Dambulla Cave Temple Complex in Sri Lanka

The Golden Temple of Dambulla

The small town of Dambulla became a place of pilgrimage, not only for Lankans who come to ask for support from heaven, the fulfillment of desires, signs from above, but also tourists rushing here in order to admire the temple complex with more than 22 centuries of history. You should see with what aspiration the locals pronounce “Dambulla”! Immediately you feel the importance and sacredness of this “revered” place.

I have been here several times, both with a guide and on my own, and each time I discovered something new in this unity of nature, art, and the divine beginning. Even those who are not too familiar with the philosophy of Buddhism can find a lot of interesting and instructive things here.

The temple complex includes the Golden Temple, the five main cave temples and more than 70 caves. All the key rulers of the island contributed to the decoration of the cave temples at different periods of Ceylon’s history. Here you can explore the art of sculpture and painting by Sri Lankan masters of different times. It is no exaggeration to say that Dambulla is a centuries-old cross-section of Ceylon’s religion, culture and art.

To make a visit to the temples of Dambulla more interesting than just walking around the grottoes among the statues, it is necessary to prepare a little, in order to understand where we are going, what we are looking at, what is the main idea here. This will enhance the impression of what we see, more deeply imbued with the spirit and atmosphere of the place. The right attitude and a little knowledge will help you succeed in this mission. More than once I have caught myself in the feeling that everything in this active monastery is conducive to achieving harmony with the inner world, to relieving stress, and, moreover, to simply enjoying the beautiful.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site occupies more than 20 hectares on top of a mountain some 350 meters above sea level. Climbing up from the entrance to the complex to the cave temples, you can admire the opening picturesque images of the tropical forest to no end. The ascent itself takes no more than 10 minutes.

History

The first people to inhabit this area were tribes living in Sri Lanka before Buddhism. This is evidenced by the burials found in some of the caves, which are more than 2 700 years old.

In ancient times, the capital of the island was at Anuradhapura. King Valagambaha, expelled by the enemy from his capital, found refuge in one of the caves and the protection of local monks. After 14 years in exile, the king returned to the throne and as a sign of gratitude ordered a temple to be built in this cave. So in the first century B.C. the creation of the Dambulla temple complex began. Note the inscription above the entrance to the temple: it describes this historical fact in the Brahmanic language. Since then, Dambulla temples have become a place of worship for all Buddhists.

The temple complex at Dambulla has been rebuilt many times because each ruler wanted to contribute to the improvement of this sacred place for Buddhists. Here are the most significant changes:

  • In the twelfth century, under the leadership of King Nissankamalla, 73 statues of Buddha were covered in gold in the temples, after which the temple became known as the Golden Cave Temple.
  • In the 18th century significant changes were made in the architecture of the temple complex itself, as well as in the wall paintings. A whole galaxy of famous Sri Lankan artists was engaged in this. To this day, their descendants are engaged in maintenance and restoration of the temple paintings on the basis of secret family recipes for dyes.
  • In the twentieth century, the cave temples inside the rock were sheltered from the wind by an arched colonnade and pediments.

Opening Hours

The ticket office and the Museum of Buddhism and the Treasury are open from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. To buy a ticket, walk to the right of the building with the huge statue of the golden Buddha, which is located directly beside the roadway. There is a break at the ticket office from 12:30 to 13:00.

How much does it cost

It costs $10 (1,500 rupees) to visit the Dambulla temple complex for tourists. Prices may vary depending on the dollar exchange rate.

Because Dambulla temples are active, you must remove your shoes before entering. There is a shoe storage facility just upstairs in front of the cave temples and ticket control. The service costs $0.17 (25 rupees), but you can also leave your shoes for free near the temple, except that no one is responsible for their safety. No one needs regular flip-flops, but if you have expensive shoes, it is better to give them to the storage room.

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What to see

Even though the temple is called the Golden Temple, you won’t find luxuries like those at the Temple of the Buddha’s Tooth in Kandy here. The distinctive feature of the temple complex in Dambulla is a huge collection of statues of Buddha in different poses, dating back more than 2,000 years, as well as paintings telling about his birth, epiphany, renunciation, preaching and other stages of his life. Of all the ancient religious structures in Sri Lanka, the Golden Temple of Dambulla is the best preserved.

The Dambulla temple complex consists of several sites. The first of them, the Golden Temple, welcomes pilgrims and travelers under the mountain, close to the road, parking lot and bus stop. But! It is a modern structure that is indirectly related to the purpose of our trip. It houses the Buddhism Museum and administrative offices. When you buy a ticket to the Dambulla Temple Complex, you can view the museum’s exhibit as well. Mostly these are gifts that were given to the temple at different times, information about the main leaders of the monastery, their photographs, and, of course, statues of Buddha and pictures from his life.

And also, it is here, on the right, that the ticket office is located. If you go straight up to the cave temples, you have to go back down to get a ticket.

Then up the steps we head to the Dambulla cave temples, which are the five main caves that are open to the public. There are many other caves and grottoes, but they are not of particular cultural significance, as there are no paintings, statues, or other valuables preserved in them. After passing the control, we come to a platform, where before us opens a snow-white colonnade, located under a steep cliff. It is behind it that the aforementioned five cave temples are located:

  • Devarajalena
  • Maharajalena
  • Maha Alut Viharaya
  • Pachchima Viharaya
  • Dewana Alut Viharaya.

First of all, anyone who enters the first of the temple’s caves, Devaraja Vihara, sees a huge statue of the reclining Buddha, which takes up almost all the space in the temple. Pilgrims and tourists have to crowd in here to see all the details of the setting.

This is also where worshippers come to pray, where ministers bring food as an offering to the Buddha, and where candles, lamps, and incense are constantly lit. Because of these rituals, the walls of the cave are very smoky and the paintings are barely discernible. However, if you wish, you can see on the left side of the Buddha several episodes of his life. It may be noted that in addition to the statue of the Buddha, there are figures of his disciple Ananda, as well as a small statue of the god Vishnu at the head of the Buddha. Several more modest statues of Buddha are located in the corners of the cave. Despite the 22-century history of the cave temple, and this particular cave was created first back by King Walagambaha, all the statues have been preserved in good condition. It’s an amazing feeling to touch something so ancient!

From the crowds of the oldest cave, we move on to the no less ancient but most spacious Maharajalena (Maharaja Vihara). It is the royal cave of Dambulla. At the entrance we are greeted by a wooden statue of King Valagambaha, already known to us. In total, the cave has about 40 statues of Buddha in meditation and 10 standing statues. Only in this temple of Dambulla you can see a miracle of nature – the water that accumulates and runs along the walls among the patterns, does not obey the law of gravity: amazingly, it runs upwards, where it drips into a golden bowl, around which the statues of Buddha in deep meditation are placed! The cave is also of great interest to scholars of religious history. It is the only temple on the island where statues of the Buddha and the more ancient deities worshipped by people in the era before the birth of Buddhism are located together.

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In the small cave of the Dambulla Golden Temple, Paccima Viharaya, there is a stupa that was formerly used as a safe deposit box for the jewelry of the abbot’s wife of the monastery. However, the stupa was looted in recent times. It is the most modest cave compared to the others.

The cave, decorated by 18th century craftsmen during the reign of the last king of Kandy, Maha Alut Viharaya, is striking with a huge number of images of the Buddha – about a thousand. All of them look at you from above, seeming simultaneously similar and dissimilar to each other. The cave also features a large number of statues of Buddha – 42 standing and 13 sitting in the lotus pose. In the center on the bed is a sleeping Buddha measuring about 9 meters. All this multitude of Buddhas creates a feeling of surrealism, some kind of parallel reality, a whirlpool of thoughts and views.

The last cave on our route is Devana Alut Viharaya, the youngest. It was formerly a warehouse, but in 1915 the cave was restored by craftsmen, giving it back its sacred meaning. It is the most vivid and colorful cave because only 100 years have passed since it was decorated. There are 11 statues of Buddha as well as statues of the deities Vishnu, Kataragama, and Devata Bandara. After learning the names of the deities here, I solved the mystery of the names of a number of cities in Sri Lanka, such as Kataragama and Bandarawela.

What can be seen nearby

  • Dambulla Museum. In addition to the cult objects from the cave temples of Dambulla there are copies of cave paintings from all over Sri Lanka with historical and cultural value for Buddhists and humanity. The museum is located 100 meters along the highway to the south. Opening hours are 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The cost to visit is $1.7 (250 rupees).

  • Dambulla Somawathi Stupa (Ancient Somawathi Stupa). A completely free sight, which is located at the foot of the hill on which the Dambulla Temples are located. Usually tourists do not reach here, so there is peace and quiet. To get to the stupa, you have to go down the western slope of the hill (the map shows the location).
  • Dambulla fruit market. Don’t miss the opportunity to check out the local wholesale fruit market. Here mangoes, maracaya, pineapples, bananas, jackfruit, papaya and many other natural curiosities are transported, packed, packaged and shifted in huge quantities. It is unlikely to buy anything here, as it is sold in bulk, but it is interesting to look at the process and the scale of the trade.
  • Candy shop. The city of Dambulla is famous for its confectionery, which is widely represented in the local cafeterias and patisseries. There are factories in the area and beyond that produce a multitude of goodies made from honey, cane sugar, spices and nuts – different and little like what we usually consume. But even more amazing here are the biscuits – very natural, reminded me of the taste of my childhood. Tourists often stop by Bentota Bake House, a clean place with viands at reasonable prices.

How to get there

Dambulla is located at the intersection of the island’s main thoroughfares, so its temple complex can be a good stop on any Sri Lankan travel itinerary.

From Colombo

  • Personal Car. To get to Dambulla Cave Temples from Colombo, take the A1 Colombo – Kandy road to Warakapola and then change to the A6 Ambepussa – Trincomalle, which leads directly to Dambulla. To get to the temple you need to turn onto the A9 Kandy-Jaffna and after 2 km (4-5 minutes) the Golden Temple of Dambulla will appear on the right side. In total the road of 160 km takes about 4 hours.
  • Bus. From Colombo Central Bus Station you can take buses to Dambulla in the direction of Trincomalee, Jaffna and Anuradhapura. Pick bus numbers beginning with 15. Before boarding, find out if the bus goes through Dambulla. The travel time is 5 hours. Alternatively, you can take a bus to Kandy and then take the above directions.

From Kandy

  • Private car. The 75 kilometers north on the A9 Kandy – Jaffna takes you directly to the temples of Dambulla. They will be located on the left side of the road. Journey time is around two hours.
  • Bus. This is the cheapest way to get to Dambulla Temple Complex. The fare is $0.5 (70 rupees). Choose any bus going to Dambulla, Trincomalee, Jaffna, Anuradhapura, Habarana.
  • Tuk-tuk. You can also go to Dambula from Kandy by tuk-tuk, but it is expensive. A two-hour breeze ride will cost $20 (3,000 rupees) or more.
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From Galle, Matara, Hikkaduwa, Veligama

Getting from the southwestern and southern resort towns of Sri Lanka to Dambulla is much more difficult, but also possible. On such trips, it is better to plan to visit several sights. And there really is a lot to see in Sri Lanka. The fastest way to get to the central provinces of the island, in our case Dambulla, is to go through Colombo. Since the road network in the eastern part of the island is not very developed, and in addition, the way goes through the mountains, it takes much longer to get through the east. And there is more traffic in the western part of Sri Lanka.

  • Personal car. Take high-speed highway E01, which turns into E02, drive towards Colombo and then switch to the A1 and then to the A6 and A9 (more details in the Getting there from Colombo chapter). Routes E01 and E02 are toll roads: about 4 dollars (600 rupees). Approximate travel time to Colombo is 1 hour.
  • Bus. Another best option is to take an express bus to Maharagama, a suburb of Colombo. The cost is 3.5 dollars (500 rupees). Travel time is 90 minutes. It takes 20-30 minutes by bus #138 to Colombo Central Bus Station. The cost is $0.25 (Rs. 30). Then take the bus as per “How to get there. from Colombo”.

From Trincomalee.

  • Personal Car . You can get to Dambulla by highway A6 Ambepussa – Trincomalee and in the town turn left on highway A9 Kandy – Jaffna and after 2 kilometers (4-5 minutes) you’ll see the Golden Temple of Dambulla on the right side. The way to the temple complex takes a little less than two hours (the distance – 100 km).
  • Bus. Any bus to Colombo, Kandy or Kurunegala will take you to Dambulla bus stop. Remember to tell the conductor or driver that the Dambulla Golden Temple stop is for you. Be guided by the time – just over two hours.

There is no train connection to Dambulla. You can get to Habarana or Kandy by train and then take a tuk-tuk or bus to Dambulla. The trip will be relatively cheap, but you will waste time. In addition, you will have to pay for the tuk-tuk or bus from the train station to the temple.

Dambulla – the gold and cave temple in Sri Lanka | Dambulla

Dambulla

Hello! Our independent journey through Sri Lanka continues. Exploring the attractions of the Cultural Triangle, we came to the small town of Dambulla, famous throughout the country for the cave complex and the golden temple. It is a rock temple with a huge statue of Buddha sitting at the entrance and other ancient statues of the Enlightened One in the caves themselves. I had wanted to see it for a long time, and now I finally succeeded. The place was ennobled by one of the kings of Anuradhapura in gratitude for a 14-year shelter. Now Dambulla has become a pilgrimage site for Buddhists from all over the world. What is the golden or cave temples of Dambulla, what is interesting about this place, how to get there and explore I will tell in this article.

Dambulla is

Dambulla

Dambulla (Dambulla) is not a very large city in the central province of Matale of Sri Lanka, known since ancient times. Tourists come here exclusively for the Golden Temple and caves hollowed out in the rock (cave temple of the I century BC), where there are many statues of Buddha. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Basic information

Title Dambulla Golden and Cave Temple (தம்புள்ளை, Dambulla Cave Temple)
Where is it 148 km from the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, the nearest city is Matale
GPS coordinates 7° 51′ 0″ N, 80° 39′ 0″ E
What is known for A collection of Buddha statues in rock caves and a long history
When was founded First century BC.
Number of visitors Over 2 million people a year

Description

Dambulla is called the golden rock for a reason: the king of Anuradhapura Valagambahu, who lived in the first century B.C., who fled from persecution, had the place gilded in gratitude. The king hid in Dambulla for 14 years, and when he regained the throne, did not forget about the salvation. A thousand years later another king also showed generosity to the monastery. And the rock literally became gold.

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Dambulla 16

Dambulla’s main attractions, the golden and cave temples, are on a 340-meter-long granite solitary rock, located right in the middle of the city. The entrance to the mountain, home to Dambulla, Asia’s largest cave temple, is adorned with a 30-meter statue of Buddha, virtually the largest in Asia. But, of course, it cannot be compared to the Buddha on Hainan Island (China). The Chinese statue is 71 meters high and is twice as tall as the Golden Buddha in Dambulla. And the caves are higher, with a stone staircase leading to them.

Dambulla 18

Inside the mountain there are numerous niches (5 caves and 25 rock cells), the surface of which is painted with Buddhist paintings (more than 1500 paintings with a total area of about 2100 m 2 ). There are 153 large statues of Buddha, 73 of which are covered with gold, as well as three statues of kings of Sri Lanka and 4 statues of gods and goddesses. All of them are well preserved, despite the fact that some are over 2,000 years old.

Dambulla cave temple

Statues of Buddha and King Walagambahu inside the cave complex

Dambulla on video:

How to get there

Dambulla, like Istanbul, stands at the crossroads of many roads. Therefore, it is easy to get to Dambulla from Anuradhapura, Kandy or Polonnaruwa:

Dambulla 02

  • By bus : the bus stop is by the clock tower, it is 1.5 from the cave temple. The bus goes from Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura and Kandy to Dambula. The travel time is 2 hours and the ticket costs 50 rupees. From Sigiriya you can get there in just 40 minutes, paying only 20 rupees for the fare. The capital Colombo and Dambulla are 148 km apart, it is 4 hours by bus and the fare is 100-200 rupees.
  • By train: The railway station is called Habarana and is located 23 km from Dambulla. There are trains from Colombo, Trincomalee and Batticaloa. From the station you can easily get to the city by local bus or tuk-tuk.
  • By car : The most convenient way to travel around the Cultural Triangle is by rented car or with a driver-guide. Such a trip costs $150-200 for 3 days. Parking at the temple is 50 rupees.

We traveled through this part of Sri Lanka just by car with a driver, and I can definitely say that it was very convenient and cost and time efficient.

Dambulla on a map

Hotels

I learned that eco-tourism is very popular in Dambulla , and some of the hotels are attractions in themselves. For example, one such hotel called Heritance Kandalama, which stands on the side of a cliff at the edge of the forest, is literally made of everything natural. Here you can live in harmony with the environment, and the walk from the room to the reception is like a road through the jungle. To live in such a hotel is simply a unique experience.

Dambulla hotels

Room at the Heritance Kandalama Hotel

Best inexpensive hotels in Dambulla:

See all hotels in Dambulla here →

Dambulla Temple

Dambulla sights

When we arrived in Dambulla, I thought the cave complex was the only thing to see in town. However, it turned out that this was not the case.

It turns out that not far from Dambulla there is the only tree nursery in the arid zone of Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, much of the forest in the area where the Cultural Triangle is located has been cut down. Now, however, the unique plants of this area are being restored.

Nevertheless, we, like almost everyone else, came here for the Cave Temple. The driver dropped us off right at the entrance, and we decided to look around first.

Golden Temple Dambulla

The Golden Temple

The Dambulla Golden Temple (Dambulla Rajamaha Viharaya) was built in 2000. It is represented by a 30 meter statue of Buddha, typical sculptures for a Buddhist shrine – meditating monks, elephants and so on.

  • Nearby is a museum. Admission to the museum for a fee of 100 rupees. It is open from 7.30 to 17.30.
  • Nearby is a gilded stupa. I liked it very much: the stupa though small, but it shines brightly in the sun. And inside the temples are also statues of Buddha!

Dambulla Sri Lanka

Elephants at the entrance to the Golden Temple

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Golden Temple

Cave Temple in Dambulla

You have to climb up to the caves (100-150 meters). The ascent is not as difficult as on Sigiriya, but with the strong sun you can quickly tire yourself out. In addition, you have to be careful when dealing with the monkeys. The ascent time is 10 minutes.

  • The cost of a ticket to the mountain for foreigners is 1,500 rupees. And you can buy tickets only at the bottom. The ticket office is located in an inconspicuous place on the right side of the Golden Temple.
  • Opening hours: 7.30 am – 6 pm. Break for lunch: 12.30 – 13.00

Important ! In the caves can walk barefoot only. Shoes must be deposited at a designated place at the entrance to the cave temple. The cost of footwear storage – 25 rupees. You must also be decently dressed – knees and shoulders must be covered.

Dambulla 05

Tip . Don’t forget to scare away the monkeys, otherwise the sweets and fruit bought on the way will end up in their captivity! Monkeys – creatures stubborn!

There are five caves in the complex, and in each you will see different images of Buddha. There are so many of them that the eyes really run wide open. If you are not interested in Buddhism, the place may seem boring. But the people of Sri Lanka consider it their duty to visit the Golden Mountain.

Dambulla 11

Buddhas in a cave temple

Dambulla 06

Dambulla cave temple

Statues of Buddha and King Valagambahu

Dambulla 07

Corridor with columns

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Dambulla 17

The first Buddhist broadcasting station

The paintings and frescoes on the ceilings of the caves are also of great value. The paintings, according to scientists, are quite ancient, but the frescoes were created in the XV-XVIII centuries.

Dambulla what to see

Dambulla is rich in Buddha statues

dambulla frescoes

Unique paintings of Dambulla

And in the second cave is a source of holy water, which according to the locals, has healing properties and deserves a separate worship.

Dambulla Cave Stupa

A small stupa inside the cave

But in general, everything happens as elsewhere. Adults respectfully gaze at the Buddha statues, while young people entertain themselves outside and try to talk to foreigners who are learning about Sri Lankan culture.

Dambulla temple

The road to the caves is not too difficult, but many tourists still advise to prepare well. Our advice is to beware of the sun – wear headgear and always have water with you.

It is unpleasant that the caves are very poorly lit. On the one hand you can feel yourself in a really ancient place, but on the other hand – to see anything is very difficult. Especially the details of the paintings and frescoes.

Lying Buddha at Dambulla cave temple

Dambulla photo

Another Buddha in a relaxed state

Our impressions

To be honest, Dambulla did not strike us as such a colorful attraction in Sri Lanka. Compared to Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura and Sigiriya, I would call it the most boring place. Although we are into both history and Buddhist culture, we didn’t find anything unique here.

dambulla 08

We had already seen more distinctive caves in Mihintala. And the structure itself seemed similar to a similar temple-monastery in Sagayna that we visited on a trip to Myanmar. Although the caves of Sri Lanka are certainly older than the Myanmar ones, I can definitely say that if we had not visited Dambulla, I would not have been too disappointed.

Dambulla 10

The good thing is that it doesn’t take long to see the rock temple, and the tickets aren’t as expensive compared to other historical parks in the country. And as a break from the road, why not? Especially since we also had lunch here before heading to Kandy.

Dambulla reviews

And on the way to the caves there are these beautiful views, which makes it possible to consider Dambulla as an eco-tourism destination

What else to see in Sri Lanka

From this small island, Buddhism penetrated the countries of Southeast Asia, so it is to Sri Lanka that the Thais and Laotians owe their religion.

Dambulla 14

What else is important to know about Sri Lanka?

To get to the city of Dambulla in Sri Lanka and see the Golden Temple, whose caves contain hundreds of Buddhas and other attractions, you need to buy a ticket and fly by plane to the international airport Bandaranaike, located in the capital Colombo. There are direct flights from Moscow to Colombo several times a day.

1. see flights to Sri Lanka on the Aviasales website → 2.

2. To find hotels at the best price we use the site Bucking.com → 2.

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