The complex had it's beginnings somewhere around the 3rd century BC. The early monstrosities were located along the western and southern rock face and the surrounding boulder area that eventually became one of the largest Buddhist monastic settlements in the island. These early monks dwellings were really caves with donator y inscriptions carved on the brow of the cave. The uppermost group of rock shelters on the southern rock face continued down the centuries to become the focus of ritual and artistic activities of the Dambulla temple.
Since its early beginnings, the upper terrace had been continuously in occupation for more than twenty-two centuries down to the present day. The internal area of the five cave temples you see today is about 1000 square metres and one of the largest rock shelters in the south and South east Asian region. Scholars have compared these with the major sites in India such as Ajantha. But they add that these are different in both a distinctly Sri Lankan expression of a board south Asian temple concept and has few parallels elsewhere. Dambulla is undoubtedly the largest, the most dramatic, the best preserved and the most integrated example of this type of Buddhist vihara in Sri Lanka.