Dhowa Rock Temple


The Dhowa Rock Temple gives visitors an insight into the region’s vibrant heritage and is amongst the must-see demonstrations in Bandarawela near Ella Sri Lanka. Furthermore known as the Dova Raja Maha Viharaya, this sacred Buddhist site is a 15 to 20-minute drive from Ella and provides a fascinating journey back in time.
Surrounded by the rich green sceneries of Ella, the Dova Temple dates back to the first century B.C, constructed under King Walagamba. The most impressive element here is the towering 38 foot tall Buddha statue; though incomplete, this grand statue carved into the rock has been the test of time and has quietly watched over the site through the centuries.
Amidst the peace and seclusion, visitors will come across an Image House with several chambers where one can see old murals intricately painted onto the walls and statues of Lord Buddha.

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If you travel to Ella in Sri Lanka, a pit stop at the Dhowa Rock Temple, also known as Dhowa Rajamaha Viharaya, is highly recommended. While most travellers usually cross Bandarawela, a white Dagoba and car park on the right side are hard to miss, but what you cannot see from the road is a rare, giant Buddha statue cut from the rock in ancient times. The statue is one of the many rock-hewn Buddha statues in Sri Lanka's highlands, and though it is less impressive than those of Aukana or Buduruwagala, it is worth the break. This article will explore the history and significance of the rock-cut Buddha statue of Dowa and the Dowa Rock Temple so you know what to expect during your visit.

Rock-Cut Buddha Statue of Dhowa Rock Temple

The Dhowa Rock Temple is famous for being the only rock-hewn Buddha statue in Sri Lanka's highlands. The Buddha statue is 11 metres (almost 38 ft) in height and needs to be well-preserved, as the rock is brittle. However, the face of the statue is excellently carved. Therefore, the statue should be mentioned in ancient chronicles or inscriptions. Due to the similarity to the centre rock statue of Buduruawagala is attributed to the late Anuradhapura period, 9th to 10th century C.E. Though depicting a Buddha in the typical style of Sri Lankan art, showing the Abhaya Mudra. This statue was Mahayanist and, therefore, not mentioned in the chronicles written by rivalling Therada Buddhists.

Dhowa Rock Temple

The Dhowa Rock Temple is situated below the car park and cliff that carries the rock-cut Buddha statue of Dhowa. The temple is full of colourful murals in the Kandyan style. In the vestibule in front of the cave rooms, several "Jataka Stories" from the Buddhist Holy Scriptures illustrate instances from the Buddha's past lives. They stress his self-sacrifice for others, enabling him to find enlightenment and the final Nibbana (Nirvana) in his last existence as Gotama Shakyamuni.

Bo-Tree of the Dowa Rock Temple

The Bo tree, a common feature of almost all Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, is picturesquely situated on a terrace above the valley of a stream belonging to the Badulu Oya river system. An ancient wall encircles the Bo-tree, and Buddha statues are set aside. A water pond with a small rock nearby supplies water for devotees, who water the Bo-tree on Poya days (full moon days).

Demon guarding the Entrance of the Dowa temple

The Demon refers to a fictional or mythical creature believed to guard the Entrance of the Dowa temple. It is often depicted as a fearsome and powerful being who can ward off evil spirits and protect the temple from harm. This concept is common in many cultures and religions, where it is believed that certain beings have the power to protect sacred spaces from harm. In Japanese mythology, for example, demons or oni are often depicted as powerful protectors of Buddhist temples. In Hinduism, the god Ganesha is sometimes believed to guard the Entrance to certain temples.

Murals at the Dhowa Rock Temple

The Dhowa Rock Temple is known for its beautiful murals that adorn the walls of its main hall. The murals depict scenes from Buddhist mythology and historical events and figures. Many murals date back to the 8th century and are considered masterpieces of Buddhist art.

History of the Dhowa Rock Temple

The Dhowa Rock Temple, also known as the Dhowa Temple or Dowa Cave Temple, is an ancient Buddhist temple in Bandarawela, Sri Lanka. The temple is believed to have been constructed during the 1st century B.C., during the reign of King Walagamba.

The temple is situated in a cave and is believed to have been used as a refuge by Buddhist monks during the early periods of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The cave has been expanded and developed over the centuries, with new additions such as the murals and the statue of the reclining Buddha being added during the Kandyan period.

During the reign of King Valagamba, the Dowa Temple was used as a sanctuary for monks who the king's enemies persecuted. According to legend, the king took refuge in the temple during exile.

How to Reach the Dhowa Rock Temple

The Dhowa Rock Temple is located in the central highlands of Sri Lanka, near Bandarawela. To reach the temple, you can take a bus or hire a taxi from the nearby cities of Bandarawela or Ella.

From Bandarawela, you can take a bus towards Badulla and get off at the Dhowa Rock Temple bus stop. From there, the temple is a short walk away.

If you are coming from Ella, you can take a bus towards Bandarawela and get off at the Dowa Temple bus stop. Alternatively, you can hire a taxi or tuk-tuk to take you to the temple.

The road to the temple can be steep and narrow, so it's best to be prepared for a slightly challenging journey. However, the stunning views and the unique history of the temple make it well worth the effort.


1. What is the best time to visit Dhowa Rock Temple?

  • The best time to visit Dhowa Rock Temple is during the dry season, from June to September. The weather is generally pleasant, and rainfall is less likely during this time.

2. Is there an entrance fee for Dhowa Rock Temple? 

  • Yes, there is an entrance fee for Dhowa Rock Temple. 

3. Is there a dress code for visiting Dowa Rock Temple? 

  • Yes, visitors are expected to dress modestly when visiting Dhowa Rock Temple. Therefore, shorts and sleeveless tops are not allowed. 

4. What are some things to do near Dhowa Rock Temple? 

  • Nearby attractions include the Adisham Bungalow, Thangamale bird sanctuary, hiking trails, and tea plantations.

5. Are there accommodations near Dhowa Rock Temple? 

  • Yes, several accommodations are near Dhowa Rock Temple, including guesthouses, villas, and hotels. 

6. Can I take photographs inside the Dhowa Rock Temple? 

  • Photography is allowed inside the temple but is prohibited in certain areas. Visitors are advised to follow the instructions of the temple authorities.

7. Is there a parking area near the Dhowa Rock Temple? 

  • Yes, there is a parking area near the temple entrance where visitors can park their vehicles.

8. Are any food and drink options available near Dhowa Rock Temple?

  •  Several restaurants and cafes located near Dhowa Rock Temple offer a variety of Sri Lankan and international cuisine.

9. Can I hire a guide to visit Dhowa Rock Temple? 

  • Yes, visitors can hire a guide to accompany them to Dhowa Rock Temple. Guides are available at the temple entrance and can provide valuable information about the history and significance of the temple.


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