2000+ Years Old Dhowa Rock Temple

2000+ Years Old Dhowa Rock Temple

IMG_20170331_185010_Dowa Temple NIDEThe post is about the Dhowa temple which I Used to go on every full moon night growing up to worship and celebrate the full moon poya day. I passed the temple everyday when I went to school or nearby town. It was one of significant places of my childhood.

This is also known as Dowa Raja Maha Viharaya.

The History of the Dhowa Rock Temple

More than two thousand years ago, Walagambhahuthe fourth son of the king Sadhdha Tissa ascended to the throne of Sri Lanka after fighting against a General who killed his brother, the heir to the throne. But his troubles didn’t end there. Five months after his coronation, King Walagambhahu had to face another threat. Army of invaders from South India led by seven leaders declared a war and defeated the king in a battle of Kolambalaka.

With no choice, the king had to flee and escape. He went into hiding with the help of Buddhist monks to regain his strength and escape from the bounty on him. He hid in several places in Sri Lanka and the ancient rock cave in the Dhowa temple was one of his hiding places.


Dhowa Rock Temple is a protected heritage site in Sri Lanka, situated in the central mountains of the Uva province. Dhowa is a small, ancient village situated on the Badulla – Bandarawela main road. This temple is situated 210 km (130 mi) east of Colombo and 120 km (75 mi) south of Kandy. 

This cave was a small Buddhist temple called Kumbaltissa Ariyagala Vehera and the chief monk provided sanctuary for the king. The king disguised himself and spent some time in this cave temple with monks while regaining strength morally and physically.

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This temple is famous for this unfinished large Buddha statue believed to be king’s handy work which was not completed as he had to flee again when pursuers discovered his hiding place.


However, a few years later King assembled an army and defeated the invaders and became a great king that who is remembered and respected still centuries later. After his victory, he built many temples around the country while rebuilding the nation and he didn’t forget who came to his aid during hard times.

He started building a beautiful temple in this Rock cave as a gesture of gratitude which still stands thousands of years later peacefully and with the pride of providing a safe heaven to a great king. However, the work at the temple was not completed during the reign of King Walagamba, but was fully completed during the Kandyan Kingdom.

That’s the story about this ancient temple and I loved that story as a child. I remember coming to this temple as a kid and feeling reverence. A famous Buddhist temple in Uva province and a historic monument.

Architecture and paintings

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The stairway down to the cave

Today, this temple is known as Dhowa ancient rock temple, a protected site visited by hundreds of tourists and Buddhists daily. The temple that the King built inside the cave is still preserved well along with the statues and paintings.

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Paintings on the rock inside the cave

“The paintings of the shrine room had been decorated with the influence of the Kandyan era. These paintings depict various Jathaka stories. The canopy of the rock is decked with paintings of lotus and various other flowers. Among these paintings, the Ath-Gon Satana (battle between a tusker and a bull) is featured. The priority had been given to the cobra image in the structure of the temple. The cobra had been featured in the paintings as well as on the jug used for serving water to Buddha.”

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The cave walls


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Paintings on the cave ceiling

The temple is built inside the cave with 4 compartments and a tunnel believed to be leading to another ancient temple in the area. Inside the cave temple, there are a lot of ancient paintings on the rock and statues of Lord Buddha and some other statues. There are two main big Buddha statues protected using a glass shield.

The feeling you get when you are inside this cave is amazing. The cave ceiling that almost touches your head is filled with beautiful paintings and the room is filled with artifacts built two thousand years ago. When I look at these statues I can’t help but think that they have stood there silently watching the world change, people change over centuries. oh, the stories they could tell if they can talk!

Today many Buddhists visit and worship this temple.  It is protected by the Archaeological department of Sri Lanka. Most importantly every full moon day this temple is filled with Buddhists who come to observe sill and worship. But other days it’s little less crowded and you can sit somewhere peacefully and enjoy a moment of solitude.

There is no entry fee to visit this temple. But since it is a religious and venerable place it’s advised to not to wear short or sleeveless dresses and to behave calmly and decently.

Location on the Map

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