Dambulla Cave Temples

Kandy-Jaffna Hwy

The Buddhist temple complex of Dambulla consists of five cave temples carved under a very large overhanging rock. The temples were carved out over several centuries, but the oldest dates back to the 1st century B.C.E. The temples include numerous carved statues of Buddha, and his faithful disciple Ananda, as well as Hindu deities.

The largest of the caves is known as the Maharaja Vihara Lena, or Cave of the Great Kings, so named because the cave contains the statues of two ancient, great Sri Lankan kings—Valagambahu and Nissankamalla. Fifty or so Buddha statues, including a life-sized granite one, are all contained inside the temple as is small stupa surrounded by eleven seated Buddhas.

The cave walls and ceiling are entirely painted with paintings depicting early Buddhist historical events and murals with traditional Buddhist designs. Like all the other cave temples, this one is dimly lit, preserving the vibrant colors of the paintings and murals.

Another unusual feature of this particular cave temple is the large metal bowl that was placed inside the cave centuries ago, presumably to catch rain dripping from the cave roof. It’s said that even in a severe drought, the water in the bowl does not dry up.

Dambulla is one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites located in the region known as Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle. If you ever go to Sri Lanka, you must go to Dambulla. It is a very unique and spectacular site!

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Cave of the Great Kings

According to Buddhist legend, after the Buddha attained enlightenment, his feet made an imprint in the stone where he stepped.

The footprints of the Buddha (Buddhapada) are highly revered in all Buddhist countries, especially in Sri Lanka and Thailand, as symbols of Buddha’s presence. Symbolizing the grounding of the transcendent, feet are also considered objects of respect.

These beautifully painted soles belong to the 14 meter long, reclining Buddha housed inside the Devaraja Lena, one of the five cave temples in Dambulla. The cave’s interior is extremely small and the stone statue of Buddha pretty occupies all of it.

There is barely a few feet of space between his head and feet and the cave walls. Most people walk into the small cave to stand in front of the Buddha and to leave flowers on the altar. Few venture to look at the soles of his feet but anyone who walks over to the far wall to look at Buddha’s feet will be rewarded with this view of his beautifully painted soles.

If you go to Cave Temple Complex at Dambulla, be sure to buy at least two bunches of lotus flowers that you can leave behind as offerings as you visit the various temples.

And, for every reclining Buddha you come across, be sure to check out his feet and leave a flower or two!

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