Golden Temple of Dambulla :: Sri Lanka
Deep in the heart of the island country of Sri Lanka in South Asia lays the beautiful and serene Golden Temple of Dambulla. Also known as the Dambulla Cave Temple, its “modern” history began a century before the birth of Christ as a Buddhist holy place. Prior to this time, the area was primarily a residence and burial grounds for the ancient native peoples. With the arrival of Buddhist monks in about 1 BC, the caves were converted into a monastery and a sacred pilgrimage site for prayer and worship of the Lord Buddha. Called the Golden Temple for the magnificent gilded walls; each of the 5 caves that comprise the shrine hold their own magic. The area surrounding Dambulla sits on a maze of some 80 plus caves which are attractions unto themselves.
The three earliest caves are the most popular as they are more sizable and the workmanship that went into them is clearly of superior merit. The largest of these is “Maharaja Lena” (The Cave of the Great Kings). With nearly 60 statues of Buddha (70 percent of which show him in his typical state of repose) it has also become a site for Hindu worship with statues of Vishnu and Saman and for honoring the great Sri Lankan kings King Nissanka Malla and King Vattagamani. It is from these two monarchs and benefactors that the cave is named. There are several scenes from the life of Siddhartha Gautama adorning the walls and a grand figure of him after his enlightenment carved from the rock of the walls. Another magnificent feature is the natural spring that seeps water into the roof of the cave. Many believe this water has mystical healing powers and make trips to the Golden Temple for a drop of its magic.
In “Devaraja Lena” (The Cave of the Divine King) is an enormous almost 50 foot long statue hewn out of the cave wall of Lord Buddha laying on his right side to receive his many worshipers. By the head is a lovely figure of the Hindu god Vishnu (who is credited with creating the caves) and at his feet is Ananda, Buddha’s favorite student. At the entrance to Devaraja Lena is the story of the origins of the monastery written in the ancient Brahmi language. The third cave, “Maha Alut Vihara” (The Great New Monastery) was decorated in the late 1700s under the direction of King Kirti Sri Rajashinha (a great follower of Buddhist tradition) in the style favored by the residents of Kandy (a populous city in the center of Sri Lanka). There is a statue of King Rajashinha along with over 50 figures of Buddha created as per his instructions.
Listed as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Collection, the Golden Temple of Dambulla is an oft visited site in Sri Lanka. Among the most impressive of the many cave temples found here, the path to this holy site does require a bit of a mild hike up the stairs to the caves. There are a few troupes of monkeys that call the area home which are very cute when being watched from a distance, but not so much when taking food from your bag. For this reason it is strongly suggested that all food and drink products be left in your hotel room or securely locked in the tour bus. The exceptional architecture and skill evidenced in the Golden Temple make it a spectacular stopping point for any tour of this magnificent country.
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