Mulgirigala Buddha statue, 5 great destinations for Sri Lanka solo travel

Paintings of Sri Lanka, paintings of Kelaniya temple, Sri Lanka

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Exploring historical monuments such as temples, dagobas, palaces, forts, ancient lakes, and reservoirs is one of the most popular activities among travellers. As you drive to the ancient site it is highly possible to encounter paintings. And some of the paintings to see on the island are dating back pre-Christian era.

Paintings of Sri Lanka

The Oldest paintings of the island are dating back to the Pre-Christina era, they were drawn by the people, who lived during the early Stone Age on the island. Those paintings and are to be symbols have been discovered in old granite caves in the central part of Sri Lanka. Tantirimale, Madagala, Kadurupoluna and Mahalena are some of the places, where such paintings have been discovered. The themes of those paintings are the plants and trees, flowers and animals, and they are coloured red. Paintings are drawn onto the surface of the granite caves without any sort of plaster.

Granite caves throughout the island were often inhabited by the monks and hermits in the early days of ancient Sri Lanka. Some of those caves used by the monks are also shown in some paintings from the early days of Sri Lanka. It is a common belief that those paintings were not done by the monks owing to the teaching of Buddha, but they were carried out by painters under the supervision of the rulers such as kings and queens.

Most of the ancient paintings on the island are categorized under religious paintings and they are based on Buddha and Bodhisatwa. One distinct characteristic of ancient paintings of the island is using the red colour as a dominating colour; this style was used until the end of the Polonnaruwa period. The paintings of ancient India are differed largely from the paintings from Sri Lanka due to their floral borders that are in black colour.

The Cave temple of Kurandaka in Ambalantota is one of the best places to witness the ancient religious painting of the island. The paintings of the temple are believed to be from the 2nd century B.C.

Karambagalla and Ridigama are also some of the noteworthy places to see the ancient religious painting in Sri Lanka, paintings of both these places are also supposed to be done in 2nd century B.C. figures found in those paintings are simple and highly stylized and they are schematic. The paintings are strikingly clear and full of details.

The technique used in frescoes in ancient Sri Lanka is unique to the country. There had been few layers of lime or clay underneath the paintings. A layer made of tempera and oil is also applied to the surface. The colours of the paintings were made of natural elements, white colour was achieved using lime or Magnesia, and coal had been used to make the black colour, red and yellow from others, the green colour was made using the plants.

The frescoes of Sigiriya (a part of most Sri Lanka tour packages) are considered to be masterpieces of art on the island which are drawn in 5th century A.D by an unknown artist. Even contemporary artists are discussing and researching the damsels of the Sigiriya frescoes.  The paintings of the Dambulla cave temple are considered among the best temple paintings of all time in the country. Some of the paintings in the cave are dating back to the 12th century or the reign of King Nissankamalla.  The paintings of the 3rd cave originated in the Kandyan period, during the reign of Kirti Sri Rajasinghe.

The Paintings of Kelaniya temple are considered to be the masterpiece of the art of the contemporary period. Kelaniya is one of the most venerated places on the island as it was visited by Buddha in the 6th century B.C.

Breathtaking paintings of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka

The paintings in Kelaniya temple are some of the best paintings belonging to the Colombo city tour period. The older viharage (house with statues and paintings) of the Kelaniya temple, consisting of 2 chambers, contains paintings depicting the jataka katha (incidents pertaining to the Buddha’s life).

It is believed that the paintings had been done with the intention of leading the people along the correct path in life. The chamber beside the old viharage contains four classic paintings which are known as Mahiyangana, Nagadeepa, Kelaniya and Padalachana.

The newer section of the viharage contains paintings done by the well-known artist from Kahawa, Solius Mendis, over a period spanning 15 years.

The viharage is the only location in the country where one can see the completed work of this great artist, who was born in 1895 and passed away in 1975. Mendis changed the tradition of temple art followed up to that time, and even chose new themes for the work. Solius Mendis has contributed paintings in many Buddhist temples on the island, Meddepola Vihara, Mapitigala Malwana Purana Vihara, Jayamangala Vihara are some of the noteworthy places of them.

The painting work of Kelaniya was started in 1930 and ended in 1948. The painting of the new temple at Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara was praised by many renowned painters in the world such as Indian artists Nandalal Boss and Joe Pikasso. Solius Mendis has improved his painting capabilities in world-renowned institutions in India and he had an opportunity to study the paintings of Ajantha, Ellora, and Sharanath during that time.

The artwork at Kelaniya depicts the history of the temple and other important events of Buddhism and follows the tradition of other Eastern countries. The old method of drawing several pictures to depict a series of happenings in the same event was done away with, and bigger pictures, taking up more space on the walls, were drawn. Some of them were actual life-size drawings. He is said to have followed his own style in drawing, after studying the paintings at Ajantha and Ellora caves in India.

Even the colours and paints used had been created by him, using the locally available natural material such as clay. Mendis is said to have created the statues in the temple too. The lines of his art are very delicate and lively and have a tri-dimensional appearance. He has followed the technique known as “Petpara” where the drawings are done on dry plaster. by using various colours in drop form, transparent shapes had been achieved.

The artist had been very successful in mixing colours and there are hardly any instances of colours like blue and green being used in their pure form. The colours which are most prominent are maroon, yellow, black, white and red. It is difficult to even imagine how Mendis would have conceived of some of the shades in the temple. They are paler and more soothing to the eye. These works of art received acclaim the world over, and have been recognized for their refined elegance.

Paintings from the Kandyan period of Sri Lanka

The stylized paintings known as Sittara art that one sees in many temples in the hill country and also on the south coast of Sri Lanka where the cultural impact of Kandy was felt are typically Kandyan. These paintings are all done in long horizontal panels covering the entire wall space narrating a story in full detail, very often a Jataka, by depicting the chief events with a few words of explanation written beneath.

The best-known examples of these comic strip type paintings are found in several temples in Kandy such as Degaldoruwa, Madavela, Dambulla cave temple and Danagirigala and at Tevatta and Mulgirigala in the south. One of the grandest is the depiction of the Vessantara Jataka at Degaldoruwa with the king riding on his elephant with all the insignia of the state; the elephant is drawn with the greatest of skill, the slow movement of the lifted feet and the swinging bells give just the idea of dignified slow progress.

This folk art didactic yet delightful, cannot be traced as far as it is known to any foreign influence;  nor does it derive any inspiration from classical and more sophisticated Sigiriya fresco and arts of Polonnaruwa. It was not the courtly art of an affluent court and nobility, but a refined and dignified form of folk art serving the religious needs of a peasant population.

Mention should be made of the dance and music that was patronized by the Kandyan court, such as the vannam which was of south Indian origin and the vigorous style of dancing appropriately styled Kandyan dancing. In fact, by the end of the eighteenth century, Kandy had become a definite cultural zone with its own art and architecture, arts and crafts, dance, and music. Any form of artistic expression that has survived in Sinhala society today owes its origin to or has deprived inspiration of Kandy.

What is prominent in the Kandyan era, despite the economic and political decline, is the strong social system of the Kandyan Sinhalese, which generated a capacity for communal action. Amidst instability and impoverishment, Sinhalese cultural achievements were made possible by the socio-economic structure within which the architect, the craftsman and the smith were a part of the civil service paid by state grants of land. On all these grounds it would, therefore, seem that the Kandyan kingdom deserves a place in history.

The late eighteenth century witnessed a revival of religion and learning and there was a sudden output of Sinhalese literary works, both in verse and prose. Court patronage was generously extended to the writers so that the literature tended to be panegyric in nature and often eulogized the non-existent virtues of kings and noblemen in the hope of reward. Learning was largely confined to the monasteries and literature served the needs of religion and the religious community.