The Dambulla Cave Temple in Sri Lanka

The Dambulla Cave Temple in Sri Lanka

The Dambulla Cave Temple, also known as The Rock Temple of Dambulla, and Jumbukola Vihara is located about 76 kilometres northwest of Kandy. The area is vast and excellently preserved. Dambulla became the residence of Buddhist monks in the first century B.C.

The caves are high up on a mountain- about 107 meters above the plains. While most of the caves are believed to be natural, some were enlarged and smoothened by King Vattagamani Abhaya in the first century B.C in order to protect the caves from rain. There are 5 caves in the cave system filled with statues of Buddha as well as magnificent frescoes.


Cave No. 1 (Deva Raja Viharaya)

Deva Raja Viharaya translates to the Temple of the King of Gods. It is believed that god Sakka (Kinf of Gods) did the finishing touches on the main image of the cave. The image is about 14 meters in length and shows the parinibbana, or last moment, of Buddha, carved into the stone. There are 5 additional images in Cave No. 1, one of which depicts Arhat Ananda (Buddah’s main disciple) weeping at the passing of Buddha. Opposite the main image is a statue of Visnu, although some scholars believe that the statue is of Upulvan, one of the 4 guardian dieties of Sri Lanka.

Cave No. 2 (Maha Raja Viharaya)

Cave No. 2 is the largest and most impressive cave in the area. The entrance is guarded by two stone Danitors and is named Maha Raja Viltaraya, meaning the Temple of the Great King, as it is said to have been formed by king Vattagamani Abhaya.

Cave No. 2 hosts a variety of brilliantly coloured paintings- 53 in total. The paintings illustrate Buddha’s life, before and after his Enlightenment as well as the history of the Island and the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka, amongst others.

There are also many statues of Buddha in different positions, most of which are life-size or larger. The main attraction in this cave is a statue of Buddha standing on a lotus pedestal, carved from the rock. This statue is flanked by two standing figures, Natha and Maitreya, believed by ancient Buddhists to become Buddhas in the future.

To the right of the entrance of Cave No.2 is a 5-meter high stupa with 4 figures of Buddha seated on a coil of a Cobra de Caspello. Each figure faces in a different direction; North, East, South and West.

In the eastern side of the shrine room water seeps through the rock and drips continuously into a container placed in a square sunk into the floor. This water is used for sacred rituals.

Cave No. 3 (Maha Alut Viharaya)

Maha Alut Viharaya translates to The Great New Temple. The cave was converted by King Kirti Sri Rajasinha in the 18th century and most of the paintings in this cave is dedicated to him as well as the life of Buddha, the history of Buddhism and Buddhist events. In total this cave also holds 50 figures of Buddha- all nearly life-size or larger.

Cave No. 4 (Paschima Viharaya)

Also known as the Western Temple, this cave has an 8-meter high roof that ends with a sudden downward pitch. Amongst a total of 10 figures of Buddha is a beautiful carving of him sitting in meditation- carved from the rock that forms the cave and painted in vibrant colours. The centre of the cave hosts a stupa called Soma Cetiya.


Cave No. 5

Cave No. 5 is the most recently added cave in the system and perhaps the least elaborately decorated compared to the other caves.

The Golden Temple

The Golden temple is located at the foot of the mountain on which the Dambulla Cave Temple stands. It has a huge Buddha statue and museum.

The Dambulla Cave Temple in Sri Lanka is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and offer a feast for your eyes and food for your soul.

*A version of this article first appeared at

Juanita Pienaar

Juanita Pienaar is a citizen of the world, recently settled back down in her home country, South Africa, after spending time traveling and living in Asia and Africa. She has a passionate love affair with the ocean and loves to share that passion by teaching scuba diving. She is a yoga teacher and fully believe in finding the balance in life. She has recently discovered the joy and freedom of wearing yoga pants ‘out-and-about’. Juanita loses herself in the written and spoken word.

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