja Lena (The cave of 'Great Kings')
The Maharajalena, or Cave of the Great Kings, is the cave with the most statues (almost 60), both religious and secular, carved out of living rock, wood, or plaster, as well as hundreds of colorful murals on the walls and ceiling. Here you will find the statues of King Valagamba and King Nissankamalla. The figure of King Valagamba is made of wood, and the statue’s details are painted. It’s close to the cave’s entrance. In this cave, there are approximately sixty portraits. The cave is roughly 125 feet long and 75 feet wide, with a maximum height of 21 feet near the cave’s mouth. A little dagoba is flanked by 11 seated Buddha sculptures in the cave. Gods Saman, Upulvan, Maithree, and Natha are represented by statues discovered here. This cave is the largest and most picturesque due to the vast number of Buddha statues depicting samadi mudra, abhaya mudra, varada mudra, and vitarka mudra in seated, lying, and standing postures. The cave’s primary statue is a life-sized depiction of Lord Buddha in a standing posture beneath a Makara Torana. Parts of gold may still be seen on this statue, which is thought to be one of King Nissankamalla’s gilded statues. A unusual cluster of Mahayana Bodisatvas images flanks the main image on either side: Maitreya on the left and Natha or Avolokatesvara on the right. This dimly illuminated cave has a unique charm and tranquility not found in any other Buddhist temple. The early Buddhist historical events are depicted in the rock art found here. Thousands of murals with astonishing designs and colors have been painted on the rock ceiling and walls. The dramatic mural of Dutugemunu-Elara in conflict, with King Dutugemunu carrying the Sinhala flag, may be seen among the murals. The dripping water droplet collecting basin on the cave’s right side is another remarkable feature. Even in the midst of a severe drought, this water spring remains accessible and is reported to have existed since ancient times.
Cave 3 - The Maha Aluth Viharaya (The cave of 'Great New Temple')
This temple was built by Kandy’s King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747-1782 AD) and is considered second only to the Maharajalena temple. To access this cave temple, there are two gateways with Dragon Arch decorations. This cave is approximately 90 feet long, 80 feet wide, and 36 feet tall near the entrance wall. A 30-foot-long reclining Buddha statue carved out of living rock can be found here. Around 50 Buddha statues surround the famous seated Buddha statue, which is surrounded by a Dragon Arch pattern carved out of granite in the cave’s centre. Inside the cave, there are approximately 42 standing Buddha images and approximately 15 seated Buddha statues. On the right side of the entryway, there is a statue of King Kirti Sri Rajasinha. A mural of 4 of his attendants appears on the wall behind his statue. The amazing mural paintings on the rock have Kandyan style artwork and a thousand seated Buddha figure paintings on the rock ceiling.
Cave 4 - The Paccima Viharaya (The cave of 'Western Temple')
Originally, this tiny and elegant Pacchima Viharaya was the westernmost cave temple, but an additional cave was later erected to the west side of this cave temple. This cave is approximately 27 feet wide and 50 feet long. The exquisite seated Buddha image with a Makara Torana in the ‘dhyana mudra’ posture is the main attraction. Around this cave, there are nearly identical pictures of the main seated Buddha image. This cave contains a small dagoba that was thought to house the jewellery of Somawathi, King Valagamba’s queen. Because of this, this chetiya is known as ‘Soma chetiya.’ Murals have been painted on this little chetiya, however, they are now fading. This cave also has statues of the gods Vishnu and Saman.
Cave 5 - The Devana Aluth Viharaya (The cave of 'Second new Temple')
This is the newest of all the cave temples at Dambulla, although the exact date of construction is unknown. The big reclined Buddha picture is around 32 feet long, and there are a total of 11 standing and seated Buddha images in this temple. The Hooded Muchalinda Cobra is draped over the images of two of the seated Buddha figures. The majority of the figures in the other caverns are made of granite rock, whereas all of these statues are built of brick and plaster.