Sri Lanka Travel Tours

Dambulla Cave Temple

Dambulla Cave Temple

Sum up

Dambulla Cave Temple is one of the most popular religious cultural sites in Sri Lanka, attracting tourists from across the globe. A sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries, it is the largest, best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. This World Heritage site has the largest number of Buddha statues all housed in one place, including a colossal, 14-metre-long figure of the recumbent Buddha carved out of the rock.

Duration: 1 hours

Best Time: Year-round

Additional Information

The temple centres upon five cave shrines about 110m above ground level. Its rock ceiling is one large sweep of colourful frescoes, some of which date back over 2,000 years, which depict Buddhist mythology, and the tales of the Buddha’s previous births. Here are some of Sri Lanka’s most important religious statues and paintings.

Dambulla Cave Temple has been inhabited by forest-dwelling Buddhist hermits since at least the 3rd century BC. Historians have dated the use of the caves by the presence of pre-Christian inscriptions in Brahmi below the drip-ledge of the central cave.

It first gained significance when it was used as a refuge for King Valagambahu in 1st century BC. Concealed here by the local monks when he fled his throne at Anuradhapura because of invasions by south Indians, Valagambahu showed his gratitude by building a magnificent cave temple for them, an undertaking upon which the complex of Buddhist image houses are based to this day. Tradition has it that the king enlarged some of the natural caverns.

With the help of royal patronage, the cave shrines underwent several renovations before assuming their present interior forms in the 18C. The renovations carried out by Kandyan artists of the 17 and 18C have little in common with the classic school of Sinhalese painting which is seen in Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya, the latter which can be seen from the caves about 20kms away.

For further information on Sri Lanka’s main historic sites please see our regional guide to the Cultural Triangle.

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