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Dambulla Rock Temple - A view from our expert author


rock temple dambulla sri lanka by Jaromir Chalabala shutterstock© Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

Explore the cave shrines and stunning frescoes in this vast 340m-high rock mass.

As if the hedonism of the hotels in the region and the chance to indulge in broadening one’s environmental awareness were not enough reason to visit Dambulla, there is a cultural one too. The rock temple here dates from the 1st century bc. It is a vast isolated rock mass 340m high and 1.6km round the base. The caves in the area sheltered King Valagam Bahu during 14 years of exile from Anuradhapura, 65km distant. When he regained the throne he set about creating rock temples in the caves, turning them into shrines.

In the first cave is an image of a recumbent Buddha that is 15m long and cut out of the rock. Deities associated with Buddhism surround it. Some of the wall paintings that have been discovered seem to date from earlier times. However, the frescoes on the walls and ceilings are from the 15th to 18th centuries. In the second cave, considered the finest, are 150 life-size images of the Buddha. The ceiling is covered with frescoes depicting great events in the life of Buddha as well as notable landmarks in the history of the Sinhalese.

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