Dambulla Cave Temple

August 14, 2020

The cave-temple dates back to the 1st century, BC when King Valagam Bahu was driven out of Anuradhapura and took refuge here. When he regained his throne, he converted the cave into a temple. It is the largest and best preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. The rock towers 160 m over the surrounding plains.There are more than 80 documented Caves in the surrounding. There are five separate caves, most of every available surface being printed with the likeness of the Buddha, of the coming of Buddhism to Sri Lanka, of various kings and their meritorious deeds, great battles and Hindu deities. There are also several statues of great antiquity.Cave One – Devaraja Lena “Cave of the Divine King”An account of the founding of the temple is recorded in a 1st century BC Brahmi inscription over the entrance, where there is also a makara torana, an archway embellished with mythical figures. Inside there is a 15-metre long reclining statue of the Buddha. Ananda, the Buddha’s most loyal disciple, is depicted nearby. The frescoes behind the Arahant Ananda are said to be the oldest at Dambulla, which is why they have been blackened by the smoke of countless oil lamps down the centuries. The Hindu deity Vishnu, “King of the Gods” or Devaraja, is believed to have used his divine powers to create the caves, hence the reason this name is employed. The deity may have been installed here in the Kandyan period, though some believe it is older than the Buddha images. There is a Vishnu dewale or shrine attached to this cave.

Cave Two – Maharaja Lena “Cave Of the Great Kings”This is the largest cave at the temple, containing 16 standing and 40 seated statues of the Buddha. In addition, the Hindu deity Vishnu and the local deities Saman (gold in colour) and Upulvan (dark blue) are represented, as are the “Great Kings” of the cave’s name, King Vattagamini Abhaya and King Nissanka Malla, who were responsible in the 12th century for the gilding of 50 statues.At the right of the entrance is a small dagoba surrounded by seated Buddhas. Beyond, at the back of the cave, is a large reclining Buddha image dating from the 19th century. The ceiling, which is covered with colourful murals, has a small crevice from which water has dripped for thousands of years. This comes from a pool at the summit of the rock that has never dried up. The water that drips into a pot inside the cave is considered sacred. Moreover, devotees believe the water has miraculous properties and toss coins into the pot.

Cave Three – Maha Aluth Vihara ” Great New Temple”This is the second largest cave in size and second in splendour only to Cave Two. It acquired ceiling and wall frescoes during the reign of King Kirti Sri Rajasingha (1747-1782), the great Buddhist revivalist. His statue stands in the cave, along with 57 Buddha images. The central Buddha image is a seated one. In addition, there is a huge reclining Buddha lying against one wall. The richly coloured murals show hundreds of Buddhas in identical postures. On the outer wall of the shrine there is a stylized mural depicting a Himalayan lake in which the Buddha is supposed to have bathed. It is depicted as square with four gateways, each symbolized by an animal – lion, elephant, horse and bull. From this lake flow four rivers.

Cave Four – Pachima Vihara ” Western Temple”This, the smallest of the cave temples, was the westernmost until Cave Five came into being. The small dagoba in the cave, known as soma chaitya, was damaged by thieves who broke into in the mistaken belief that it contained the jewels belonging to Queen Somawathie, the consort of Dambulla’s patron, King Vattagamini Abhaya.

Cave Five – Devana Aluth Vihara ” Second New Temple”Once used as a storeroom, this temple is the most modern of the five. Restored and almost entirely repainted in 1915, it contains a dozen Buddha images of brick and plaster – including one large reclining statue – as well as the Hindu deities Vishnu and Kataragama, and the local deity BandaraClose to Dambulla deep inside the jungle is perhaps the oldest garden in Sri Lanka is the Iron Wood Forest and the largest Rose Quartz Mountain Range in South Asia. The site had been declared as a human sanctuary by King Dappula in 10 century AD as shown in an inscription at the entrance to Namal Uyana. Trees believed to have been planted by those who sought sanctuary here and subsequently turned in to a vast plantation of Iron wood forest. Apart from the biodiversity of the site as it contains many other plants, it is also geologically important because of the Rose Quartz mountain range in the garden, which is believed to be over 500 million years old. White, rose and violet colour quartz deposits can be seen here.

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