Cave 2 – Cave of the Great Kings

Cave 2 - the largest and most impressives of all caves, is what makes a visit to Dambulla more than worth the effort. While its sculptures are certainly first rate, its Kandy period paintings delight with their bright colors and compelling storytelling.

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 ofKing Vattagamani, who honored the monastery in the first century B.C., 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.

This cave is accordingly called Maharaja lena, “Cave of the Great Kings.” The Buddha statue hewn out of the rock on the left side of the room is escorted by wooden figures of the Bodhisattvas Maitreya and Avalokiteshvara or Natha. There is also a dagoba and a spring which drips its water, said to have healing powers, out of a crack in the ceiling.

Valuable tempera paintings on the cave ceiling dating from the 18th century depict scenes from Buddha’s life, from the dream of Mahamaya to temptation by the demon Mara. Further pictures relate important events from the country’s history.

Cave 2’s paintings date primarily from the late 18th century — under ruler Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747­ 1782) — and are some of the best extant examples of the Kandy painting style, well preserved by the consistent temperatures and good ventilation of the cave interior.

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