Like I’ve mentioned before, the trip to Sri Lanka was one filled with cross-cultural learning for me. Although the entire Golden Caves are depicting the Naga Clan, from which Prince Siddhartha belonged, the smaller temples at the foothills though have an abundance of lion symbolism. The lions are representative of the royalty, as Buddhist was promoted in the island nation by King Ashoka, who was from the Shakya (lion) clan. A prior Buddha (Buddha means the enlightened one and hence there were many Buddhas, similar to the Thirtankars of Jainism), Shakyamuni was also from the lion clan, and hence these viharas may be a homage to him as well.
The pillars in these holy shrines have human forms holding the structure up. they seem to be crushing under the weight, but hold up the structures nonetheless. In an older visit to another Buddhist location (Ajantha Caves, Aurangabad) , one of the guides told me they depict the weight of the world or agyaana.
As you enter and exit Buddhist temples you may encounter an ornately decorated moonstone. Known as Sakanda Pahana in Sinhalese, these semi circles are ornately carved with creepers, elephants, swans and lotuses. The relevance and significance of these symbols have been beautifully described here.