Dambulla Caves, Sri Lanka

Sunday, December 25, 2016

We were headed towards one of the most awaited parts of my trip to SriLanka. Pictures I had seen on the internet of the intricately painted dark and myterious looking Dambulla caves with its huge larger than life Buddha Statues was something I waited to see with my own eyes. We had decided that we must be adventurous and not take a cab but a bus to Dambulla from Kandy, and to experience local transport. So we got into a bus and were headed, we reached at noon, the internet had prepared me for the dragon face that would be the entrance, then began the climb up the many steps that lead upto the caves, flanked by many frangipani trees and even more monkeys. 
Constructed along the entrance and forming external facade was the severe and plain passageway to the caves in stark contrast to the elaborately painted insides. Almost as if nothing outside should hint at what lies within. We walked into the 1st cave, and we could see part of the legs of a huge reclining Buddha and we entered, our eyes adjusting to the low light, trying to take in as much as we could & the photographer in me struggling to get one decent shot in the extreme low light conditions. Anyone carrying a Dslr to Dambulla must also carry their tripod if they don't have lenses that shoot well in the dark. The 1st cave seemed almost too small to house the single huge reclining Buddha which seemed fill it completely. The 2nd cave was cavernous and wide and had Buddhas of all sizes lining the inner edges of the cave. Every available square cm of the walls and ceiling of the cave was covered in intricate patters and painted stories of Buddhas and devotees and Buddhist folklore. It was a very silent experience. There weren't too many tourists and whoever was there was just too awe and wonder struck to say anything. This didn't feel like a temple the way the Tooth Temple in Kandy felt like one, alive and buzzing with the silent prayers of many devotees, this felt truly silent. Which was a very different thing to experience. The Buddha statues were dramatically lit & benches were put in a row along the front of the statues. It served well as a barricade as well as a place to offer flowers. 

 "Statues and paintings in these caves date back to the 1st century BC. But the paintings and statues were repaired and repainted in the 11th, 12th, and 18th century AD." - Wiki

 The overpoweringly large Buddhas all sit or stand in meditative poses, painted in muted warm tones. It was a temple built in gratitude by a King who lived in these caves in exile for 15 years and later when he came to power and glory, he built this. 

"The murals cover an area of 2,100 m². Depictions in the walls of the caves include Buddha's temptation by demon Mara and Buddha's first sermon."

As I watched the tapestry of pattern lining the walls and the ceilinging, I can only think of the artists who painted this. How many days and months or years did it take to create this. Did they lie on their backs to paint this - suspended on makeshift planks, lit by many bright bonfires maybe. Did paint drip down their elbows, did it drip onto their faces?
How did they feel? Arms and body aching at the end of the day, painting every square inch of these ceilings and walls with a beauty that will remain, long after they are gone. Never to be known on praised.
Art is indeed a prayer. There is no difference.

“One should not become an artist because he can, but because he must. It is only for those who would be miserable without it.” 

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