The Dambulla Cave Temple is just one of the many jewels in Sri Lankas Cultural Triangle crown.  The Cultural Triangle is situated in the centre of the island and covers an area which includes the World Heritage cultural sites of:

  • the Ancient City of Dambulla and its cave temple,
  • the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa and its palace ruins,
  • the Sacred City of Anuradhapura and the Bodhi Tree Temple,
  • and the rock fortress of Sigiriya,


I’ve already covered my climbing of Sigiriya Rock on this blog, so in this Cultural Triangle mini series I shall be concentrating on the remaining 3 from the above – Dambulla, Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura.

This week (if you haven’t already guessed) i’m going to be focusing on Dambulla, and specifically the majestic Dambulla Cave Temple.

Getting to Dambulla 

Around 70 km north of Kandy, from our Ja Ela base further west, the drive to Dambulla took around a 5 hour with a stop off for lunch. I almost sound like an AA routeplanner when I say that first we joined the A1, and then the A6.  It was a pretty straight forward drive.  Located neatly between Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, it is the typical starting point for a Cultural Triangle tour.

Dambulla Cave Temple

The Dambulla Cave Temple (also known as the Rock or Golden Temple … to be fair the caves do have a rather large Golden Temple below them) is the centre of a Buddhist cave-temple complex established in the 3rd century BC and occupied continuously to the present day.  History wise, reading from several sources it appears that the Dambulla Rock Temple was first constructed during the rein of King Vattagamini Abhaya ( 103 BC and 89-77 BC ). During a South Indian invasion king Vattagamini Abhaya was forced to abandon his Anuradhapura Kingdom and for 12 long years he hide in the the caves that are now know as the Dambulla Rock Temple.

After regaining the kingdom of Anuradhapura and becoming the King, to show his gratefulness for his safe place, he converted the caves into a Buddhist Temples by constructing walled partitions under the rock overhang.

The caves are said to be 2000m in length, and sit 160m above the surrounding plains.

Dambulla Cave Temple

Dambulla Cave Temple

Walking around the 5 cave complex, it wasnt hard to appreciate the age and beauty of all that was shelter from the elements within the amazing complex.  Now under the ‘protection’ of a becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site back in 1991, the statues, murals and paintings are all stunningly preserved.  It may have been a slightly steep climb up from the huge Golden Temple to the Caves, but it was worth it, no doubt.  On the way up be sure to keep an eye out for the cute monkeys on the hunt for any scraps of food you may have.

I personally loved how the outer walls and entrances to the caves were all a very tranquil white, but once you entered inside colour exploded directly into your face.  I was a particularly useless photographer when I visited Sri Lanka and so didn’t capture the Dambulla Cave Temple complex in any way that does it justice.  But even from my crummy photos I hope you can appreciate how well each caves treasures have been preserved.

Dambulla Cave Temple

Dambulla Cave Temple

The 5 caves

Depending on what you read, the Dambulla Cave Temple complex is either made up of 3 or 5 caves.  Probably a more accurate description is that its 3+2 , 3 main caves and two smaller although no less important caves.  The name of each of the 3 main caves also vary ever so slightly in name depending on what you read.  Here’s a teeny tiny summary of each.

  • Cave I (Devaraja Viharaya) – ‘Temple of the King of the Gods’ or ‘Cave of the Divine King’.

It has a 15m long reclining Buddha.

  • Cave II (Maharaja Viharaya) – ‘Temple of the Great Kings’ or ‘Cave of the Great Kings’.

Names after the two statues of the kings within the cave.  King Valagamba and King Nissanka Malla.

  • Cave III (Maha Alut Viharaya) – ‘New Great Temple’ or ‘Great New Monastery’.

Said to be converted from a storeroom to now house another, highly decorated reclining Buddha.

  • Cave IV (Pachima Viharaya) – ‘Western Cave’

Located at its centre, a small dageba which was believed to contain the jewellery of Somawathi , the queen of King Valagamba.  Theieves are once said to have broken into the cave looking for said jewellery.

  • Cave V (Devana Alut Viharaya) – ‘Second New Temple’
Large reclined Buddha image roughly 32ft in length


Dambulla Cave Temple

Entry times + Prices

Very little info appears to be available regarding present day (2012) opening hours and prices.  I did find a fantastic blog entry ( on the caves that listed the price at 1200 rupees.


Video credit – Marilyn Wouters

Other Resources

Want to read something a little more comprehensive?  Check out the following sites.