The caves at Dambulla have been inhabited for more than 2200 years

The Golden Temple of Dambulla is the second largest cave-temple complex in south-eastern Asia, situated about 20 km south of Sigiriya in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. The five caves, located on the south side of a 180 metres high rock, have been continuously occupied since the third century BCE up until this day, first as monastic establishments which were later transformed into temples.

Currently the complex comprises 157 statues and thousands of square meters of rock paintings, most of which date from the 18th century.

 

Wall Paintings in Dambulla © Saman527 Dreamstime (detail)
Wall Paintings in Dambulla © Saman527 Dreamstime (detail)

 

Great Kings Cave

Cave #2 is the largest of the five caves. Known as Maharaja lena – the Great Kings Cave – contains the greatest collection of paintings and sculptures at Dambulla. The artworks in this cave are in general depictions of the Buddha with scenes of his daily life, images of various deities and of important persons of the Buddhist order and the country’s history.

Stupa
Stupa

The paintings in Cave #2 are considered to be outstanding examples of the Kandyan painting style of the 18th century, a distinct Sri Lankan style, typically two-dimensional without illusionistic shading, emphasising the outline rather than the volume, aiming to communicate a certain narrative as well as having a purely decorative and graphic effect, utilizing lines and patterns to this end.

The limited but bold palette of red, yellow, blue, green, black and white colours were made from plant extracts and applied using a “secco fresco” technique; painting on a dry wall of plaster covered with lime. The process of over-painting and retouching has continued up until the 20th century. Dating them exactly is therefore difficult.

The Golden Temple Entrance
The Golden Temple Entrance

World Heritage

The Golden Temple of Dambulla is enlisted World Heritage for being an outstanding example of religious art in Sri Lanka and south-eastern Asia. The painted caves, including an 18th century masterpiece in the Kandyan school of painting, are exceptional in scale and extent of preservation. (UNESCO)

SOURCES & CREDITS:
Sri Lanka – The Cultural Triangle (Approach Guides 2015)
Header photo: © Irynarasko | Dreamstime.com – Buddha statues in Dambulla
Wall Paintings and Dambulla Golden Temple entrance: © Saman527 | Dreamstime.com
All other photos Creative Commons License.