Aluvihare Cave Temple

Considered to be one of the major cave temples in the country and the Buddhist world, the historic Aluvihare Cave Temple, sometimes called the ‘Matale Alu Viharaya’, can be traced all the way back to the 3rd Century BC during the time of King Devanampiyatissa and serves to be the birthplace of the Buddhist version of the bible, the ‘Tripitaka’. Although not as prominent as the more visited Dambulla Cave Temple for many tourists, the Aluvihare Cave Temple’s historic significance in the Buddhist world and Sri Lanka has made it equal to its Dambulla neighbour. Therefore, making it an important monument that explains Sri Lanka’s unique culture and heritage.

Best Known For

  • The Aluvihare Cave Temple is known for its historical and archaeological significance as it is the very place that ancient monks documented the teachings of Lord Buddha on ola leaves, known as the ‘Tripitaka’, considered to be the Buddhist bible.
  • Another highlight is that the 13 caves of the temple house a myriad of relics, statues, frescoes and paintings that decorate the interior of the ancient caves, depicting a great many tales of Lord Buddha’s journey to enlightenment and many other religious stories. One of the notable, albeit grotesque, images being the depiction of hell and its punishments to the sinner, so as to make the individual understand the harsh punishments of the sinner.

Interesting Facts

  • The history of the Aluvihare Cave Temple can be traced back to the 3rd Century BC, during the time of King Devanampiyatissa who founded the temple, the dagoba (stupa) and planted the sacred Bo tree sapling.
  • It was in the 1st century BC, during the reign of King Walagamba that the cave temple became a prominent symbol in Buddhism.
  • During the king’s reign, the country was suffering from a serious famine, known as 'Baminithiyasaya' that lasted 12 years, resulting in many deaths.
  • The famine also affected the monks since there was a shortage of alms given to them, making deaths quite common.
  • This made many monks worry about the extinction of the traditional Buddhist teachings, as it was only passed down orally and memorized by the disciples, thus making it imperative that the teachings of Lord Buddha be immortalized in writing for future generations to refer.
  • This led to 500 scholarly monks congregating at the Aluvihare Cave Temple to indoctrinate the sacred teachings in books made from ola leaves, known locally as ‘puskola poth’.
  • These sacred texts were housed at the temple library ever since its completion.
  • Come the Matale Rebellion of 1848 and the Aluvihare Cave Temple suffered a major blow in the hands of the British colonists, as it was destroyed and burnt down, along with the library and the sacred literary texts within it.
  • Although it was subsequently rebuilt by the chief prelate in 1899, the damages can still be seen even today, as only the first of the three main texts have been painstakingly rewritten and was completed only in 1982.
  • Apart from being the birthplace of the Tripitaka, the cave temple houses some pretty intricate statue, images and frescoes.
  • One of the notable statues being the reclining statue of Lord Buddha, together with many standing and seated images.
  • Another cave that has gained quite a lot of attention to many is the second cave that depicts a hellish afterlife for the sinner, filled with grotesque images of punishments, so as to make individuals understand the repercussions of the sinner.
  • One of the other major caves that is visited by many pilgrims and travellers is the cave dedicated to Buddhagosa, the Indian scholar monk who worked tirelessly to create the Tripitaka.
  • The complex also is home to a museum that showcases the rewritten Tripitaka after the destruction of the Matale Rebellion of 1848, making the experience all the more engaging for the traveller.

Times, Seasons and Tips

  • The cave temple is open daily 7.00am to 6.00pm and charges a nominal fee of LKR 250 to enter and explore the caves.
  • It is a sacred Buddhist temple after all, so it is mandatory that you respect the tradition of conservative clothing when entering the temple. In other words, make sure you wear clothing that covers the shoulders and legs as well.
  • Since there are a myriad of images painted on the wall that dates all the way to the 1st century BC, you will most definitely want to photograph at least one of them. It is best to ask permission from the monks or caretakers first and take without the flash of the camera.
  • Be mindful that you do not do anything that would disrespect Buddhist traditions.

All in all, the Aluvihare Cave Temple may be quite unknown to the casual traveller. However, a closer look into its historical and religious significance will definitely make you wonder why the cave temple is not as visited as its Dambulla neighbour.

Title image by: Kimaya Wickrama-Adittiya The information displayed is provided by Aluvihare Cave Temple


LKR 250

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