The 9th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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Dambulla cave temple
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Dambulla cave temple (Sinhala: දඹුලු ලෙන් විහාරය dam̆būlū len vihāraya, Tamil: தம்புள்ளை பொற்கோவில் tampuḷḷai poṟkōvil) also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla is a World Heritage Site (1991) in Sri Lanka, situated in the central part of the country.
The rock towers 160 m over the surrounding plains.There are more than 80 documented caves in the surrounding area.
The murals cover an area of 2,100 square metres.
Prehistoric 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 this area, at Ibbankatuwa near the Dambulla cave complexes.
In 1938 the architecture was embellished with arched colonnades and gabled entrances.
This complex dates from the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, when it was already established as one of the largest and most important monasteries.
The five caves
The caves, built at the base of a 150m high rock during the Anuradhapura (1st century BC to 993 AD) and Polonnaruwa times (1073 to 1250), are by far the most impressive of the many cave temples found in Sri Lanka.
Access is along the gentle slope of the Dambulla Rock, offering a panoramic view of the surrounding flat lands, which includes the rock fortress Sigiriya, 19 km away. Dusk brings hundreds of swooping swallows to the cave entrance.
It has been repainted countless times in the course of its history, and probably received its last coat of paint in the 20th century.
In the second and largest cave, in addition to 16 standing and 40 seated statues of Buddha, are the gods Saman and Vishnu, which pilgrims often decorate with garlands, and finally statues of King Vattagamani Abhaya,
who honored the monastery in the 1st century BC., and King Nissanka Malla, responsible in the 12th century for the gilding of 50 statues, as indicated by a stone inscription near the monastery entrance.
Further pictures relate important events from the country's history.
The third cave, the Maha Alut Vihara, the "Great New Monastery" acquired ceiling and wall paintings in the typical Kandy style during the reign of King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747–1782), the famous Buddhist revivalist.
The Buddha statues are in varying sizes and attitudes - the largest is 15 meters long.
Senake Bandaranayake reports that the schemes were cleaned during an initial conservation project during the 1960s which involved the cleaning of the murals and the application of a protective coating.
Subsequent conservation strategies at the Dambull Temple Complex (mainly since 1982) have focussed on maintaining the integrity of the existing complex which has remained unaltered since the reconstruction the temple veranda in the 1930s.
As the Dambulla Temple remains an active ritual centre, the conservation plans of the 1982-1996 project were directed at improving the infrastructure and accessibility of the site in accordance with its UNESCO world heritage status.
This involved the renovation of hand-cut paving within the complex and the installation of modern lighting. Further investment in the Temple's infrastructure has seen the construction of a museum and other tourist facilities located away from the historical complex.
The conservation project undertaken between 1982 and 1996 focussed mainly on the preservation of the eighteenth-century mural schemes which represent around 80% of the total surviving paintings at Dambulla.
By the late 1990s the majority of these schemes remained in excellent condition, with the schemes of the larger shrines (Vihara 3 and Vihara 2) still retaining most of their eighteenth-century features.
Cleaning was not undertaken during the 1982-1996 project which instead focussed on the implementation of a series of remedial measures to stabilise the murals as well as developing a long-term conservation strategy to minimize further human or environmental damage.