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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Adoring the Ancient Art and History of the Golden Temple of Dambulla


Consisting of a five-cave monastery perched atop a hill 160 meters high, the impressive ancient structures and paintings found inside the caves gives you a major reason to make the slow uphill hike and see it for yourself. Under the torrid shine of the sun, I work my way, as dozens of monkeys goofed at each other around me at the wide stair trail. I meet other travelers brimming with smiles on their faces - a sign of delight at what they've seen, I figured. Once atop a smiling local guard signaled me to take off my shoes as I prepare to enter the first cave. 

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Like rock sculptures, I see the main hallway leading to the first cave built underneath a large body of granite rock. What impressed me more, is when I discover the cave's interior directly hewn into the massive rock. Inside, a looming Buddha statue greets the visitors, behind it are equally impressive Buddha's in different poses stands in a semi circular row. 

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Instantly, my attention was drawn by the stunning murals inscribed on the walls and ceilings. The artworks, as I eavesdropped on a nearby tour guide speaking, depicts the life and times of Buddha, the temptation by Mara the demon and Buddha's first ever sermon. All these magnificent work of arts dates back to the 15th and 18th centuries, with some going all the way back to 2,000 years ago. 

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Earning a UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1991, this 1st century B.C. temple complex paints a well-preserved historical landmark that had me directing my sight at each corner, because of the sheer visual delight it conveys. Apart from the rich history emanating from each inch of the five major shrine rooms, the wind that seeps from the surrounding lush plains, provided me an ancient feeling as I found myself all alone at one of the caves. 

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Cranking my neck to stare at the ceiling, I took time studying as much paintings as I could as I shoot photographs of it. While some of it are oblivious to time and can be seen slowly fading, much of the murals are still clearly visible teeming with rich red colors. 

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The five main caves are divided into the Devarajah Lena (cave of the Lord of Gods), where one can see the 45 feet statue of the Lord Buddha, the Maharajah Lena (cave of great kings), Devana Aluth Viharaya (cave of second new temple), Paccima Viharaya (cave of western temple) and the Maha Alut Viharaya (cave of the great new monastery).

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Located a couple of kilometers from my accommodation, the Dambulla City Hostel, I decided to spend the whole afternoon here and wait for the sunset before hiking back down. Like mischievous pranksters, the monkeys tried to bother me from all corners while I sat at one of the steps, just like little kids wanting attention I noticed how they would stand still each time I point my camera to them. 

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The whole afternoon became like a solemn retreat for me, even with the presence of a few other tourists. From afar I can see the ancient rock city of Sigiriya and wondered about the time hundreds of years ago. I also imagine back to thousands of years, to the time before the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, where the hilltop the Golden Temple of Dambulla is situated, is where ancient Sri Lankans settled and buried their own 2,700 years ago. 

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A double dose of art and history peppered with new religious knowledge and the company of new found monkey friends, I went down in search of a thirst quencher. On the way down I met a local who pointed me to a place a couple of hundred meters away "You see that (pointing to a group of people setting up a stage) dancing there tonight, come and enjoy". At that moment I really meant it when I told him "Sure I will come tonight". But that night, I felt asleep just after having my dinner. A long yet another fulfilling day awaits me the next morning at the ancient city of Polonnaruwa





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