The largest and the best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka with more than 80 drip ledged caves in the area, Dambulla Cave Temple or the Golden Temple of Dambulla was built in the 1st century BC. and is one of the finest examples of cave construction in ancient Sri Lanka.
The five main caves that make the main temple is adorned with murals and statues depicting the last life and the previous lives of Gautama Buddha as well as the main kings of Sri Lanka and gods and goddesses and is considered to be one of the most important and evocative religious art in the region. Towering over the ancient cave temple rises a golden Buddha, the latest addition to a temple that is over 2000 years old.
The murals that cover an area of 2100 square meters were created throughout the centuries with the first Buddha statue and the mural being created nearly 2000 years ago. Since then a succession of Kings and provincial rulers had continued to add to the beauty and majesty of the temple, increasing its size with every update.
Today the main temple composes five caves of varying sizes and splendor each dedicated to Buddha, divinity and Kings and the first and the second caves built during the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa eras are the most elegant and grand of them all.
The first cave known as the ‘Devaraja Lena’ or the cave of the divine king houses a giant 14 feet reclining Buddha cleaved out of the rock with his faithful disciple Ananda Thera at his foot and Vishnu, the god-king standing over him.
The second and the largest cave in the complex is the Cave of the Great Kings or the ‘Maharaja Lena’. With a total of 56 standing and seated Buddha Statues and the personas of the Kings who contributed to the development of the temples is immortalized forever, along with the golden Buddhas within.
Yet the history of the Dambulla Cave complex spreads far beyond the civilization itself. Archeologists assume that the prehistoric Sri Lankans would have lived in these cave complexes way before Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka mainly based on the ancient human remaining found in the area.