There are some places that can only be understood when seen in real life. No photo could prepare me for the grand and incredibly deep impact that the Golden Temple, also known as Dambulla Cave Temple or Dambulla Rock Temple, had on me.
To think that I almost dismissed it as “just another temple”, of which we had seen plenty during our itinerary across Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, is making me shake with disapproval.
The Dambulla Cave Temple was built in the first century BC and is considered one of Sri Lanka’s eleven UNESCO sites. It is the largest, best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. The Buddhist mural paintings (covering an area of 2,100 m2 ) are of particular importance, as are the over 150 statues that can be found in the five sanctuaries that make up this Buddhist monastery. It is said that Vishnu used his divine powers to create the caves.
The Dambulla Cave Temple is located in the city of the same name, about an hour’s drive north of Kandy in the center of Sri Lanka. It was built on top of a hill and one needs to walk up quite a few steps on the mountain’s side to reach it. But oh the climb is worth it.
At the entrance, we had to take our shoes off before we could walk into the complex. The sanctuaries, or caves, were carved on the mountain’s rock and a large boulder hangs above their entrance. The caves are painted and decorated with 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan Kings and four statues of gods and goddesses in all colors and positions. It is truly breathtaking.
As soon as we walked into the first one we were mesmerized at the beauty and detail of the frescoes. The artists had covered every single wall and ceiling with beautiful paintings depicting scenes of Buddhist. Although the caves are thought to have been inhabited before Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka, they were turned into a monastery afterwards.
The paint on the many walls and ceilings has been preserved and repainted numerous times to show today’s brightness and clarity. Some of them may have been repainted as late as during the 20th century. One of the caves has 1,500 Buddha paintings.
On the first one there is a reclining Buddha that measures 15m and is decorated in golden paint. In the second cave, the most impressive and largest one, there is a dagoba and a dripping spring through a crack on the ceiling believed to have healing powers. The low ceiling is completely covered in paintings in red and golden hues. I was immediately transported somewhere far away back in time. The last cave has no historical value as it was built in the twentieth century.
Dambulla Rock Temple was a highlight of my trip around the Cultural North. The beauty of the paintings and the magic of a dark space dimly lit and covered in beautifully detailed paintings cannot be described in words.
If you’d like to read more about Sri Lanka, check these posts…
- Amangalla, a 17th century vintage Aman resort in Galle, Sri Lanka
- Safari Guide: 10 things you may not know about safaris
- Guide to spotting leopards in Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park
- Golden Dambulla Cave Temple – an epic encounter with Sri Lankan history
- A safari between the sea and the leopards at Uga Chena Huts