Suitcase and World: The Golden Temple. Dambulla.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Golden Temple. Dambulla.

T he Golden Temple of Dambulla is the largest and most well preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka.

The temple complex dates back to the 1st century BC.  What makes it unique is that it has five caves that were  built at the base of a 150 meter high rock during the Anuradhapura (1st century BC to 993 AD) and Polonnaruwa periods (1073 to 1250).

The Golden Temple of Dambulla is still functional and remains the best-preserved ancient heritage landmark in Sri Lanka.

Inside the caves are murals and statues are 153 Buddha statues, 3 statues of Sri Lankan kings and statues of Hindu gods and goddesses, including Vishnu and Ganesh.  The murals cover an area of 2,100 square meter and depict important Buddhist and Hindu images.

According to Sri Lankan history, burial sites found inside the caves indicate that prehistoric Sri Lankans were inhabitants dating as far back as the 4th century BC.  But it is believed that it was King Valagambahu who converted the caves into a temple in the 1st century BC. Exiled from Anuradhapura, he sought refuge here from South Indian rebels for 15 years. After reclaiming his capital, the King built a temple in thankful worship.  Over the centuries, other kings added to the complex and by the 11th century AD, the caves had become a major religious center.  In 1190, King Nissanka Malla gilded the caves and added about 70 Buddha statues and during the 18th century, the caves were restored and painted by the Kandyan Kings.

Entrance to the cave temples run alongside the base of the rock.   Of the five caves, only three are worth visiting.

Devaraja Viharaya (Cave of the Divine King) is the first cave.   An account of the founding of the monastery is recorded in a 1st-century Brahmi inscription over the entrance to the cave. This cave is dominated by the 14-meter statue of the Buddha, hewn out of the rock. At his feet is Buddha's favorite pupil, Ananda; at his head, Vishnu, who is said to have used his divine powers to create the caves.

Maharaja Viharaya (Cave of the Great Kings) is the 2nd and largest of the caves.  It measures about 52 meters from east to west, 23 meters from the entrance to the back and is 7 meters in height at its highest point.  The cave contains 16 standing and 40 seated statues of Buddha.  Hindu deities are also represented here, as are the kings Valagamba and Nissanka Malla, and Ananda.

There is also a dagoba inside the cave. Valuable tempera paintings on the cave ceiling dating from the 18th century depict scenes from Buddha's life.

Maha Alut Viharaya (Great New Monastery) is the 3rd cave and it is famous for its ceiling and wall paintings which were done in the style typical of the Kandy period.  It's believed the paintings were done during the reign of King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747–1782). In addition to the paintings, there are also 50 Buddha statues and one of the King himself.

Pachima Viharaya (Western Monastery)  is the 4th and the smallest of the caves.  It features a small dagoba, called the “Soma Chaithiya” in honor of King Walagamba’s second wife Soma Devi. The dagoba had been broken into by thieves who believed it contained jewelery belonging to the Queen.

Devana Alut Viharaya (Second New Monastery) is the fifth and last cave.  It was originally used as a store room before being converted to a shrine room by the Kandyan Kings. The cave features a dozen Buddha images, including a large reclining Buddha, made of stone and plaster as well as statues of some Hindu deities, including the god Vishnu.

The Golden Temple is the latest addition to the temple complex. Built in 2000 with a Japanese grant, the temple features a East-Asian styled, 30 meter tall golden Buddha statue. It is said to be the tallest Buddha statue in the “Dharmachakra Mudra” or “Wheel of Dharma pose”, representing how the Buddha sat when he gave his first sermon after enlightenment.

Dambulla is located stone's throw from Sigiriya so I will definitely plan a stop here to check out the amazing cave temples!