Huff and Puff -The Stairs Were Rough

Trip Start Jun 16, 2010
Trip End Jun 30, 2010

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dambulla Cave Temple

Dambulla Cave Temple (Golden Temple of Dambulla) is the best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. The caves were carved out of a huge rock which towers 520 feet above the surrounding area. The complex is made up of five caves, each of which contains statues and paintings depicting Lord Buddha and his life. A total of 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan kings and four statues of gods and goddesses also stand in the site. Most familiar are the statues of the Hindu deities of Visnu and Ganesh. The murals within the caves are said to cover an area over 22, 000 square feet. UNESCO designated the Golden Temple of Dambulla a World Heritage Site in 1991.

The Dambulla Cave Temple has been accepting pilgrimages for over twenty-two centuries. What makes this temple stand out amongst other Southern Asian temple caves is that it has been carved out of the rock, as the inhabitants were not fortunate enough to have a natural hollow to work with. The complex consists of five sanctuaries:

-         Cave of the Divine King

         Cave of the Great Kings

         Great New Monastery

         Two lesser caves of more recent creation

Though the caves have been in continuous use for more than two millenniums, they were developed in stages.

The Dambulla cave still operates as a monastery and remains one of the best-preserved ancient sites in Sri Lanka. The complex dates from the third and second centuries B.C.E., and served as one of the largest and most important monasteries in Sri Lanka. It is believed that King Valagamba converted the caves to a temple in the first century B.C.E., after the monks meditating there gave him refuge from his enemies during his exile from Anuradapura. After returning to the throne, he converted the caves into a magnificent rock temple as a sign of gratitude to the monks. In the following years, many other kings added to the complex and by the eleventh century, the caves had become a major religious center. King Nissanka Malla gilded the caves and added about seventy Buddha statues in 1190 C.E. During the eighteenth century, the Kandyan Kings restored and painted the caves.

Cave of the Divine King

The first cave, called Devaraja lena or "Cave of the Divine King," exhibits a beautiful account of the founding of the monastery. The story is recorded in a first century Brahmi inscription over the entrance of the cave. The cave has been carved out of solid rock and contains and impressive, forty-two foot statue of Buddha that appears to have been repainted countless times in the course of its history. Ananda, Buddha's favorite pupil is sitting at the feet of the Buddha statue, and a likeness of Visnu can be seen at his head. Legend says that it was Visnu’s divine powers that were used to create the cave.

Cave of the Great Kings

The second cave is the largest, and contains sixteen standing and forty seated statues of Lord Buddha. Also present are the gods Saman and Visnu, both decorated with garlands left by visiting pilgrims. The statues of King Vattagamani and King Nissanka Malla also stand in the cave – hence the nickname Maharaja lena, "Cave of the Great Kings."

Wooden figures of the Bodhisattvas Maitreya and Avalokiteshvara or Natha stand at the side of the Buddha statue carved out of the solid rock in the the left side of the room. A spring that is said to have healing powers drips out of a crack in the ceiling. Valuable paintings on the cave ceiling date from the eighteenth century and tell the story of Buddha's life, from the dream of Mahamaya to temptation by the demon Mara.

Great New Monastery

The third cave, the Maha Alut Vihara, the "Great New Monastery," received ceiling and wall paintings in the typical Kandy style during the reign of King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747-1782), who was known as Buddhist revivalist. In addition to the fifty Buddha statues, a statue of King Rajasinha stands in the cave.

Fourth and Fifth Caves

The smaller fourth and fifth caves date from a more recent time. The paintings and statues in these caves lack the skilled craftmanship present in the works contained in the other caves. There is a small Vishnu Devale, between the first and second caves, which attracts throngs of worshipers.

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