The Ancient India & Iran Trust motif
Howard Wilson Archive Six Marks of Buddhist Art and Iconography in Sri Lanka
The Bodhi TreeThe DagabaThe ScripturesThe BuddhaTemple of the ToothSri Pada
The Arts of the Palace The Arts of the Vihara
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From the beginning, the rulers of the kingdoms in Sri Lanka were major benefactors of the arts especially as the arts dealt with the teachings of the Buddha. Throughout the early history of Sri Lanka the arts were expressions of devotion to the Buddha and also to the Kings.

Dutthagamani (161 - 137 BCE)

Dutthagamani (161 - 137 BCE)

An early king of Sri Lanka and great national hero, Dutthagamani was an earnest supporter of the arts.

Parakramabahu I (1153 - 1186 CE)

Parakramabahu I (1153 - 1186 CE)

Parakramabahu I was a restorer of the Kingdom and famous for encouraging the arts.

Fan Board

This Fan Board is one of a large collection in the British Museum. The fans show paintings of Kandyan kings and were carried in royal processions.

Royal Crown

The Royal Crown shown here belonging to the last reigning king in Kandy, Sri Vickrama Rajasinha (1798 - 1815 CE), can be seen in the Colombo Museum.


In the 5th Century CE, King Kassapa I (477 - 495 CE) built his Palace and gardens on the famous Sigiria Rock, an outcrop in the middle of the flat Sri Lankan plain. Here the exquisite ‘Cloud Maidens’ were created.

The Royal Palace of Sigiriya

The Royal Palace of Sigiriya

The paintings on the rock face, seen in the images below, have been on exhibit for centuries and are lovely under any circumstance, but are remarkable considering the exposure to the elements over the centuries. They remain a wonderful testimony to the talents of the artists.

Cloud Maidens Cloud Maidens
Post-Colonial Contact Period Arts

The Post-Colonial contact period saw another dimension of creativity develop with the arrival of the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British, all of whom encouraged the meticulous carving of ivory articles (chests and cabinets especially) often embellished with precious gems, making them elegant gifts for visiting royalty.

Beautiful artwork is seen in the carving of ivory and wood, the sculpting in stone and precious metals, and in the painting best illustrated in the cave paintings of the monasteries (viharas) as seen in the section - “The Arts of the Vihara”.

Sword handle

This 18th century sword hilt (makara) of Kandyan design with curling profile and intricate tracery can be seen in the Field Museum in Chicago.

Ivory comb

A carved ivory comb is from the Avery Brundage Museum in San Francisco.

Areca nut cutter

A nut cutter (areca) carved with lion’s head and body of a bird.

Ivory plaque

This Ivory plaque is from the Avery Brundage Museum in San Francisco

Ivory Casket

An intricately carved round casket with silver locks is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Ivory Chest

This shows the back panel of a chest from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England. The panel illustrates the coming of the Portuguese to Sri Lanka.

Ivory Chest Ivory Chest

The front view of an unusually large ivory chest with traditional Sri Lankan carvings is exceptionally well done. It is likely from the Kotte kingdom. A detail panel is seen above. This chest can be found in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Ivory Casket

This heavily jewelled casket is unique in that it tells the story of the Bodhi Tree cutting being brought to Sri Lanka. The chest can be seen at the Schatzkammer Museum in Munich.

Ivory Chest

The Kunsthistorische Museum in Vienna has a fine collection of carved ivory chests from Sri Lanka. The chest shown above is distinctive in that it is decorated with ebony.

  Royal ladle

It is a custom in Sri Lanka to keep cool water outside for the traveller. This royal ladle is from the Cleveland Museum in Ohio and is 20 inches long. The bowl of the ladle is carved silver.


More images of ivory from the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum are soon to be added to this section.

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