Dambulla – gold and cave temple in Sri Lanka | Dambulla
Hello! Our independent journey in Sri Lanka continues. While exploring the attractions of the Cultural Triangle, we came to the small town of Dambulla, famous throughout the country for its cave complex and 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 (Dambulla) is not a very large town 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.
|Title||Dambulla Golden and Cave Temple (தம்புள்ளை, Dambulla Cave Temple)|
|Where is it||148 km from the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, the nearest town 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|
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.
Dambulla’s main attractions, the golden and cave temples, are located 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 tall and is twice as tall as the Golden Buddha in Dambulla. And the caves are higher, with a stone staircase leading to them.
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.
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:
- By bus: The bus stop is at 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
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 a hotel like this is simply a unique experience.
Room at the Heritance Kandalama Hotel
Best inexpensive hotels in Dambulla:
See all hotels in Dambulla here →
Attractions in Dambulla
When we arrived in Dambulla, I thought the cave complex was the only thing to see in town. However, it turned out that it wasn’t.
It turns out that not far from Dambulla 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.
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 is charged separately – 100 rupees. It is open from 7.30 am 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!
Elephants at the entrance to the 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 need 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.
Tip . Don’t forget to scare the monkeys away, or else the candy and fruit you buy on the way will be captured by them! Monkeys are stubborn creatures!
There are five caves in the complex, and in each one 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.
Buddhas in a cave temple
Statues of Buddha and King Valagambahu
Corridor with columns
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 is rich in Buddha statues
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.
A small stupa inside the cave
But in general, everything happens as elsewhere. Adults are respectfully gazing at the Buddha statues, while young people are having fun outside and trying to talk to foreigners who are learning about Sri Lankan culture.
The road to the caves is not very difficult, but many tourists advise to prepare well. Our advice is to beware of the sun – wear a hat 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.
Another Buddha in a relaxed state
To be honest, Dambulla did not strike us as such a striking 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dambulla Golden Cave Temple (Sri Lanka): detailed guide to the temple with photos
Dambulla Golden Cave Temple is one of the main attractions and Buddhist shrines of Sri Lanka. Inside the five caves you will find 153 statues of Buddha (many of them more than 2000 years old), 3 statues of Sri Lankan kings, 4 statues of gods and goddesses, wall paintings with a total area of more than 2 thousand m 2 . This article will help you enjoy visiting the temple in Dambulla, find the most interesting statues and temple elements, and understand who or what is depicted in front of you.
From this article you will learn:
Why it’s worth visiting the Golden Cave Temple of Dambulla
- Understand the meanings of the various postures and gestures of the Buddha,
- Get to know the ancient Sri Lankan rock art ,
- Learn what the ancient kings of Sri Lanka looked like,
- Study the history of Buddha and Sri Lanka through rock art,
- Enjoy the beautiful views of the valley surrounding the temple (on a clear day you can see Sigiriya, which is 17 km in a straight line from Dambulla).
Stay connected during your vacation and travels in Sri Lanka – buy a discounted SIM card with 4G Internet from the local operator and get it at the airport in Colombo.
History of the Dambulla Cave Temple
Back in the first century BC, the ancient king of Sri Lanka Valagamba was overthrown from the throne and expelled from Anuradhapura by invaders from South India. He found refuge in Dambulla and later, 14 years later, after regaining his throne, the king thanked the monks who gave him shelter.
The king invested in the construction of a cave temple, transforming the humble monastery into an impressive Buddhist shrine and pilgrimage site for many thousands of Buddhists.
Ornate statues of the Buddha in meditation pose in Cave No. 2
In later years, other kings of Sri Lanka helped develop the cave temple, renovating and decorating it.
In the XII century, 73 statues of Buddha were covered with gold – since then the temple began to be called the Golden Cave Temple . The memory of the most generous kings was immortalized in the form of statues, wall paintings and even in the form of a stone book.
What’s important to remember about Dambulla Temple
Temple hours: 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Cost of admission tickets: ~ $10 in rupees. Tickets must be purchased downstairs at the ticket booth near the giant golden statue of Buddha. Do not rush upstairs to the temple. Buy tickets first!
You can see the location of the temple and the ticket office on the interactive map of Dambulla.
The ticket booths for the cave temple are to the right of the golden Buddha statue and museum
The Dambulla Golden Cave Temple is not a museum or a place to entertain tourists, it is an active temple and a place of pilgrimage for many Buddhists .
So don’t expect to see plaques and signatures under statues and images, a clean and quiet museum, buffets or booths with drinks and sandwiches.
How to Dress and What to Take with You to the Temple
Dress according to the rules of a functioning Buddhist temple:
- clothing should cover the shoulders and knees , and not be transparent;
- Headdresses must be removed (this applies to both men and women, and even to children);
- It is allowed to walk around the temple only barefoot (I highly recommend to take socks, so that you don’t have to move on the heated stone by small jogging).
You can leave your shoes in a special kiosk in front of the entrance to the temple (the service is chargeable – 25 rupees for one pair of shoes).
Dambulla is a sacred pilgrimage site for Buddhists in Sri Lanka
The cave temple is located on a mountain and on the way to the temple you have to climb many stairs. So it is worth taking a bottle of drinking water with you.
At the bottom of the stairs there are usually vendors selling water, but don’t expect to see them there early in the morning.
Beware of monkeys who like to take food from tourists and pushy vendors trying to sell various trinkets.
Tricky monkey near the temple of Dambulla A bored (means satiated) beauty
What is the Dambulla cave temple
Dambulla Cave Temple is a complex of 5 caves carved into the rock. Three of the caves are ancient and were carved in the rock in the I century BC (they are over 2000 years old), the other two are no older than the XVIII century.
In front of the caves is a courtyard with a sacred tree bothi . Under the same tree Buddha reached enlightenment.
In the right corner, almost immediately next to the entrance to the temple, is a large stone book, which in the ancient Sinhalese language, recorded the deeds of King Nissak Malla, one of the benefactors of the temple in the XII century AD. It is thanks to him that the temple began to be called the Golden Temple.
Dambulla Cave Temple is 5 caves carved into the rock
In order to enjoy a visit to the Dambulla Golden Cave Temple, it is worth realizing that you are facing a historical and cultural attraction, not just caves with lots of Buddha statues, as tourists write in many reviews.
I can offer 4 options for a really interesting visit to Dambulla:
- Take a tour with a Russian speaking guide, who will tell you everything, explain everything and answer all your questions,
- Take a tour with an English speaking guide, which is cheaper than the Russian one,
- read this article to the end and save (or write down) exactly what you should pay attention to when visiting the caves,
- Replace a visit to the temple in Dambulla with a trip to Sigiriya for a better experience.
Next, I will describe each cave, moving from right to left (from the entrance, into the depths of the temple). I will deliberately not show all the statues and drawings in the photos, but I will give clear instructions so you can find them – adding a bit of an exploratory note to your visit to the Dambulla cave temple.
Cave 1: Maiden Raja Viharaya – Temple of the King of the Gods
A tiny cave with a 14 meter tall article of a reclining Buddha that is carved out of the rock, depicting the entrance to Nirvana (death) of the Buddha. At the feet of the Buddha stands one of his most faithful disciples named Ananda. The walls of the cave are covered with drawings and a layer of soot from incense and oil lamps.
The 14-meter statue of the reclining Buddha in Cave 1
Next to the entrance of the first cave is a small chapel dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. If you’re lucky, you’ll see pilgrims with offerings, priests performing traditional rituals, and a coconut-breaking ritual (if the coconut breaks, the plan will come true).
Cave 2: Maha Raja Viharaya – Temple of the Great King
This is the largest cave in the Dambulla Golden Temple. The cave’s dimensions are 52 meters wide, 23 meters deep and 7 meters high (at the highest point).
On the right side of the cave is a bowl into which sacred water constantly drips from the ceiling. Even in a bad drought, the source of water does not dry up. The water is used for Buddhist rituals.
The Biggest Cave in the Dambulla Golden Cave Temple
The ceiling of the cave is painted with stories from the life of Buddha (if you want to know how Buddhism arose and who Buddha is, I recommend watching Films on Buddhism and the Life of Buddha).
In the cave there are 16 standing statues of Buddha and 40 Buddhas in meditation postures (sitting with both hands folded in front of you). You will have to find the following statues:
- A wooden statue of King Valagamba, the same one who began the centuries-old history of the cave temple of Dambulla. His right hand is raised in a gesture of teaching and he stands near the exit of the cave. Note how the kings of Sri Lanka were dressed in the first century BC.
- The most impressive statue in this cave is the stone-carved statue of the standing Buddha under the arch with the ancient mythical animals of the Makara (the Indian analogy of the dragon). The Buddha is holding a robe with his left hand and his right hand is depicted in a gesture of protection. If you look closely, you can see the remnants of the gilding under a layer of paint. The statue is on the left side of the cave, opposite the exit.
- To the left of the standing Buddha statue from the previous point is the god Maitreya with a lotus in his left hand, the patron saint of Kandy, the cultural capital of Sri Lanka.
- To the right of the Buddha stands a statue of the bodhisattva Natha, one of Sri Lanka’s patrons,
- Behind the bodhisattva Natha are two other notable statues:
- The blue one is of the god Vishnu (most commonly called Upulvan in Sri Lanka),
- The golden one is of the god Saman (the keeper of Buddha’s imprint on top of Adam’s Peak).
Cave 3: Maha Alut Viharaya – The Great New Temple
This temple is one of the youngest – created in the 18th century AD by one of the last kings of Kandy (Kirti Sri Raja Singh). There are 56 statues of Buddha.
The ceiling of the cave depicts more than a thousand Buddhas in a pose of meditation (the frescoes are painted in the Kandi style).
Note the 3 statues:
Cave 4: Passima (or Paschima) Viharaya – Eastern Temple
The temple in this cave was created in the first century BC. The small stupa in the center of the cave was partially destroyed by treasure hunters who hoped to find the jewels of the queen and consort of King Walagamba, the founder of the Dambulla temple, inside it.
Note the statue of the seated Buddha surrounded by sea dragons – it is considered one of the most beautiful statues in the complex (if you consider that it is over 2,000 years old):
Buddha in a pose of meditation under an archway of sea dragons
Cave 5: Dewana Alut Viharaya – The Newest Temple
This is the newest of all the temples and was rebuilt from a warehouse in the 18th century AD.
On the walls there are still paintings from the time of the Kingdom of Kandy and traces of unprofessional restoration in the 1920s (it seems the restorers were children).
In the temple you will find 11 statues of Buddha. Unlike the other caves, where the statues are made of stone or wood, the fifth cave uses brick and plaster.
Notice the wall paintings at the feet of a 10 meter high reclining Buddha, which depict
That’s it, we are done with the caves. It is time to go down the temple mountain. But take your time. Just after leaving the temple, behind the shoe store, there is an area with a beautiful view of the surroundings.
What else can be seen near Dambulla
- The famous rock fortress of Sigiriya,
- Cultural capital of Sri Lanka – the city of Kandy, ,
- Historical attraction – the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.
Many interesting excursions from Dambulla can be found on the GetYourGuide website.