Dating back to the 1st century BC, the Golden Temple of Dambulla has been the centre of pilgrimage for Buddhists and Hindus alike for 22 centuries. It’s spectacular beauty and religious importance have given much pleasure to thousands of visitors, both locally and internationally – it’s Sri Lanka’s most popular historic World Heritage Site.
The cave monastery, home to Buddhist monks is covered with exquisite 2,000 year-old murals depicting the life and times of the Lord Buddha. These caves include a total of 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan kings, four statues of gods and goddesses, a 15 metre long reclining Buddha and vividly coloured frescoes on the walls and ceiling, making this the largest antique painted surface in the world.
The largest and most impressive of the caves is the Temple of the Great King. The entire surface of the cave is a mosaic of frescoes. Beyond the endless repetitions of seated Buddhas, and red, yellow and black geometric motifs, there are bands of sinuous tendrils and flowers – stories of the life of Lord Buddha. There are also murals depicting battles, and others showing important events in the history of Sri Lanka.
It is said that pre- historic Sri Lankans would have lived in these cave complexes before the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka as there are burial sites with human skeletons about 2700 years old in the area.