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The earliest paintings and sculptural works that formed an essential part of the development of Sri Lankan Buddhist architecture in the early historical period can no longer be found.  But the relief sculptures of the frontispieces (vahalkadas) of ancient stupas, dating from the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and their platforms depict the relief sculptures probably made towards the end of the Early Historic Period.   The stylistic features of these sculptures shed much light on the formation of a Sri Lankan classical style in sculpture and painting.  The work of the Middle Historical Period shows the continuity and the persistence of this style throughout this period.

Jetavana Stupa, Anuradhapura, 3rd-4th centuries and after. The super structure of the stupa has collapsed. If this was extended to its logical peak, the total height of the stupa from the terrace measures about 400 feet.

Sigiriya &  its water gardens and moats, 5th century. The western precinct of the Sigiriya Complex.

Residence of a Chief Monk, Abhayagiri, Anuradhapura, 5th-8th centuries. The residence of a chief monk was also the teaching unit where the pupils were guided in their academic and religious training.

Moonstone, Abhayagiri, Anuradhapura, 6th-8th centuries. This is one of the most exquisite moonstones found in Sri Lanka.

Nagaraja, Jetavana, Anuradhapura, 9th-10th centuries. An unfinished guardstone that was being prepard for the residence of the chief monk at Jetavana.

Lankatilaka Image-house, Polonnaruva, 12 century. This was originally a brick vaulted structure with a stucco covered exterior.

Rare bronze Vajrapani discovered near Ratkaravva Puranavihara (Kurunagala district). Late Anuradhapura Period, 750AD - 850AD.

Dolomite marble torso of a standing Nagini or Yaksini, found at Anuradhapura or Mihintale. Late Anuradhapura Period, 4th-5th century. Archaeological Museum, Anuradhapura.

Naga Symbol, Abhayagiri, Anuradhapura, 6th-8th centuries. This symbol is generally associated with water and is often found at water inlets or outlets. The present example is from the Twin Ponds complex.

Silver image of meditating Tara, possibly the consort of Tathagata Amitabha. From Gangaramaya (Kurunagala district). Late Anuradhapura Period, 7th-8th century.

Samadhi Image at Galvihara, Polonnaruwa, 12th century. This statue is one of the masterpieces of Sri Lankan Buddhist sculpture.

Detail of the sandalwood door-frame at the entrance to the Visnu Devale at Aludeniya, Kandy district. Presented by king Bhuvanekabahu lV (1341-1351), ruling from Gampola.

Standing rock-carved Buddha, popularly identified with Ananda. Gal Vihara, Polonnaruwa. Polonnaruwa Period, reign of Parakramabahu l (1153 - 1186AD).


The earliest datable paintings in the classical style are found in the 5 century place-city of Sigiriya of King Kashyapa.  After Sigiriya, the 12 century AD murals at the Tivanka Image house at Polonnaruva are the most comprehensive body of paintings found at one place that belongs to this period.  A period of 600 years separates Tivanka from Sigiriya, but stylistically Thivanka murals are an extension of the classical-naturalistic style that developed during the Early Historical period centered in the Kingdom of Anuradhapura.

Apsara. Sigiriya, 5th century.

Divine beings. Pulligoda cave-temple, Dimbulagala. 7th-8th century.

Apsara, Sigiriya 5th century.

Geometrical shapes & motifs, Cobrahood cave, Sigiriya, 5th century.


The painting style and technique of the Sigiriya murals are unique among the murals of the Anuradhapura period.  While it can be located within the broad stylistic aspects of Anuradhapura paintings, Sigiriya, however, has unique features in terms of line and its application.  The lines of Sigiriya murals impart an ambience of sketchiness and swiftness that establishes the sense of volume in the shapes and forms of the figures.  The multiple presences of sketchy lines further enhances the sense of volume-ness of the shapes and forms of the painted figures by giving rise to a subtle spatial ambiguity at the edges of the painted forms.  In other words the lines of Sigiriya murals constitute an exploratory pictorial approach in the very act of drawing as an art, and in the act of registering the sense of volume on a flat surface.  The sense of volume-ness thus registered on the surface is further confirmed by the way the paint has been applied.


Divine beings from panel composition (details). South wall of antarala, Tivanka temple, Polonnaruva.  Last quarter of the 12 century

The paint has been applied in sweeping strokes, imparting slightly more pressure on one side of a flat brush, which has thus created a deeper color tone along the edges of a shape. This has also resulted in leaving a high tone area on the shapes and forms of the figures.  This feature is more or less a common stylistic feature of the Anuradhapura paintings, as can be seen from the murals of Mahiyangana relic-chamber, or form the 'Pulligoda galge' murals.  However, what distinguish these murals from Sigiriya are the lines and their application.  In general the main characteristic of the lines of Anuradhapura painting style, including that of Polonnaruwa is that it is a sure and precise linear mark registered on the surface is also the artists last line.  One does not see the sketchy and exploratory nature of the Sigiriya lines and their application that make them unique among the murals of the Anuradhapura period.

Visnu bearing a tray of flowers.  Relic-chamber painting, Mahiyangana.  9,11 century.

Divine beings from panel composition (details).  South wall of antarala, Tivanka temple, Polonnaruva.  12 century

A divine being.  Relic chamber painting, Mahiyangana. 9,11 century. 

Robed figures in postures of adoration.  Relick chamber painting, Mahiyangana.  9,11 century