Stone Serenity – Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple

 In Best Time to Visit, Places To Visit, Sri Lanka

Nestled amidst the picturesque landscapes of Sri Lanka lies a timeless sanctuary of spiritual significance – the Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple. Perched in the heart of the Matale District, this ancient temple resonates with echoes of centuries past, offering a glimpse into the rich tapestry of Sri Lanka’s cultural and religious heritage.

As you discover our Sri Lanka Tour packages, join us on a journey through time as we delve into the history, mystique, and profound spirituality that define the Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple.

What is the Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple and where is it located?


The Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple, one of the most revered Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, resides in Aluvihare, within the Matale District of Sri Lanka. This cave temple is one of the most revered temples in Sri Lanka and is positioned along the Matale-Dambulla road, approximately 30 km north of Kandy. Its history dates back to the 3rd Century B.C. during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa, who is credited with constructing the dagoba, planting the sacred Bo sapling, and establishing the temple following the introduction of Buddhism to the country.

The Aluvihara Rock Temple Sri Lanka holds significant historical importance as it served as the site where the Pali Canon was first transcribed entirely onto Ola leaves. Numerous monastery caves, some adorned with intricate frescoes, are scattered in the vicinity of this revered temple.

History of Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple


An important place to visit in Sri Lanka is the Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple, and its history can be traced back to the 3rd Century B.C. during the rule of King Devanampiyatissa. 

The name Aluvihara is steeped in various meanings and legends, tracing back to its origins. Originally referred to as ‘Alu-Lena’ or ‘Aloka-Lena’ (Luminous Cave) according to legend, during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa (250-210 BC), a monk was engrossed in writing commentaries (Attha Katha). Witnessing this, the King of the Devas, Sakra, illuminated the cave to aid the monk’s endeavor.

Situated facing east, the cave temple welcomed the morning rays of sunrise, which led to its ancient name, Aloka-Lena.

Undoubtedly, the transcription of the Tipitaka brought doctrinal enlightenment to humanity, dispelling ignorance and suffering from the world. Thus, the name Alu-Lena signifies this significant event. In Pali, it is referred to as Aloka-Vihara, signifying Alu (Luminous) and Vihara (Temple).

Another legend states that a colossal figure once utilized three of the rocks as the foundation for his cooking vessel. The term Aluvihara, denoting Ash Monastery, originates from the remnants of ashes left behind by the fire which he used for cooking.

Architecture of Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple


At the entrance to the Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple in Sri Lanka stands a sturdy Pandal, featuring a concrete arch that guides visitors to a steep ascent of stone steps leading to the Meda-midula, or frontage terrace. From there, the journey continues with stone steps ascending to the drip ledge rock caves.

Within the Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple lies a library housing a collection of ancient relics, including Buddhist statues crafted from clay, brass, and marble, some adorned with gold plating. Among these treasures are invaluable Buddha statues gifted by Siam, Cambodia, China, Japan, and Myanmar, alongside other archaeological artifacts.

The first cave, approximately 25 feet in length and 10 feet in height served as one of the locations where ancient Thripitaka scriptures were inscribed on Ola leaves in Pali by Buddhist monks, as evidenced by bold Sinhala lettering denoting their composition during the reign of King Walagamba.

This rock cave sanctuary encompasses an Image House embellished with the traditional Makara Thorana, along with seated, standing, and reclining Buddha statues crafted from terra-cotta. The cave walls are adorned with murals depicting Jathaka stories, while Kandyan period paintings adorn the ceilings.

A spiral stone staircase leads to the summit, where the Sacred Bo Tree stands, providing a serene backdrop to an image house within the rock cave. Further exploration reveals a third cave nestled amidst a cluster of rock boulders, housing another rock cave where the Thripitaka scriptures were transcribed on Ola leaves by ancient Buddhist monks, as well as serving as a spacious residence for present-day Bhikkhus from various regions.

Destruction and renovation of Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple


During the Matale Rebellion of 1848, the ancient library housed within the Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple, which had safeguarded countless volumes of transcribed manuscripts across generations, suffered destruction. This devastating event not only caused significant harm to the temple complex but also left enduring marks on its grounds.

Reconstructing the Tripiaka, or the Buddhist canon, proved to be a lengthy process, spanning many years and involving numerous generations of monks. It wasn’t until 1982 that the first of the three segments of the “baskets of the law” was finally completed, underscoring the painstaking effort required for this monumental task, compounded by the scarcity of monks dedicated to this arduous undertaking.


How to Reach Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple

If you’re in the vicinity, you can go for renting a Tuk Tuk in Sri Lanka to hitch a ride to reach the temple. For those traveling from Colombo, catching a bus bound for Kurunegala is an option, with a journey time of approximately 3-4 hours. Alternatively, you can consider traveling by train or taxi, which typically takes around 2.5 hours to reach the temple.

Best time to visit Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple

The best time to visit Sri Lanka and the Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple is during the drier months from January to March. With lower rainfall and warm, sunny days, it’s perfect for discovering the temple’s treasures. Before January, rainfall is more common due to the monsoon season, and after March, temperatures soar, making sightseeing less enjoyable. However, if you can tolerate the heat or occasional rain showers, the temple is accessible year-round.

To make the most of your visit to this ancient site, it’s recommended to start early to avoid both the intense heat and crowds. The gentle morning light also provides ideal conditions for photography. Plan a leisurely lunch break either at your hotel or try a local ‘canteen’, typically a cozy outdoor space connected to a family home where authentic Sri Lankan cuisine is served.

This extended break allows you to escape the midday heat and resume your exploration refreshed in the afternoon. The temple usually remains open until 6 pm-7 pm, offering the opportunity to witness stunning sunsets at the end of your day. Thereafter, you can enjoy the stunning nightlife in Sri Lanka.

The significance and importance of Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple


The Aluvihare Buddhist temple in Matale holds profound significance both spiritually and historically. It marks a crucial moment in Theravada Buddhist tradition, being the site where Buddha’s oral teachings were first transcribed, ensuring their preservation in a more permanent form. This monumental endeavor safeguarded the dhamma from potential distortions inherent in oral transmission, securing its authenticity for future generations.

Beyond its religious importance, the temple is a cornerstone of Sri Lankan culture, serving as a center for education, a sanctuary during difficult times, and a custodian of spiritual heritage. It stands as a testament to the island’s unwavering dedication to safeguarding its religious and cultural legacy amidst multiple challenges over centuries. One can only envision the countless seekers of wisdom and solace who have traversed its hallowed grounds through the ages.

Moreover, the temple’s architecture, murals, and statues provide a rich glimpse into the artistic traditions nurtured under Buddhism’s influence in Sri Lanka. These intricate details offer profound insights into the creative and spiritual brilliance of past generations, with each element telling stories of devotion, enlightenment, and the enduring connection between the Dhamma and the island’s soil.

Things to do at Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple


A visit to Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple is a journey that captivates both the soul and the senses. You can start by delving into the network of rock caves transformed into shrine rooms. Inside, you’ll be greeted by breathtaking murals depicting tales from Buddha’s life, some dating back centuries, embodying Buddhist cosmology and teachings on karma and rebirth. The vibrant hues and intricate details of these artworks are so captivating that they almost seem to breathe with the devout narratives of history.

You can ascend the rock to reach the stupa crowning its peak, offering a sweeping vista of the surrounding hills—a perfect setting for inner healing and contemplation. Take a moment to absorb the serenity and contemplate the timeless allure of the natural landscape that has stirred spiritual devotion for generations.

Another highlight is the assortment of sacred relics, including a revered footprint believed to be that of the Buddha himself. Interacting with the resident monks is a great way to immerse yourself as they may share anecdotes or enlighten you about their way of life and rituals, and seize the chance to partake in a meditation session if available.

Do not miss out on the chance to explore the Dharmasala, or ‘Hall of Ola leaves,’ where the sacred scriptures were transcribed. You can also visit the Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple Museum, which showcases ancient manuscripts and artifacts.

Places to Visit near Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple

  • Ritigala monastery

Situated amidst the dense jungle within the rugged hills of the Ritigala Strict Nature Reserve, the fragmented stone remnants of the Ritigala monastery stand as enigmatic ruins, offering a glimpse into Sri Lanka’s ancient past. Originating from the 4th century, this forest hermitage complex encompasses a series of natural caves where monks sought solitude for meditation and embraced an austere way of life.

Crumbling staircases guide travelers to the Banda Pokuna tank. At the same time, restored pathways lead to various sunken courtyards and elevated terraces, believed to have once served as the monastery’s infirmary and repository of knowledge.

  • Aukana

Located 50 km southwest of Anuradhapura, the village of Aukana is renowned for its towering 12-meter-high rock-carved Buddha statue. Esteemed for its remarkable preservation, this intricately crafted sculpture is hailed as one of Sri Lanka’s finest, believed to originate from the 8th or 9th century.

Carved from a solitary rock, the Buddha is depicted standing with his right hand raised to his shoulder, palm open and facing outward, symbolizing courage. His left-hand rests against his body at the shoulder, encouraging worshippers to transcend earthly attachments.

  • Yapahuwa

Yapahuwa, once a prominent capital of Sri Lanka during the 13th century, is located at the foot of a massive granite rock. Following its abandonment after being seized by South Indian forces, the historic site boasts a steep, embellished staircase believed to have once housed the sacred Tooth Relic of Yapahuwa. This staircase also leads to a cave temple adorned with frescoes dating back to the 13th century. Ongoing excavations at the site continue to unveil additional stone ruins within the ancient fortress.


Stays near Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple

There are various hotels scattered near the Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple, catering to different budgets and preferences, ranging from budget-friendly to a few boutique choices for added charm. Here are some of our top 5 picks in the region, each offering a unique touch to enhance your Sri Lankan experience.

  1. Mahaweli Reach Hotel
  2. Clove Villa
  3. Aarunya Nature Resort and Spa
  4. Ashburnham Estate
  5. Jim’s Farm Villas

Something to take back

A visit to Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple in Sri Lanka offers not just a journey through history, but also a profound spiritual and cultural experience. This remarkable site, with its intricate carvings, towering structures, and serene surroundings, invites us to reflect on the achievements of past civilizations and contemplate the deeper meanings of life.

Whether you’re drawn by curiosity, spirituality, or simply a love for exploration, exploring this beloved rock temple is sure to leave an indelible mark on your soul and deepen your appreciation for the rich tapestry of human heritage.

How to get to Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple?

If you are close by, a tuk-tuk is an easier option to reach the temple. For people traveling from afar, public transportation such as bus rides and taxis are easily available, which can drop you off at the temple.

What is the average time that can be spent at Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple?

A maximum of 2-3 hrs can be spent discovering the wonders of Aluvihara Temple.

Most popular time to visit Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple?

The best time to visit Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple is from January to March with a lower chance of rainfall during this time.

How did Aluvihara receive its name?

The name Aluvihara carries various meanings and legends. Originally known as ‘Alu-Lena’ or ‘Aloka-Lena’ (Luminous Cave) – during the rule of King Devanampiyatissa (250-210 BC), a monk was diligently working on commentaries (Attha Katha). Witnessing his dedication, the King of Devas, Sakra, illuminated the cave to assist him in his endeavors leading to the name of the temple.

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