Dambulla. Golden Temple & Caves

Dambulla (in Sinhala: Dambulla Len Viharaya), also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site at Sri Lanka since 1991. The temple is located in the central part of the country. This city is located 148 kilometers east of Colombo and 72 kilometers north of Kandy.

This is the largest and best preserved temple cave complex in Sri Lanka. Rock complex rises to 160 m above the surrounding plain. In total there are 80 caves in the vicinity. The main attractions are located in five caves, which contain statues and paintings. These paintings and statues are associated with the images of Gautama Buddha and his life.In total, there are 153 statues of Buddha, three statues of the kings of Sri Lanka and four statues of gods and goddesses. The latter include Vishnu and Ganesha. Frescoes cover an area of 2100 square meters. Images on the walls of the caves include the temptation of the demon Mara, and the first preaching of the Buddha.

The prehistoric people of Sri Lanka lived in these cave complexes before the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Evidence of this — burials with human skeletons, dated about 2700 years ago. One of these graves is in Ibbakatuwa near the cave complexes of Dambulla.

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The temple complex dates back to the I century BC. It includes 5 caves under a huge impending rock. On this «roof» cut drip lines to keep the interiors dry. In 1938 the church was decorated with arched colonnades and pointed entrances. Inside the cave ceilings are covered with intricate patterns of religious images following the outlines of the breed. Here, too, are images of Buddha and Bodhisattvas, as well as various gods and goddesses.

Dambulla cave monastery is still functioning and remains the most preserved ancient building in Sri Lanka. This complex dates back to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, when it already served as one of the largest and most important monasteries. King Walagamba from Anuradhapura transformed the caves into a temple in the 1st century BC. Expelled from Anuradhapura, he sought refuge from the invaders from South India here for 15 years. After investing own capital, the king built the temple in gratitude. Many other kings joined it later, and in the 11th century the caves became the main religious center, up to the present day. King Nissankamalla from Polonnaruwa gilded the caves and added about 70 Buddha statues in 1190. In the 18th century, the caves were restored and painted by the restorers of the Kandiyan Kingdom.

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Five Caves
The temple consists of five caves, which were converted into holy rooms. Caves built on the basis of a high cliff at the time of Anuradhapura (1st century BC AD — 993 AD) and Polonnaruwa (1073 to 1250), are by far the most impressive among other cave temples found in Sri Lanka. Access by a gentle slope to the Dambulla Rock opens a panoramic view of the surrounding plains. The species includes Lion's Rock in Sigiriya, which is 19 kilometers from here. Twilight brings hundreds of hovering swallows to the entrance to the cave. The largest caves are about 52 meters long from east to west, and 23 meters from the entrance to the far wall. This impressive cave height of 7 meters at its maximum point. Hindu gods are also represented here, as well as the kings Walagamba, Nissankamalla and Ananda — the most devoted disciples of Buddha.

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Cave of the Divine King
The first cave is called Devaraja Lena, or the Cave of the Divine King. The base of the cave is dated according to the records of the 1st century. Evidence of this — the inscriptions on the brahmi above the entrance to the first cave. In this cave there is a 14-meter Buddha statue carved from the rock. It was repainted countless times throughout its history, and probably received its last coat of paint in the 20th century. At the feet of the statue is the beloved disciple of Buddha — Ananda.

Great Kings Cave
In the second and largest cave, in addition to the 16 standing and 40 sitting Buddha statues, the gods Saman and Vishnu joined, pilgrims often decorated with garlands. Here is a statue of King Wattagambani Abhaya, who honored the monastery in the I century BC. King Nissankamalla, responsible in the 12th century for the gilding of 50 statues, as indicated in the inscription on the stone at the entrance to the monastery, also revered this place. This cave is called Maharaja Lena, the Cave of the Great Kings. The Buddha statue carved into the rock in the left side of the room is accompanied by wooden figures of Bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Maitreya or Nata. Inside, a dagoba is also installed, on which water drips. It is said that water dripping from a crack in the ceiling has healing properties. Valuable painting objects on the ceiling of the cave, dating from the 18th century, depict scenes from the life of the Buddha — from Mahamaya to temptation by the demon Mara. Further images refer to important events from the history of the country.

The Magnificent New Monastery
The third cave is Maha Aluth Vihara, the Great New Monastery. In it are ceiling and wall paintings in the typical Kandy style of the reign of King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747-1782), a famous Buddhist awakened. In addition to the 50 statues of the Buddha, there is also a statue of the king.

The statue of the Golden Buddha Temple in Dambulla is located below the temple caves.
In these temple rooms are represented many epochs of Sinhalese sculpture and Sinhalese art. Here are also Buddha statues of various sizes and variations. The largest of them is 15 meters long. In one of the rooms there are more than 1500 Buddha images covering the entire ceiling.

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Conservation of the Pagoda in Dambulla
The preservation of the complex of the Dambulla temple, first of all, is focused on the preservation of the mural. The conservation project began in the 1960s. Then the frescoes were cleaned and the protective coating was applied.
The subsequent strategies for the preservation of the Dambulla temple complex, since 1982, have focused on maintaining the integrity of the existing complex, which remained unchanged after the reconstruction of the temple veranda in 1930. This strategy was achieved during the agreement on a joint project between UNESCO, the Sri Lanka Cultural Triangle Project and the Dambulla Temple Authority. The project was implemented from 1982 to 1996.

Since the Dambulla Temple remains the active ritual center, plans for the preservation of the project in 1982-1996 were aimed at improving the infrastructure and accessibility of the shrine in accordance with its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Activities included the reconstruction of paving within the complex and the installation of modern lighting. In addition, investments in the infrastructure of the Temple led to the construction of a museum and other tourist facilities located far away from the historical complex. Later UNESCO inspections in 2003 suggested an expansion of the existing protection zone around the complex in order to minimize the damage to the surrounding archaeological features.

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The conservation project between 1982 and 1996 focused mainly on the preservation of the 18th century murals, which represents about 80% of the total number of preserved frescoes in Dambulla. By the late 1990s, most of these objects remained in excellent condition, and large shrines-Vihara-now retain most of their original 18th-century murals.
The purification was not carried out in the framework of the 1982-1996 project. Only frescoes were stabilized, and a long-term preservation strategy was developed to minimize further human exposure and damage to the environment.

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The greatness of the ancient temple complex in Dambulla, as we are sure, must be experienced in the historical part of the route across Sri Lanka. Travelling to Dambulla, take a stop in the city for at least 1 night, in time to get acquainted with the historical monument of worldwide significance. However, you can visit the temple complex, combining your stay in this area with the ascent to Lion's Rock in Sigiriya. The distance from Sigiriya to Dambulla is about 16 km., And you can make a trip to the Temple Complex, while staying at the hotel in Sigiriya. For optimal planning of your trip, contact tyour Lankarus manager.


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