Dambulla Cave Temple is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the ancient kings hid at the site for 14 years around the 1st century BC. A monk helped him hide while he trained people to fight to regain his throne. He offered the temple to the monk in thanks for his service. There are 161 statues in the temple and it is the only place in the world where a statue of Buddha and a statue of the god Vishnu are seen together. The murals on the ceilings and walls of the caves are made with natural paints and depict the story of Buddhism.
When looking at Buddha statues, it is important to note the mudras, or the different postures of the Buddha including hand signals. The open palm symbolizes the purity of the Buddha, that nothing is hidden. The “okay” sign symbolizes fearlessness. The crossed arms over the heart symbolize universal kindness. When the Buddha is lying down, look at the toes. If the toes are unequal in length, the Buddha is in the recumbent position representing the last part of his life.
Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka from India in the 3rd century BC. Buddhism teaches its followers to live a simple life, to give up the excess. May is a holy month for Buddhists because the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death all occurred on a full moon day in May.
The water lily is the national flower of Sri Lanka. Offering flowers at the temple signifies the change and impermanence of life, as flowers die within a few days. Lighting oil lamps signifies the light of wisdom and combating the darkness, or ignorance.
A Buddhist temple must have three elements: a stupa, a temple, and the Bodhi tree.