The Golden Temple of Dambulla
Simply breathtaking and awe inspiring, the Golden Temple of Dambulla, said to be the soul of Sri Lanka, is situated 72km north of the city Kandy. It has been a sacred pilgrimage for Buddhists since the first century BCE and to this day still houses Buddhist monks and attracts a host of visitors from all around the world.
Another of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO World Heritage sites (the temple was inducted in 1991) the temple displays numerous drawings and statues of the life of the Buddha, legendary Kings, and mythological characters such as Ganesh. It is the largest of the cave temples in Sri Lanka with a giant golden Buddha (a recent addition to the site) greeting visitors at the entrance, over 2,000 murals and hundreds of statues all of which are situated in the five caves that make up the site- The Devaraja Lena – The Cave of ‘ Lord of the Gods’, The Maharaja Lena – The Cave of ‘ Great Kings‘, The Maha Alut Viharaya – The Cave of ‘ Great New Temple’,The Paccima Viharaya – The Cave of ‘ Western Temple’, The Devana Alut Viharaya – The Cave of ‘ Second New Temple’. The largest and most attractive of the caves is said to be Maharaja Lena or The Cave of ‘Great Kings’.
The cave temples were first constructed during the reign of King Vattagamire Abhaya. For twelve years, after an Indian invasion, the king hid within the mountain caves until defeating the invaders and regaining the throne. After he had regained the throne the King had the cave temples constructed to show his gratefulness for the caves hiding him during his time of exile. Many future Kings would go on to add their own pieces to the caves and to continue developing the site to its modern day glory.
As well as being a sacred and holy place for Buddhists it is also believed that these caves were home to prehistoric Sri Lankans as many burial sites were uncovered by archaeologists while digging at the site. Human remains were found with other artefacts meaning Dambulla has been in use since prehistoric times. This gives Dambulla not just a cultural and religious significance but also a deep seethed anthropological significance and a very important site in the study of human history.
In order to enter the sacred temple visitors must remove their footwear and climb barefoot up a gently sloping hill and several flights of stairs winding their way up along the side of the mountain. Accompanying visitors up the mountain are a host of cheeky monkeys and sellers attempting to sell a host of souvenirs to passers-by. The views of the surrounding area include the Sigiriya Rock Fortress which is just 18km away to the northeast. At the top of the site is a magnificent vantage point to view the surrounding flat lands filled with tropical rainforests. The site is approximately a four hour drive from Olcote, however like many of these historical sites it is simply a must see for those who visit Sri Lanka.