Dambulla is located right in the centre of the touristic region called “Cultural Triangle”. It’s a crosspoint of the Colombo-Kurunegala-Trincomalee and the Kandy-Anuradhapura-Jaffna roads.
Dambulla is famous for it’s rock temple, which likes to be called the “Golden Temple”. The official name may still be “Raja Maha Viharaya”, meaning “Royal Great Monastery”, but the more common name now is “Rangiri Dambulu Viharaya“, which means “Golden-rock Dambulla monastery”. There are at least two reasons for this glamorous name.
1. When Nissanka Malla, King of Polonnaruwa, visited Dambulla he left an inscription mentioning his donations and achievements, claiming he added 70 Buddha statues and gilded the caves.
2. At the foot of the Dambulla granite rock, the new buildings of the Dambulla monastery are crowned by a shimmering yellow giant Buddha statue welcoming the visitors. It is atop the roof of this Royal Temple’s Buddhist museum. You can’t miss it. It can be seen from the main road and you will pass it when going from the ticket counter to the stairway leading to the caves.
There can be no doubt that Dambulla’s image caves full of valuable ancient Buddha statues and the very best Kandyan style paintings is Sri Lanka’s most impressive cave temple. There are many of them on this island that once embraced Buddhism. But there is only one of them declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO: Dambulla.
At such a great destination for cultural round tours, you can not expect to avoid the crowds. But wait a minute: In fact, there is a way to see even the vastest Dambulla cave (counted number 2) without sightseeing groups: You should come in the early morning hours. Be the first at the ticket counter! You will definitely not regret it.
Though Dambulla is a crowded place during most of the opening hours, please don’t forget: This is a sacred place till the present day. So you should be calm and respectful and you have to be dressed decently, no shorts, no bare shoulders are allowed for visitors of the cave temples.
Though most of the statues and paintings are from later periods, Dambulla is one of the oldest monasteries in the world inhabited continuously by monks. Actually, the caves which are now richly adorned image houses were very sober and humble dwellings for reclusive monks in the Anuradhapura period. Dambulla has been inhabited by hermits from the very early centuries of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist history till the present day.
A famous king took refuge in these caves, namely Valagambha after he was expelled from the Sinhalese royal capital Anuradhapura by Tamil invadors. This was in the early first century B.C.E. The foundation of the temple is usually attributed to this king, who is called Vatthagamani Abhaya in the island’s ancient Pali chronicles. After he had reconquered Anuradhapura, he remembered that place that once sheltered him and dedicated it to the Sangha, the Buddhist order. However, it’s highly probable that the caves were inhabited by Buddhist hermits even earlier. But Valagambha (Vatthagamani Abhaya) might be the one who for the first time converted those caves into temple rooms by constructing walled partitions under the rock overhang
To learn more about Dambulla and its works of art,
please also read our blog article about World Heritage Site Dambulla here...
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