Sri Lanka, a country with a proud history of 2500 years, has a rich culture, traditions, and beliefs. For many of them, Buddhism has a significant influence. The country faced many changes after Establishing Buddhism as a religion during King Devanam Piyathissa. Building the monasteries is one aspect that developed. Among the monasteries, the cave temples have a very prominent place. And the Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple is one of the best!
The Importance of the Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple
The temple site has been a sacred Pilgrimage site for nearly 22 centuries. It has five sanctuaries and one of the best-preserved cave temples in Sri Lanka. The Buddhist mural paintings and the statues give it an outstanding universal value.
The Rangiri Dambulla temple site is located in the central province of Sri Lanka and is a living Buddhist site inhabited by forest-dwelling monks. The temple has five cave shrines. The transformation of the caves into these magnificent sites has happened over a long period. And now, they are among the most outstanding Buddhist building complexes in the south East Asian region.
When you look alcohol at the elements of the Monastery, you can see the continuous innovative approaches of the layouts, interior decorations, and paintings that received Royal patronage throughout the years. It is also important to note that the temple complex underwent several refurbishing programs.
The caves of Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple
It is recorded that the temple has five caves of various sizes. All of them are built at the base of a rock that is 150m high. The construction happened during the Anuradhapura Era and Polonnaruwa Eras, every flourishing tie period of Sri Lankan history. These are by far the most beautiful and impressive caves found. The location of these caves is fascinating too. There is a gentle slope that offers a panoramic view of the surrounding flat lands. You could also see the rock fortress of Sigiriya, another magnificent heritage of Sri Lanka and its rich culture.
The largest cave is 52 m from east to west and 23m from the back to the entrance. It is also 7 m tall with a spectacular interior. Apart from the statues of the lord Buddha and the related carvings and drawings, you could also see the Hindu deities present here. Also, there are the statues of the great king Valagamba, Nissankamalla, and the Ananda thero, the most devoted disciple of Lord Buddha.
The Cave of the great king
Known as the Devaraka Lena, this cave is also called the shelter of the great king. It is one of the caves found when finding the cave monastery. You could see all the details in the Brahmi inscription at the first cave entrance. The cave houses a magnificent 14-meter statue of lord Buddha. It shows the incredible talent of the Singhalese sculptures to carve out this enormous Buddha statue out of the rock. You can see that the figure has been receiving countless coats of paint; the last one is believed to be in the 20th century. Also, the cave walls are decorated with traditional Singhalese patterns. Seeing all the beautiful and colorful paintings should have been an excellent site.
The Cave of the Great Kings
The second largest cave is something to boast about. It has 16 standing and 40 seated statues of Lod Buddha sculptures with great honor. Also, there are statues of the Hindu deities Saman and Vishnu. The pilgrims often decorate them with garlands.
Also, the ancient sculptor still needs to create sculptures of the kinds of the patron kings to honor them. The figures of King Vata gamini Abhaay or Valgamba and the King Nissankamalla statues of the patron kings. This is also called the Maha raja Lena which means the cave of the great kings. The wooden figures of the Bodhisattvas Maitreya and Avalokitheshvara or Natha escort the central Buddha statue.
Moreover, there is a small stupa inside the cave as well. And many believe that the natural water spring that drips water has healing powers. The paintings on the ceiling are lovely, and they depict the scenes of the life story of Lord Buddha. The dream of Queen Mahamaya and the temptation by the Demon Mara is the best among them. Other pictures, too, has significant importance to Buddhist history and literature.
The Great New Monastery
The third cave of the temple is known as the Maha Aluth Vihara or the Great New Monastery. The specialty of this cave is the unique temple paintings in the rock sailing. All these paintings take the Indian style. All these paintings are believed to be done during the time of Kirti Sri Rajasinghe, a famous Buddhist Revivalist. Apart from all the Buddha statues of different sizes, you could also see a figure of the king.
You could see many beautiful decorations and elements of Singhalese Sculpture and Sinhala art in the Shrine room. The Buddha statues, as mentioned, have various poses and sizes; the largest is about 15 meters long. One cave has over 155 cave paintings of lord Buddha covering the entire ceiling.
The Monastery is quite famous for continuing traditions of living Buddhist ritual practices. Also, it is one of the best examples of expressing Sri Lankan religious art. The paintings are recognized in Sri Lanka and Asia for their beauty, uniqueness, and styles. The Monastery included masterpieces of 18th-century art.
The uniqueness of the temple paintings & murals of Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple
As mentioned earlier, the temple paintings of the Dambulla are world-famous. These include the life story of Lord Buddha, Buddha images, and the Jataka stories related to Buddhist literature. Many of these paintings are done in the Kandyan art style, which is a unique drawing style similar to the concept of Egyptian art in the great pyramids.
Like the paintings, the stucco sculpture molded with clay or carved out of the rock within the cave shrines is extraordinary. The Mural paintings and the interior layout have the most beautiful colors and elements that perfectly match to showcase the true Artistic talents of the Singhalese painters.
Most of these paintings are well-preserved, and some are carefully retained. These are living proof to show the richness of Sri Lankan culture and traditions to the world.
The Dambulla cave temple is still an active ritual Centre of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and the world.
Rangiri Dambulla, one of the world’s most well-preserved Buddhist Monasteries, carries the essence of the rich cultural heritage of Sri Lanka. The paintings, murals, and statues are masterpieces. The color combinations and the compositions of the paintings display a higher level of knowledge of the Sri Lankan artists.
Apart from the paintings, the sculpture is impressive too. They say the uniqueness of the style and excellent knowledge of sculpturing techniques. Also, the architecture of the Monastery should be addressed. It, too, shows a higher level of skill to create a great Monastery out of the living rock. The technology used to carve the caves to shelter the monks, protecting them from sun and rain, is unimaginable.
The Bottom Line
Rangiri Dambulla Cave Monastery is a well-preserved UNESCO heritage site. It is always with pilgrims and tourists from all over the world. The place is a must-see if you plan to visit the island, and you should add it to your bucket list for your next travel plan.