Located among the clouds, towering 160 meters above scenic country plains lays the best preserved and most expansive cave temple compound in Sri Lanka. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, this ancient rock temple is situated 72km from the hill capitol Kandy and just 148km from the metropolis of Colombo. Spread out over a complex that includes five caves the monastery is believed to date back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries and the brainchild of then monarch King Valagambahu who converted the cave complex in to a place of worship. Considered as one of the most prominent monasteries in the island when it was first established the Dambulla cave temple is a revered religious symbol in the predominantly Buddhist nation and also a popular tourist attraction in the island.
Housing an impressive 153 Buddha statues, four Hindu deity sculptures and three statues of sovereigns, an estimated 2,100 square meters of the cave ceilings at the complex are also beautifully decorated with ancient murals. The first cave aptly named the Cave of the Divine King contains a 14m tall Buddha statue hewn off the cave walls. At the foot of the statue lies a sculpture of the Buddha's chief disciple Ananda Thero while the Hindu God Vishnu towers overhead as it is believed that he was the deity that willed the caves in to existence with his powers. The second biggest cave dubbed the Cave of the Great Kings contains 40 seated Buddha statues as well as 16 statues of the lord in standing position. Other highlights include the statues of Hindu gods Vishnu and Saman while those of monarchs King Vattagamani and King Nissanka Malla are equally captivating. This cave also features a Buddha statue hewn from rock along with wooden figurines of the Avalokiteshvara and Maitreya Bodhisattva. A mysterious water spring with healing powers and a dagoba also adorn this quarter in addition to 18th century tempera paintings depicting the life of the Buddha and other scenes from Sri Lanka's history.
The third cave in the monastery is called the "Great New Monastery" or Maha Alut Vihara and features exquisite paintings on the cave's wall and roof that are typical of the Kandyan School of paintings while fifty statutes of the Buddha and a statue of a monarch are also contained within the structure. The smaller 4th and 5th caves are also worth the visit as is the quaint Vishnu Devale located between the first two caves.
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