A sacred pilgrimage site for followers of Buddhism for over 22 centuries Dambulla is the largest and the best preserved cave monastery in Sri Lanka. With more than 80 drip ledged caves in the area, the temple features five main caves that make up the complex. These caves were already established as important monasteries as far back as the 3rd century BC. They provided a refuge for King Valagambahu in 1st century BC and returning to his throne at Anuradhapura, he turned the caves into temples for the monks who sheltered him, and the Dambulla Cave Temple complex holds great religious significance even today.
Serving as one extended Buddhist image house, its rock ceiling and interior walls are covered with murals – an area of 2,100 sq metres with some of the frescos dating back over 2,000 years. The paintings show Buddhist mythology, and tales of Buddha's previous births. This cave complex has the largest number of Buddha statues housed in one place. The first cave known as the ‘Devaraja Lena’ or ‘the cave of the divine king’ houses a giant 14 foot reclining Buddha carved out of the rock. There are also 157 statues of Lord Buddha, ancient kings, gods and goddesses. These are considered to be some of the most important religious art of the region.
Today, a giant golden Buddha statue towers over the ancient cave temples – a new addition that also draws pilgrims from around Sri Lanka, and across the world.