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What Is the Golden Temple of Dambulla?

The five caves in the Golden Temple of Dambulla contain paintings and statues representing Buddha.
Sri Lanka lies below India in the Indian Ocean.
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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2014
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The Golden Temple of Dambulla, also known as the Dambulla Cave Temple, is a temple in central Sri Lanka. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1991. It is the most preserved of the various cave temples in Sri Lanka, and is a popular tourist attraction and religious site.

There are five major caves that make up the Golden Temple of Dambulla, although there are more than 80 caves in the surrounding area, all with their own attractions. Each cave is covered in various paintings and filled with statues, representing the Lord Buddha and showing his life and events surrounding the pantheon of Buddhism. The five caves that make up the Golden Temple of Dambulla are the Cave of the Great Kings, the Great New Monastery, the Cave of the Divine King, and two other, lesser caves, which are not usually given their own epithet.

The caves had been occupied long before the arrival of Buddhism to Sri Lanka, with the oldest graves dating back to around 700 BCE. Buddhists arrived sometime around 100 BCE and began creating the works that now line the caves. The Golden Temple of Dambulla is located only 12 miles (19 km) away from the site of Sigiriya, another Buddhist World Heritage Site.

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The Cave of the Great Kings is the largest of the caves in the Golden Temple of Dambulla. It contains 40 statues representing the Lord Buddha sitting, and another 16 of the Lord Buddha standing. It also contains statues representing Vishnu and Saman, as well as statues depicting benefactors of the Golden Temple of Dambulla, King Nissanka Malla and King Vattagamani. It is the latter statues that give this cave its name, Maharaja lena, the Cave of Great Kings. A spring drips water from the ceiling into the cave, and it is rumored to have healing qualities. Paintings also adorn the walls, mostly from the 18th century, which show various scenes from the Lord Buddha's life, as well as scenes of Sri Lankan history.

The Great New Monastery is a cave which was painted in the late-18th century. It is done in what is referred to as the Kandy style, under King Kirti Sri Rajashinha. The Great New Monastery contains more than 50 statues of Lord Buddha, which were put in as part of King Rajashinha's revival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

The Cave of the Divine King is the first of the caves in the Golden Temple of Dambulla. There is an inscription over the entrance to the cave which relates the founding of the temple. The cave is almost entirely filled by an enormous statue of Lord Buddha reclining. By Lord Buddha's head is the god Vishnu, who legend states created the caves, and at his feet is Ananda, the favored student of Lord Buddha.

The Golden Temple of Dambulla contains more than 150 statues of Lord Buddha, kings, and related deities, and thousands of paintings of Lord Buddha. Although there is a small charge to visit it, it is one of the best deals in terms of World Heritage Sites to be found in Asia. Many hours can be spent exploring the caves, and the work on both the paintings and statues is of a consistently high level. With a number of other Buddhist sites found nearby, this is an area well worth visiting for travelers in Sri Lanka.

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angelBraids
Post 3

I really respect the work UNESCO does, so I'd be happy to visit their sites anywhere in the world. They have several in Sri Lanka, so after you've visited Dambulla Rock Temple you could travel to a couple more.

Potterspop
Post 2

@Acracadabra - I envy you your trip to India, that's at the top of my bucket list right now! I'm interested in Buddhist architecture and culture so here are a few tips. They aren't specific to any one place, but will help you avoid any major, unintentional, mistakes.

Nobody wears shoes inside a temple, so I like to choose sandals I can take off easily. I also carry a wrap or scarf, which is great for covering your shoulders. Generally I dress modestly but you don't have to cover your head.

Obviously temples are places of worship for Buddhism followers. Most are still actively used, and you may find yourself alongside people who are there to pray. If you keep this in mind when taking photographs or chatting to anyone then you'll be fine.

Oh and don't take pictures of or touch a Buddhist monk.

Acracadabra
Post 1

I really enjoyed reading this article as I'm planning a trip to Sri Lanka later this year. When I went to the Golden Temple of India a couple of years ago there were several rules about dress and behavior, such as covering your head and washing your feet before entering. Is it the same here?

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