About the City
The Dambulla Cave Temple or the Golden Caves of Infinite Buddhas is another UNESCO World Heritage Site located 148km from Colombo, approximately a 4.5 hours drive. It is an isolated rock mass, 500 feet in height with a history dating back to the 3rd Century BC when it was a meditation center where Bhikkus lived in caves. There are 35 such caves still to be seen with some having inscriptions written 2300 years ago.
The magnificent Rock Temple was built during the 1st Century BC by King Valagamba during the Anuradhapura period. In 103 BC King Valagamba seeks refuge here and lived in exile for 14 years once he lost his Kingdom to the South Indian invaders. After he defeated the enemy and regained the Throne in 89 BC, King Valagamba converted 3 of the caves in to magnificent shrines with many splendid statues and painting as attested by the 1st Century BC Brahmi inscription of Cave No: 2. At present there are five such caves with hundreds of Buddha statues and beautiful paintings drawn on the uneven surface of the caves, done and renovated by many Kings and elite during various periods of the history after initially created by King Valagamba.
During the 12th Century AD King Nissankamalla of Polonnaruwa renovated the caves, painted the statues in gold and re-named the place as the Golden Cave Temple in Dambulla. This is written in a well preserved large stone inscription done in the 12th Century AD by King Nissankamalla.
Cave No: 1 – contains a 47 feet long magnificent rock cut reclining Buddha Statue, believed to be done by a divine craftsman, believed to be God Visvakarma. There are five more Buddha Statues in this cave along with a standing tall timber image of the Buddha and God Vishnu. The paintings in this cave are the oldest paintings found in Dambulla.
Cave No: 2 – the finest and the largest of all, there are 150 life-size statues of the Buddha in various postures with few statues of Gods and Kings including statues of King Valagamba and Nissankamalla. The ceiling is also covered with colourful paintings which depict great events in the life of the Buddha and landmarks in the history of the Sinhalese people.
Cave No: 3 – built by King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe in 18th Century BC during the Kandy period, the last Kingdom of Sri Lanka before being colonized by the British. Here you find 57 statues of the Buddha in different postures mostly made with timber. There are many paintings of the Kandyan era some depicting mythical stories from India.
Cave No: 4 – is the 3rd cave done by King Valagamba and is believed to be the cave he lived in during his 14 years of exile. There is a small Dagoba inside the cave, known as Somawathie Dagoba and is said to have contained the jewellery of Queen Somadevi of King Valagamba who was taken away by the South Indian invaders. In the recent past, treasure hunters have opened the relic chamber and taken away the contents of the Dagoba.
Cave No: 5 – is the last cave to the west and has a reclining Buddha Statue and 11 other statues. This was built by an elite Sinhalese family during the British period in the 19th Century and was renovated again in 1915.
Map of the City