The Golden Temple of Dambulla is a cave monastery consisting of five sanctuaries and existing since 22 centuries as an important pilgrimage site in Sri Lanka. The 160 statues and Buddhist mural paintings are a significant part of the temple complex. The Golden Temple of Dambulla stands testimony to the religious art and architecture existing in Sri Lanka and South-East Asia. The site is located in the central part of Sri Lanka at a distance of 72 km from north of Kandy. Prior to its establishment as a Buddhist Monastic center,the site was home to prehistoric people as there are evidences in the form of burial sites having human skeletons that are dated to be more than 2700 years old.
The Golden Temple of Dambulla dates back to first century BC and shows evidence of human civilization that has existed in the prehistoric period. Later, with the advent of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, the site came to be occupied by a Buddhist monastery and has been in use since twenty-two centuries. The rocky remains of what could have been homes of the people residing there have been clearly identified. The caves on the upper part of the rock of Dambulla seem to have been converted to shrines during first century BC and continued well up to the twelfth century when King Nissanka Malla introduced sculpture and rock carvings in the caves located on the upper terrace of the rock. A major restoration work in the eighteenth century led to the painting and refurbishing of the painted surfaces of the rock shelters on the upper terrace, in the style of the eighteenth century art.
The Golden Temple of Dambulla consists of five shrine rooms symbolizing Sinhala art and sculpture. The Buddha images totaling to 153 statues are sculpted in various sizes and postures.The Golden Buddha Statue is of particular significance rising to a height of 100ft. The Buddha statue has been carved in the “Dhamma Chakka” posture and gold plated. The work towards the construction of the Golden Buddha Statue started on March 6 1998 and installed after three years on Vesak full moon day that fell on May 6 2001 amidst rituals performed by the religious priests.
Nearly eighty caves have been identified in the area though the major interest lies in the five caves which contain paintings and statues depicting the life of Lord Buddha. The Golden Temple of Dambulla has 153 Buddha statues, 4 statues of other gods including the Hindu Gods Vishnu and Ganesh and 3 statues of the kings who ruled Sri Lanka in the ancient times. The Buddhist mural paintings in the caves, which cover about 2,100 square meters, occupy great cultural importance. One of the significant wall paintings of the cave include Buddha’s first sermon.