Buddha statues inside the Dambulla cave temple, Sri Lanka

Dambulla Cave Temple: Everything You Need To Know

The Dambulla Cave Temple is the largest and the best-preserved pilgrimage site in Sri Lanka. The sacred place of worship is popularly known as Dambulla Rock Temple and Rangiri Dambulu Rajamaha Viharaya. 

In 1991, the place was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and attracts tourists worldwide. It is an important site of worship for Buddhists, but unlike other monasteries, the Dambulla Cave Temple is several centuries old. The place dates back to the first century BCE and is one of its kind.

Are you planning a visit to Dambulla Cave Temple? Look no further. This complete guide covers everything you need to know before visiting the cave temple. So let’s get right to it.

Dambulla Cave Temple

Dambulla Cave Temple Timings

Dambulla cave temple is open every day between 7 AM and 7 PM.

Entrance

The locals use the entrance near the Buddhist Museum. You can also use the same entrance as the locals if you’re a foreigner. While climbing the steps halfway, you can spot a direction board that guides you to the ticket counter. You can purchase the tickets, return the same way, and continue your hike. If you want to start from the ticket counter’s backside entrance, you can also start there.

Entry Fee

Entry is free for Sri Lankans, and foreigners have to pay a fee of LKR 2000. Unfortunately, no discount is available for SAARC nationals.

You’ll find several paintings in the place, but name boards or descriptions do not accompany them. So, if you’re interested in an infotainment tour and want to learn the history and story behind the paintings, you can hire a guide for an additional fee.

Best Time To Visit Dambulla Cave Temple

Cave temple entrance at the hill top

Dambulla Cave Temple can be visited throughout the year. However, as you have to climb about 400+ steps barefoot, it is best to visit the cave temple in the morning or evening when the sun is less hot.

Footwear

You should leave your footwear at the base before climbing the steps. Locals leave their footwear unattended near the entrance walls. If you enter through the ticket counter entrance, you must pay LKR 50 to leave your shoes.

Dress Code

Since it is a pilgrimage site, dress modestly, covering your knees and shoulders. The former instruction applies to men and women. You might be denied entry into the temple if you don’t follow this standard. Alternatively, you can buy cloth from the shops at the base to cover your shoulder and knees.

Parking & Restroom Facilities

A huge parking space is available at the entrance. Restrooms are available at the base near the parking lot.

Where To Eat?

Vendors sell eatables, cool drinks, ice creams, etc., en route on your hike to the top. However, it is important to note that the place is filled with monkeys. So whatever snacks you buy, keep them away from the monkeys’ sights. You can also learn how to deal with them. You can also buy flowers and offer them to the Buddha. 

Sit-in restaurants are available in Dambulla town.

Where To Stay In Dambulla?

The best and nearest would be to choose accommodation in Dambulla itself. A variety of budget homestays and resorts are found in the region. We stayed at Robert’s Inn, Dambulla ($), and our stay was so pleasant and comfortable that we extended our stay to explore more. Below are a few of our recommendations in Dambulla.

 

How To Reach Dambulla Cave Temple?

Dambulla town has good connectivity of buses from other major places in Sri Lanka. You can easily find the bus routes and numbers using Google Maps. Hop onto public transport and step down at the Vihara Junction. The cave temple is within walking distance from this point. Alternatively, you can also hire a tuk-tuk and reach the destination.

Dambulla golden temple entrance

Once you reach the temple, you have to climb over 400 stairs. You can use the front entrance used by locals. This gateway faces the Golden Temple that was completed in 2000 with the large 30 m tall Buddha statue in Dhammachakka Mudra (wheel turning pose). From here, take the leftmost staircase and move upwards; the path will take you to the summit. 

stairway to the cave temple

As mentioned earlier, you’ll find several vendors and hawkers selling snacks. But beware of the monkeys waiting to pounce on your food and snatch it away. Keep climbing barefoot for about 400 steps until you reach the cave temple entrance.

The Caves

The five cave entrances at Dambula cave temple

The cave temple complex has 5 caves of varying sizes lying under a vast stretch of overhanging rocks and contains about 150 Buddha statues. Buddhist monks have inhabited these natural caves since the 3rd century BCE.

The largest of the five caves measures about 52 m from East to West and 23m from the entrance to the end. It is also 7m tall at its highest point. The names of the five caves are:

  • The temple of the Great Kings (Maharaja Viharaya)
  • Temple of the King of the Gods (Devaraja Viharaya)
  • New Great Temple (Maha Alut Viharaya)
  • Cave of the Western Temple (Pachima Viharaya)
  • Cave of the New Temple (Devana Alut Viharaya)

You can see Sigiriya Rock Fortress and Pidurangala Rock Hill from the hilltop. Besides these, you will also get a panoramic view of the surroundings.

The Mural Paintings

Mural wall paintings

The Dambulla Cave Temple paintings are an example of religious art as they comprise mural paintings of Gautama Buddha, the Bodhisattvas, the Hindu God of Vishnu, and other goddesses. Depictions on the walls of the caves include the demon Mara and Buddha’s first sermon. The complete painting dates back to the 19th century and covers an area of 2100 sq. meters. 

With no artificial colors, the images were painted with natural colors acquired from fruits, vegetables, leaves, and other such sources.

The Statues

There are about 150+ statues, including that of 3 Sri Lankan kings – Valagamba, Nissankamalla, and Ananda. You’ll also see statues of the Hindu deities – Vishnu, Ganesha, and several other gods and goddesses.

Inscriptions

Stone inscriptions

King Nissankamalla (1187 – 1196 AD) inscribed text in the 12th century to record the King’s services towards Buddhism and his subjects. The inscription is carved over the entrance of the Cave of the Divine King, mentioning the unification of monks from three fraternities, his pilgrimages, and the conservation efforts he took at several sacred sites, including the cave temple.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Dambulla Cave Temple and the Golden Temple the same?

Dambulla Golden Temple is on the base close to the main road, while the Cave Temple is at the top of the hill. You will have to climb about 400 steps approximately to reach the cave temple.

Other places to visit in Dambulla

Take a day trip to Sigiriya Lion’s Rock and Pidurangala Peak. You can also go for a village tour in a Bullock cart or a Safari tour in Sigiriya National Park.

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