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Best-preserved cave temple complex

Text and pictures by Ganga PRADEEPA


Buddha statues in the cave


Sigiriya and Dambulla are inter related names among Sri Lankans and Foreigners. Most of the people visit both places in one journey. Though their values differ, some may not know the importance of Dambulla. On the other hand some people visit this place because it holds a world famous cave. This site is situated 148 km east of Colombo and 72 km north of Kandy. It is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka.

Dambulla has been a sacred place since the second century BC. It has earned the name Golden Temple because of its gilded interior.

The temple consists of five separate caves which were originally used as hiding places. Later on in history they were embellished more and more by several kings. On the inside, the caves are decorated with religious and secular paintings from the 15th and 16th century.

The name Dambulla derives from Damba - Rock and Ulla - fountain. Dambulla temple can be recognised from afar because of the massive golden Buddha statue standing in front of the premises. At the entrance to the temple there are women selling olu, nelum and manel flowers.

Massive Buddha statue of Dambulla

There were two staircases both leading to the Buddha statue. (It would have helped if there was a pointer or notice giving directions to the cave.)

To reach the cave it took 30 minutes. Lots of stairs lead up to the temple. Except for the seemingly endless walk up there, the groups of monkeys were also still in my memory.

We entered the cave. This complex of caves at Dambulla is known to be one of the most impressive Buddhist Temples in the world.

It was here that King Vattagamini Abhaya (Valagamba) took refuge in the 1st century BC. He later turned the caves into a rock temple. Subsequent kings made further improvements, including King Nissanka Malla who had the temple interior gilded, earning it the name of Ran Giri - Golden Rock.


Dambulla cave temple

Dambulla Viharaya contains an abundance of valuable material from the very earliest times till the late eighteenth century, and shows the evolution of the Sinhalese Buddhist art. Such vast material in one place, combined with a long history, is a rare find anywhere.

There are more than 80 documented caves in the surroundings.

Major attractions are spread over five caves, which contain statues and paintings. This paintings and statues are related to the Buddha and his life. There are a total of 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan kings and four statues of gods and goddesses. The latter four include two statues of Hindu gods, god Vishnu and god Ganesh. The murals, covers an area of 2,100 square meters.

The temple consists of five caves, which have been converted into shrine rooms. The caves, built at the base of a 150m high rock during the Anuradhapura era (1st Century BC to 993 AD) and Polonnaruwa times (1073 to 1250), are generally accepted as the most impressive in Sri Lanka.

Devaraja lena or "Cave of the Divine King." is the first cave. An account of the founding of the monastery is recorded in a first-century Brahmi inscription over the entrance to the first cave.

This cave is dominated by the 14-metre statue of the Buddha. It has been repainted countless times in the course of its history, and probably received its last coat of paint in the 20th century. At his feet is the Buddha, Ananda Thera at his head, Vishnu, said to have used his divine powers to create the caves. In the second and largest cave, in addition to 16 standing and 40 seated statues of Buddha, are the gods Saman and Vishnu, which pilgrims often decorate with garlands, and finally statues of King Vattagamani, who honoured the monastery in the first century B.C., and King Nissanka Malla, responsible in the 12th century for the gilding of 50 statues, as indicated by a stone inscription near the monastery entrance. This cave is accordingly called Maharaja lena, "Cave of the Great Kings." The Buddha statue hewn out of the rock on the left side of the room is escorted by wooden figures of the Bodhisattvas Maitreya and Avalokiteshvara or Natha.

There is also a dagoba and a spring which drips its water, said to have healing powers, out of a crack in the ceiling. Valuable paintings on the cave ceiling dating from the 18th century depict scenes from Buddha's life, from the dream of Mahamaya to temptation by the demon Mara.

Inside the cave Sunset over Dambulla

Further pictures relate to important events from the country's history.


The third cave, the Maha Alut Vihara, the "Great New Monastery" acquired ceiling and wall paintings in the typical Kandyan style during the reign of King Kirthi Sri Rajasinha (1747-1782), the famous Buddhist revivalist. In addition to the 50 Buddha statues, there is also a statue of the king.

The fourth and fifth caves are smaller; they date from a later period and are not of such high quality.

A small Vishnu Devale between the first and second caves attracts many worshippers.

A collection of one hundred and fifty statues of the Buddhist Order and the country's history is placed within these shrine rooms. These statues and paintings are representative of many epochs of Sinhala sculpture and Sinhala art.

The Buddha statues are in varying sizes and attitudes - the largest being 15 metres long.

One cave has over 1,500 paintings of the Buddha covering the ceiling.

Amaya Lake

In the shade of Kandalama

On the border of the Kandalama lake, the Amaya Lake hotel is situated just fifteen minutes' drive from Dambulla. At the entrance there were four ladies dressed in cloth and jacket playing the rabana. It was a new experience for me. They garland the guests with fresh flowers in a gesture of welcome.

Sitting in the Lobby area I felt that I had arrived at a temple. The large area of Lobby had a high roof adorned with vesak lanterns giving it a look of a temple indeed.

Two-and four-unit chalets (double and quadruple villas connected through a common passageway with separate entrances) are available for families and interested groups.

Four adjoining villas accommodate guests seeking a space of their own.

A village lifestyle for guests who seek this experience is found here. Eleven traditional-style dwellings face a central pond. Like an authentic village, houses face inwards towards each other, expressing the notion that inner appearance and ties within the village are more important.

Nearby, the Ayurvedic Spa, Warichchi weda medura and Valay kaday are situated covered by huge trees. Valay kaday made of warichchi biththi can be used for small conferences, meetings and cocktails. In side of the 'Valay kaday' you can see some equipment which are used on the threshing floor.

Amaya Lake was opened in 1994 and it has 71 Standard rooms, 17 Deluxe, 11 Eco Lodge and a suite.

Eleven Eco Lodge made of varichchi and the roof is covered with straw. The shape of these lodges were wee bissa. They named these lodge in the special village names which are very close to this hotel. Except varichchi biththi lodge, a lodge painted in white which is called Arachchige' Gedara. White paint indicates the prominence of Arachchis' house in the village. Each house is unique in design and possesses its own name, for example, Kalundewa Gedera.

Guests will be able to encounter the forest as it comes alive, with a night safari to Minneriya or Kawudulla. In addition they can explore nature with a daytime jungle trek or elephant safari.

They can enjoy a boat ride on the lake and hop on a bullock cart to tour the local village and observe bird life alongside the river.

Around the grounds you will find labels on plants and trees identifying each species. For entertainment it has tennis, badminton, volleyball, a cricket pitch and the children's playground.

With natural setting and spacious grounds that can accommodate private group events, Amaya Lake is a frequent location for excursions.

The resort offers a variety of activities and get-together opportunities with excursions for corporate groups.



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LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lanka

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