Tourist’s guide to Dambulla Temple – An Ancient Landmark of Sri Lanka

There is a quiet and cozy resort town of Dambulla in Sri Lanka – you can relax there, away from the widespread modern bustle. The main attraction of this resort is the temple of Dambulla – it is located on the southern outskirts of the city, on a mountain 350 meters high above sea level.

Photo: Dambulla Temple

To visit the temple was an interesting event, and not just walking on the grottoes among the numerous sculptures, you will need some knowledge and the creation of a certain mood. This will help you better feel the atmosphere of an unusual place in Sri Lanka and will greatly enhance the impression of everything you see.

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What is the temple complex of Dambulla

Statue of a seated Buddha in Dambulla

To begin with, it is worthwhile to understand that contrary to popular belief, this famous landmark is nothing but two completely different temples. The first, the Golden Temple of Dambulla, is a relatively new building, which is a little over 250 years old. The second, the Cave Temple, is an ancient monastery complex, the age of which scientists still can not determine for sure, giving only an approximate figure: 22 centuries.

These temples in Sri Lanka combined into one complex, which was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Golden Temple is located under the mountain, next to the road, parking for cars and a bus stop. This building houses a variety of administration rooms and a Buddhist Museum. The museum’s exposition consists mainly of gifts presented at different times to the temple, photographs of the leaders of the monastery and information about them, as well as Buddha sculptures and paintings with the history of his life.

Dabullah Cave Temple outside

To get to the  Cave Temple of Dambulla , you need to climb the stairs. This temple consists of 5 main caves, open to tourists for inspection, as well as a large number of grottoes, which are of no interest due to the lack of murals, sculptures and other valuables in them. Steps lead to the platform from which the snow-white colonnade located under the sheer wall opens to the eye – behind it are the temple caves:

  • Virgin Raja Vihariya (Temple of the King of the Gods).
  • Maha Raja Vihariya (Temple of the Great King).
  • Maha Alut Viharay (Great New Temple).
  • Pachchima Viharay (Western Temple).
  • Devan Alut Viharay.

And now a little information about each of them.

Virgin Raja Vihariya

Reclining Buddha in the cave Deva Raja Vihariya

The first thing that a person who enters this cave sees is a huge 14-meter sculpture of a reclining Buddha, which occupies most of the space. It is carved from natural rock, with the back along its entire length, it remained connected to the rock.

There are 5 more statues in this cave. In the northern part there is a small figure of the god Vishnu, and in the southern – the figure of Ananda (Buddha’s disciple).

Sculptures in the cave Deva Raja, Dambulla

There is little space in this sanctuary. Pilgrims and tourists who want to take a good look at everything are forced to crowded.

Pilgrims are constantly gathering in the Virgin of Raja Vihariya, the ministers bring the offering to the Buddha – food. There are always candles and incense burning, because of which the walls are heavily smoky and the painting is almost indistinguishable. Nevertheless, on the left side of the Buddha, although badly, certain episodes from his life are visible.

Maha Raja Vihariya

Photo: Maha Raja Vihariya Cave

This most spacious, royal cave, reaches a length of 52.5 m, a width of 23 m, while the height, starting from 6.4 m, gradually decreases and in the depths of the cave its arch passes into the arch.

At the entrance there are stone statues of gatekeepers on both sides.

In total, in this sanctuary, there are 40 statues of Buddha, who is in meditation, and 10 statues of Buddha standing. The main sculptures of the cave are a statue of Buddha standing under an arch shaped like a dragon of Toran. The Buddha figure is placed on a round pedestal made in the form of a lotus flower.

On the right side of the entrance, on a round wide pedestal, stupas are installed, the height of which is 5.5 m. Around this pedestal there are 4 figures of Buddha sitting on the cobra rings.

All the walls and arches of the cave are painted with images of scenes from the life of the Buddha, and for this they used bright, mostly yellow paints.

Only in Maha Raja Vihariya can one observe a real natural miracle: water collects and flows along the walls without reacting to any laws of nature. Surprisingly, she strives up the walls, and from there drips into a bowl of gold – it is around this bowl that there are figures of a Buddha who is in a state of deepest meditation!

Scientists who study the history of religion, this cave of Sri Lanka is also very interesting. Indeed, in the room you can see sculptures of the Buddha and nearby figures of ancient deities, revered by people even before the advent of Buddhism.

You will be interested: Nuwara Eliya is a “city of light” in Ceylon .

Maha Alut Viharay

In the cave of Maha Alut Viharaya

This cave was framed in a sanctuary in the 18th century, ruled by Kirti Sri Rajasinha, the last king of Kandy. At the entrance to the cave is a statue of this king – the last ruler, contributing substantial amounts to the maintenance of the Cave Temple.

Photo: Dambulla Temple, Maha Alut Viharaya Cave

All the arches of the sanctuary (length 27.5 m, width 25 m, height 11 m) are covered with bright frescoes – there are about 1000 images of Buddha looking at visitors from above. There are also a lot of sculptural images of the Buddha standing and sitting in the lotus position – 55 pieces. And in the very center there is a huge 9-meter high statue of Buddha sleeping on a bed – it is very similar to the statue from the cave Deva Raja Vihariya. Because of so many Buddhas painted in bright yellow, a person has a strange sensation of moving to some other reality.

Pachchima Viharaya

Photo: Pachchima Viharaya

Pachchima Viharay Cave of the Dambulla Temple in Sri Lanka is the most modest when compared to the rest. Its length is 16.5 m, width is 8 m, and the arch, sharply lowering in the depths of the cave, reaches a height of 8 m.

There are 10 Buddha sculptures in this sanctuary. The main figure, depicting a Buddha in a meditation pose and decorated with a dragon, is carved from the same rock formation that makes up the cave. All other statues are located in a row on both sides of the main image.

In the center of the cave is a stupa of Soma Chaytya, which was once used as a safe for jewelry.

See also: Sinharajd Rainforest and other safari spots in Sri Lanka .

Devan Alut Viharay

Photo: Buddha figure in the cave of Devan Alut

Until 1915, in Sri Lanka, this cave was used as a warehouse, but after restoration, the sacred destination was returned to it. In this brightest temple, saturated with colors, 11 statues of Buddha are installed, there are also other figures.

Opening hours, ticket prices

Temple Entry Ticket

Ticket offices located to the right of the Golden Temple decorated with a majestic Buddha statue are open from 7:30 to 18:00, there is a break from 12:30 to 13:00 . If you immediately go up to the Cave Temple, then you will need to go back to buy a ticket.

The parking is located here, it is impossible not to notice it – it is completely free, although enterprising Sri Lankans can request 50-100 rupees. Sometimes it’s worth paying them, for example, for the safety of helmets that remain on the steering wheel of bikes or motorcycles.

A ticket to stay in the Dambulla temple complex in Sri Lanka costs 1,500 rupees , that is, about $ 10-11.

What is important for tourists to know

  1. It is advisable to come to visit the temple complex in the morning, since later in the heat it will be harder to climb to the caves. You need to be careful in the rain, because the steps that lead to the caves will be slippery.
  2. When visiting the temples of Sri Lanka, one should not forget to observe some local traditions. In many respects, this applies to clothing – it should cover the shoulders and knees.
  3. Before entering the temples you must take off your shoes. At the entrance, before the ticket control, there is a shoe storage room (the service costs 25 rupees), although you can leave the shoes just like that, but then no one will be responsible for their safety. By the way, the floor in the caves cannot be called pleasant, and in order not to walk barefoot, you can bring socks with you.
  4. Dambulla Cave Temple in Sri Lanka and a photo on its territory is a special issue. You can’t be photographed with your back to the Buddha, as this is considered a huge disrespect, especially when it comes to working temples.

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How to get to the temple complex

The city of Dambulla is located at the intersection of the main highways of the island, so that you can call on the Cave Temple during any trip to Sri Lanka. You can get to this city by bus, taxi or by rented a car.

Dambulla is connected by bus routes to Colombo and with all the cities included in the “Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka” (Kandy, Sigiriya, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa). Buying a ticket in advance is not necessary, since buses run frequently – but only during the day, no flights at night. The city station, on which buses arrive and leave, is located near the Cave Temple of Dambulla: walk 20 minutes on foot, but you can take a tuk-tuk for 100 rupees. There is transport passing by the temple, so you can get out right there.

So, how to get to the Golden and Cave Temple in the city of Dambulla.

From colombo

By car , drive along the A1 Colombo-Kandy highway to the city of Varakapol, and then move onto the A6 Ambepyussa-Trincomalee highway and drive along it to Dambulla. To get to the Cave Temple, already in the city you need to turn onto the A9 Kandy-Jaffna highway and drive along it for 2 km. The total length of the road is 160 km, the travel time is about 4 hours.

Buses from Colombo to Dambulla depart from the Central Bus Station . Flights that go towards Trincomalee, Jaffna and Anuradhapura are suitable, and you need to choose a bus whose number starts at 15. But before boarding, you need to clarify whether this transport passes through Dambulla.

The road takes 5 hours. Tickets for some buses can be booked online at, here you can see the schedule and cost of tickets.

There is another option – go to Kandy, and from there get to Dambulla. Detailed information on how to get to Kandy and what you can see there is presented in this article .

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From Kandy

A trip by car will take about 2 hours. Following the 75 km route A9 Kandy – Jaffna in a northerly direction, you will get directly to the Golden Temple, located to the left of the road.

Photo: Kandy Bus Station

A bus ride is the cheapest way to get to the temples of Dambulla – it will cost 70 rupees ($ 0.5). You can take any flight that follows in the direction of Jaffna, Dambulla, Trincomalee, Habarana, Anuradhapura.

Another option to get from Kandy to the city of Dambulla is to arrange with a local tuk-tuk driver. Such a time trip will take an average of 2 hours, and its cost will be from 3,000 rupees ($ 20) or more.

From Weligama, Galle, Matara, Hikkaduwa

Traveling from the southwestern and southern parts of Sri Lanka will be more difficult, and it makes sense to think about exploring several attractions. The fastest way to get to Dambulla is via Colombo. Since the eastern part of Sri Lanka has a not very well developed road network, in addition, the roads go along the mountains, the road will take a lot of time.

By car, you need to travel along the E01 highway, passing into E02, to Colombo, then move onto A1 highway, and go as described in the “From Colombo” section. The trip to Colombo will last approximately 1 hour. Please note that the E01 and E02 expressways are paid – 600 rupees ($ 4).

The best way to get to the temple of Dambulla is to take the express flight to Maharagama (this is a suburb of Colombo) . This trip will cost 500 rupees ($ 3.5), and in time it will take 1.5 hours. After that you need to take 138 bus to the Central Colombo bus station – the ticket price is 30 rupees ($ 0.25), the journey time is about half an hour. How to go further, read the recommendations from the “From Colombo”.

Prices on the page are for March 2018.

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