You are on page 1of 63

Chapter one

'

Introduction

According to the general acceptance, art is the expression of communications of

man's deepest instincts and emotions reconciled and integrated with his social

experience and cultural heritage. Ancient Indian and Sri Lankan literature speaks of
1
sixty-four such arts. 0fthese, in fact, the art of painting occupies a very important place.

Consequently, it is maintained in the Visnudharmottarapurana, an ancient Indian canon

of painting that as Sum em is the chief of the mountains, as Garnda is the chief of those

born out of eggs, as the king is the chiefofmen, even so in this world is the practice of

painting, the chief of all arts?In addition, it has been mentioned as the giver of all the

deeds i.e. Dharma, pleasure, wealth and emancipation. It can lead to auspiciousness and
. 3
prospenty too.

Besides such statements of ancient writers, which always arouse the emotional

feelings of the reader, it is evident that wall paintings _exist from early times not only in

India and Sri Lanka but also in different countries of Asia i.e. Central Asia, Afghanistan,

Nepal, Thailand, Burma, Laos etc. Although a lame portion of these wall _paintings has

1
The number sixty-four happens to be recognised as very auspicious in the Indian way of thinking. Hence,
besides sixty-four branches of fine arts, there were also sixty-four Mayas, sixty-four Yoginis, sixty-four
Mudras, widely known in the heritage of ancient Indian culture. In fact, sixty-four happens to be a legendary
arithmetical figure too in the Indian concept. For details of sixty-four arts please refer to Anil Baran
Ganguly, Fine arts in India, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, 1979, chap.2, pp.l5-2l. For a discussion of
the concept of sixty-four arts in ancient Sri Lankan literature please refer toM Somathilake, A study of the
mural paintings of the Kandyan period, Unpublished graduation thesis, Department ofHisto:ry, University of
Pcradeniya, 1990, Chapter 1.
2
Visnudharmottara, ed. Priya Bala Shah, Gaekewad Oriental Series, Baroda, 1961, III, 43; 39.
3
1bid III, 45-48, I, 43;38.
2

been destroyed, mainly through the effect of nature, human vandalism and neglect,

several of them are available which give a fair idea of what they must have been. It is

interesting to note that though these paintings are in different countries of Asia, there are

common factors, which bind them together. Primarily, most of them are influenced by

the Buddhist theme and there seems to be a common approach in their execution of

figures, lines and colour scheme. Another common factor seems to be the technique of

execution ofpaintings. 4Thus, the mural painting tradition became a vital expression with

a common Asiatic style, an art of line and paints specially made famous at Ajanta and

Bagh in India and Sigiriya and Polonnaruva in Sri Lanka and in many other Asian
5
countnes.
0

In fact, this gigantic creative endeavour found its full flowering with. the spread of

Buddhism in many lands. It is evident that particularly India and Sri Lanka have a long

history of paintings which started from prehistoric times and continued to the later

periods and within this tradition there are various subdivisions such as wall paintin_gs.,

canvas or scroll paintings (Tanka or.Petikada), drawings on banners or flags, paintings or

sketches on earthenware, manuscript paintings, paintings on manuscript covers,

paintings of masks etc though_ some of these examples are currently not available. In this
6
study, out of such painting traditions, the focus will be only on the mural tradition that

was done on plaster on walls and rock surfaces. It is to be noted at this point that this

4
OP Agrawal, "Wall paintings: An Asian perspective," Wall paintings of India: A historical perSj>ective, ed.
OP Agrawal, INTACH ConseiVation Centre, Lucknow, 1989, p 1.
5
See Laurence Binyon, Painting in the fareast: An introduction to the history of pictorial art in Asia.
eSj>ecially China and Japan, London, 1913, p.36; Nadun, "Mural painting," Viskam (Creativity), Souvenir
publication on the occasion of the 5th Non-aligned summit conference held in Sri Lanka 1976, State Printing
Corporation, Colombo, 1976, p.55.
6
The word mural is derived from Latin murus (French mur) meaning wall and therefore paintings done on
the walls are known as mural paintings.
3

whole tradition of mural painting may be classified into three major groups as fresco
7
buon or wet process, fresco-secco 8 (and secco proper,9 which is a slightly variant form

of fresco secco) and tempera 10 mainly based on their techniques which have been

discussed in the fifth chapter in detail.

The earliest wall painting tradition:

Although the techniques are not similar in all the ancient periods, as in the case of

the paintings or the sketches drawn on earthenware, 11 the history of mural painting also

may be traced to prehistoric times. 1Zrhere are four principle centres in India where such

paintings have been discovered; Mahadeo hills of Vindhyan range in Bundelkhand in

Madhya Pradesh, Raigarh of Singhanpur and Kabar Pahar in Madhya Pradesh, Mirzapur

7
The technique offresco-buon or wet process was first perfected in Italy in about 1300 AD.It consists of
painting with lime-resistant colours on damp-plaster, i.e. plaster which has not yet set. The plaster can only
be painted on in this state; therefore, the painter divides his work into so-called day piece, each day piece
being the area, which can be finished in one day or at a single stretch. When the plaster sets, the particles of
colour automatically crystallised into the wall thus remain permanently ftxed and fused with it. They cannot
flake off. The fresco can only be damaged if the wall decays. For further details in this regard, please refer to
chapter five of the thesi'l.
8
Wet process is done on fresh, moist plaster, whereas fresco secco (or lime painting) is done on a plaster,
which is set. The swface in the latter case has to be thoroughly soaked and washed down several times with
slaked lime to which some fme river-sand has to be added. The paint must be applied while the slaked lime
is in viscous state. In this method of painting the ground should be prepared of polished lime-plaster and
then lime-fast colours, prepared with limewater and diluted with slaked lime, should be applied. For further
details, please refer to chapter five.
9
The number of colours can be increased in this kind of painting by adding casein or gum to the lime; this
makes them more intense. If the amount of casein is still further increased, fresco-secco becomes lime
casein painting or secco-proper. For further details please refer to chapter ftve of the thesis.
10
Tempera is used to defme a painting medium by which the colours are mixed and tempered with the help
of glue, gum, resin or the yolk of the egg and for specification this may require specific terms like
glue-tempera, gum tempera or egg tempera. See Rutherford J Gettens and George L Stout, Painting
materials, New York, 1946, pp.69-70.
11
See. D.H. Gordon, "Early Indian painted pottery," Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art, Vol.Xlll,
1945; Z.D. Ansari, "Evaluation of pottery forms and fabrics in India," Marg, VoLXN, No.3, 1961;
Ragunadan Prasad Tiwari, Survey of drawing in ancient India, Jndological Book House, Delhi, 1978,
pp.4-5; OC Gangoly, "The glorious beginning," Panorama of Indian painting, Publication Division,
Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 1968, pp.l-3; Pratapaditya Pal, Indian
painting, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, Vol.l, 1993, p.l6.
4

area in the Son valley of the Kaimur range in the area of Bagelkhand and Manikpur in

Banda District in Uttar Pradesh. 13 Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten that even a

superficial study of these paintings shows that a large number of them cannot be attributed

to the prehistoric epochs. For instance, horse riders armed with swords, spears and shields

do not belong to a society of hunters and gatherers and can only have been painted with ·

the domestication of the horse and the development of such weapons. Hence, these may

be dated to the proto-historic or historic periods. Yet, there remain an astonishingly large

number of paintings that contain technological and cultural traits that have a prehistoric
1
origin. '1n these earliest wall paintings oflndia, at least twenty styles have been identified
mainly based on their technique, pigments and subject matter and this form of art is

described as X-ray style due to their method of displaying outer contour of the figures. 15

In Sri Lanka, the prehistoric paintings of the earliest human settlement are said to

have been found in the Balangoda area. 16Nevertheless, this statement does not have

universal acceptability, since some archaeologists argue that although paintings belonging

to the prehistoric period have been found in various .places in the world none has been

found in the Balangoda region. Even in an underground cave at Walimada Stripura, such a

painting has not been found. 17 This view is supported by other archaeologists in the

12
Yashodhara Mathpa~ Prehistoric rock paintings ofBhimbetk!!, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, 1999,
pp.30-32.
13
Vasudeva S Agrawala, Indian art: A history of Indian art from the earliest times upto the third century AD,
Prithivi Prakashan, V aranasi, 1965, p.l 0; C. Sivaramamurti, Introduction to Indian art, Amo1d-Heinemann,
New Delhi, 1985, p.l4. It is evident that the largest group of these paintings has been discovered in
Madyapradesh, but over the last few decades important centres have been found in other parts of the
subcontinent as well. See Pratapaditya Pal, Indian painting, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California,
Vol.I, 1993, p.l7.
14
Erwin Neumayer, Prehistoric Indian rock paintings, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1983, p.8.
15
Susan L Huntington, The art of ancient India Buddhist Hindu Jain, Weatherhill New York, 1985, p.4.
16
Anuradha Senaviratna, Culture and arts, Indika Press, Colombo, 1981, p.13 7.
17
S U Deraniyagala, (Interviewed by DD Dais), Silumina, Lake House, Colombo, 26th October 1986, p.l5.
5

Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka too. 18It is to be noted at this point that in fact, the

chronology of these ancient Sri Lankan paintings has not yet been scientifically

established or even attempted. Nevertheless, there is a possibility that the engravings at

Doravakakanda may belong to prehistoric times as this cave yielded some evidence of

being a prehistoric site. 19At other sites, these drawings are more likely to be the work of

the modern V eddas. 20

Thus, it is obvious that though the fixation of a precise chronology is problematic

the earliest paintings of the island are generally referred to as prehistoric art. A large

number of these caves with paintings are found in the country and according to the way

how these caves have been projected by nature they have not been confined to one region

alone, but they are spread to almost all parts of Sri Lanka?1It is to be realized at this point

that during this period of both India and Sri Lanka unlike that oflater periods, the varieties

of surfaces available for the paintings were limited. The most accessible or readily

available surface was the unpolished rough surface of walls of the caves or dwelling

18
W Wijepala, "Prehistory of Sri Lanka," Kautukagara, National Museum of Sri Lanka, Colombo, Vol. II,
1988,pp.6-ll; See also Nandadeva Wijesekara, The people of Ceylon, Gunasenaco, Colombo, 1960, p.31;
"Prehistoric age," University of Ceylon History of Ceylon.. Vol.I, pt I, Vidyalankara University Press,
Kelaniya, 1959, p.80; BD Nandadeva, "Rock art sites of Sri Lanka; A catalogue," Ancient Ceylon, No.6,
1979, pp.l73-205. -
19
BD Nandadeva, "Rock art sites of Sri Lanka; A catalogue," Ancient Ceylon.. No.6, 1979, p.l75.
°
2
For instance, in the beginning of the last century CG Seligman and BZ Seligman mention that the Vedda
women whom they met had disclose to them that drawings done at Pihillegoda-galge in the Sitala V anniya
territory of the Amapara district, were done by themselves while they were waiting for their husbands to
return from hunting. CG Seligmann and BZ Seligmann, The Veddas, Cambridge University Press, 1911,
p.318. In addition, in the same period some of the Vaddas have told John Still that the drawings at
Tantirimale are the work of their ancestors and that their contemporaries do not drew pictures in that way.
John Still, "Tantirimalai, some archaeological obsetvations and deductions," Journal of the Royal Asiatic
Society, (Ceylon Branch), Vol.XXII, No.62, 1910, pp.87-88.
21
M Somathilake, "The wall paintings of Sri Lanka from earliest times up to the twelfth centw)• AD:
Chronology and the themes," Sociological magazine, ed. Abey Ratnayake and M Tennakoon, Department
of Sociology, University ofPeradeniya, Vol.9, 1997, pp.87 -89.
6

22
places and these were extensively used for drawings and paintings. Hence, these

paintings of the earliest period ofboth India and Sri Lanka have been classified as "Rock

paintings" or "Rock art. " 23

However, when one looks at these earliest paintings one notices that their themes

reflect the life experience of the people ofthe time. Consequently, most of these depict
24
humans, animals, fauna, flora and weapons used at the time and a modem eye would be

struck by the simplicity and lack of variety among the paintings. Thus although the rock

paintings is the only surviving source through which one can peep into the life of

prehistoric people at least to a limited extent, almost all these rock paintings, after

fmalising the lines, are confined to unpainted figures. 2 ~ence, although almost all the

critics who have discussed_ this traditio~ have used the term_ "painting," the terms

"drawing" or "sketches" are more meaningful. Thus, it is evident that these earliest

paintings are poorer inartistic merit. Consequently, it is apparent that the compositions of

the picture groups are unbalanced for the artists never took into consideration the

proportional relation between the available space and the size of the figures. Very few of

22
Nevertheless, in some cases we can find that the wall was even smoothed before drawing these paintings.
See. SK Pandey, Indian rock art, Aryan Books International, New Delh~ 1993, p.30.
23
Erwin Neumayer, Prehistoric Indian rock paintings, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1983; Lines on stone:
The prehistoric rock art oflndi!!, Manohar Publishers & Distributors, New Delh~ 1993; Senaka
Bandaranayake, The rock and wall paintings of Sri Lanka, Lake House Bookshop, Colombo, 1986; BD
Nandadeva, "Rock Art sites of Sri Lanka; A catalogue," AncientCeylog, 1979.
24
Human beings and animals seem to be most popular subject in Sri Lankan rock art and it is conspicuous
that the human figure in these rock drawings of the island does not differ remarlcably from that seen in other
parts of the world. However, one striking trait in Sri Lankan rock art is the depicting of the human figure as
sexless. All humans appear depicted in the same manner without indicating their sex. See CG Seligmann
and BZ Seligmann, The Veddas, Cambridge University Press, 1911, p.320.
25
After a careful survey of the painted sites it has been found that the majority of the paintings are as a rule
in monochrome. The number of polychrome paintings is much lesser. SK Pandey, Indian rock art, Aryan
Books International, New Delhi, 1993, p.30.
7

the paintings were done with care, nor did the artists use proper instruments. Most of the

time they seem to have used only their fingers to apply colour. 26

In addition, as in the case of their chronology, we do not know with any degree of

certainty why these ancient people painted the walls of their rock shelters. This question

has produced a variety of answers as those belonging to religion, magic, shamanism,

totems, sexual significance, fertility rites, communication, ceremonial symbols,

calendrical devices, decoration and doodling etc. 27 Of these it is generally held by

anthropologists that the painted representation of animals in primitive art began as a

magical ritual inspired by the belief that if one could seize the form of an animal in this
I
way, its seizure in hunting would be assured?8

As stated above, the rock painting tradition_ of India continued even_ during the
30
historical periods29 and it was given up at the end of the first millennium AD or as late as

fourteenth century AD or still later. 31 Th is situation is directly pertinent to the rock art of

Sri Lanka also, since the rock paintings of the island are identical to many of the paintings

made by the Yedda people in Sri Lanka not too long ago. 32Accordingly, although it is said,

"it is difficult to explain the rock art of the historic period in relation to historic urban

26
Erwin Neumayer, PrehiStoric Indian rock paintings, OXford University Press, Delhi, 1983, p .3 8.
27
Vishnu S Wakankar and Robert RR Brooks, Stone age painting in India, DB Taraporevala Sons and Co,
Bombay, 1976, p.61.
28
Krishna Chaitanya, Arts of India, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, 1987, p.46.
29
Erwin Neumayer, Lines on stone: The prehistoric rock art of India, Manohar Publishers &Distributors,
New .Delhi, 1993, p.38. Erwin Neumayer, Prehistoric Indian rock paintings, OXford University Press, Delhi,
1983, pp.34-39
30
Erwin Neumayer, Lines on stone: The prehistoric rock art of India, p.43. See also JC Nagpall, Mural
paintings in India, Gian Publishing House, Delhi, 1988, p.6; Earliest writers have discussed at length the
chronology of these paintings. Their conclusions have placed these paintings between a long range from the
Palaeolithic period to 1Oth century AD. See SK Pandey, Indiaan rock!!!!, Aryan Books Internationals, New
'Delhi, 1993, p .162.
31
KK Chakrawarti, Rock art oflndi!!, New Delhi, 1984,pp.44-85; 228-37; See also KD Bajpai, "Symbols in
the Indian rock art," Culture through the ages, BN Puri felicitation Volume, ed. Sarva Daman Singh, Agam
Kala Prakashan, Delhi, 1996, p.l69.
8

applied arts,"33 it is evident that these are two distinct traditions of paintings. This notion

further establishes that the paintings of the historical period have not developed from the

prehistoric painting tradition though early scholars have noticed some similarities

between the rock paintings at Jhalai and the later murals at Ajanta. 34

Thus it is clear that though the techniques and the styles are different the art of

ancient 'mural painting tradition' in India dates from the prehistoric paintings on cave or

rock walls and continued to the later day hill school of paintings of 19th century in north

India or 18th-19th century Maharatta paintings in the south, 35 covering a very long period of

time. The situation is the same in the field of mural paintings of Sri Lanka also. 360fthese

.. mural traditions, which have followed different techniques and methods, in this study the

focus will only be on the polychrome, well,..developed paintings of the ancient period in

India and Sri Lanka.

It has to be realized at this point that within this wall painting tradition itself, at

least two sub-sections can also be identified relating to both the countries as the religious

and the secular paintings. Of these, in the category of secular paintings, the most famous is

the Mughal tradition of paintings that belongs to a later period of India and according to

some critics the paintings of Sigiriya of Sri Lanka may also belong to the secular painting

tradition. 37 There are some noticeable dissimilarities at least from a thematic point of

view, between these two categories although they may have followed the same

32
Erwin Neumayer, Prehistoric Indian rock paintings, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1983, p.44.
33
Erwin Neumayer, Lines on stone: The prehistoric rock art oflndil!, p.19.
34
DH Gordon, Prehistoric background of Indian culture, Bhulabhai Memorial Institute, Bombay, 1958,
E.1o8.
5
JC Nagpall, Mural paintings in Indi!!, Gian Publishing House, Delhi, 1988, p.l.
36
M Somathilake, A study of the mural paintings of the Kandyan periOO, unpublished graduation thesis,
Department of History, University ofPeradeniya, 1990, See chapter 1.
37
This has been discussed in the sixth chapter in detail.
9

methodology and sometimes they were even contemporary. For instance, the notions of

various 'rasas' given by religious and secular miniature paintings ofthe various schools

of Mughal tradition of mediaeval India38 can be cited as examples. Hence, of these,

attention will only be focussed on the religious paintings. But it is to be noted that a

distinction may be made in these religious wall paintings in the two countries, at least in

India, based on various religious beliefs or institutions o£the Hindus~Buddhists and Jains

etc. Although these traditions of religious paintings sometimes would have used similar

techniques, at least from. the layout, themes, spiritual notions and.~ doctrinal teaching

etc some dissimilarities are also noticeable. Therefore, out of such mural traditions, which

belong to various religious institutions only the Buddhist wall painting tradition.o(India

and Sri Lanka will be discussed in this study, since it is the only one common tradition

between the two countries.

Buddhist mural paintin2 tradition:

It is generally accepted.thatSriLanka has a long Buddhist mural painting tradition

at least starting from the second century BC. 39According to some scholars, the earliest

paintings survive at Karambagala, near Situlpauva.in.. the southem province. though

38 "J<nr ;r."ton<'P
"-urn nJ.,,l"tnnP <;!nlnn>on -.::;"".,""on 1\lfnnlo<>l <>rt, Jn-lnlom<''>t Rnnk l-loU""' ,,.,...,an.,...;
.&. V.l '-..JJ.Uu..:::n.v.u"' uv.a.v.u..a. u, ..Lt...,.:HA.t..., .u J.•.a.v6!!Ul ..u.
.I..I.L;)u.u..L"""' ...,""" ' ' LJ uv.a. o-avu.I
A.JVV .1..1. ~,
• u.tu ~....,

1972, pp.l7 -34; Krishna Chaitanya, A history of Indian painting: Rajastani tradition, Abhinav Publications,
New Delh~ 1982, pp .39-45, 118-125; RK Vashistha, Art and artists ofRaiastan, Abhinav Publications, New
Delhi, 1995, pp.52-62; WG Archer, Indian paintings from the Panjab hills, Sotheby Parke Bernet, Oxford
University Press, Delhi, 1973, Vol.l, introduction, pp. xvii-xxxiii and see the plates ofVol.II; MS
Randhawa, Kangra Ragamala paintings, National Museum, New Delhi, 1971, pp .11-18; Sk Saraswat~
Eighteenth century north Indian paintings, Pilgrim Publishers, Calcutta, 1969, pp.1-17.
39
D. B. Dhanapala, The story of Sinhalese painting, Maharagama, 1957, p.3; Buddhist paintings from
shrines and temples in Cevlon, Colins, UNESCO, Amilcare Pizz~ SPA, Milano, 1964, p.10; Nandadeva
Wijesekara, Early Sinhalese painting, Saman Press, Maharagama, 1959, p.l; L.T.P. Manjusri, ~
elements from Sri Lankan temple paintings, Archaeological Department, Colombo, 1977, p.20; Ravindra
Pandya believes .that the pictures painted in Karambagala cave can be easily accepted as the oldest paintings
10

precise chronological evidence is not available. 400ther scholars like Paranavitana and

Bandaranayaka stat~ that this tradition starts from the fifth century AD as evident from the

remains at Sigiriya in Matale District in Central province. 41 It is generally accepted that Sri

Lankan painters at least up to the twelfth century AD have practised this "classical mural
42 43
painting tradition" and these survive at a large number ofsites.

Of these, it is particularly to be. mentioned here that although_ the paintings at


44
Sigiriya are likely to be a representation of a secular tradition of painting, at first glance

of Sri Lanka. See Cave paintings of Sri Lanka, Shree Jagat Dhatrimata Trust, Ahmadabad, 1981, pp.14 and
37.
40
D.B. Dhanapala, The stozy of Sinhalese painting, Maharagama, 1957, p.3; Buddhist paintings from
shrines and temples in Ceylon, Colins, UNESCO, Amilcare Pizzi, SPA, Milano, 1964, pp.8-10; Nandadeva
Wijesekara, Ear!y Sinhalese painting, Saman Press, Maharagama, 1959, p.1; L.T.P. Manjusri, Design
elements from Sri Lank.~> u temple paintings, Archaeological Department, Colombo, 1977, p.20; Senaka
Banadaranayake, The roek and wall paintings of Sri L~ Lake House Bookshop, 1986, p.25.
41
S Paranavitana, Sinhalayo, Lake House Investments, Colombo, 1967, p.20; "Arts and crafts,"
Anuradhapura era, ed. A. Liyanagamage and R Gunawardana, Vidyalankara Press, Kalaniya, 1%1, pp.l75,
245; Senaka Banadaranayake, The rock and wall paintings of Sri Lank!!, Lake House Bookshop, 1986, p.26.
For further details of the chronology of these early paintings of Sri Lanka, please refer to chapter three.
42
Senarat Paranavitana and W. G. Archer, Ceylon paintings from temple shrine and rock, New York Graphic
Society, UNESCO, Paris, 1957; D.B. Dhanapala, The stozy of Sinhalese painting, Maharagama, 1957;
Nandadeva Wijesekara, Early Sinhalese paintings, Maharagama, 1959; DB. Dhanapala, Buddhist paintings
from shines and temples in Ceylon, Collins, UNESCO, London 1964-; C.E. Godakumbura, The Kotavehera
at Dadigama, Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of Ceylon, Vol. VII, Colombo, 1969; Senaka '
Banadaranayake, The rock and wall paintings of Sri Lanka, Lake House Bookshop, 1986.
43
Karambagalain southern province of the second.centuty B.C; Sigiriya.incentralprovinceofthe fifth
century A.D; Hindagala in Kandy in central province of the seventh century A.D; Anuradhapura (vestibules
offew stupas) in North central province ascribeclto the eight century A.D.; the relic chamber paintings of
Mihintale near Anuradhapura in the same province belonging to the eighth century A.D; the painting
remnants at Gonagolla near Ampara inEastemprovince and. the paintings ofPulligodacave near
Dimbulagala in North Central province belonging to the eighth century; the relic chamber paintings of
Mahiyanganaya stupa in Uva province belonging to the eleventlLcentury; the cave paintings atMaravidiya
at Dimbulagala in North central province of the twelfth century; the painting series at Northern temple or the
Tivamka image house aruLthe painting remnants found.atGalviharaya and.Lankatilaka temples of
Polonnaruva in North central province which belong to the twelfth century A.D; the relic chamber paintings
ofDadigama in Kegalle district of the 12th century and other places ofKandalama, near Sigiriya in Central
province; Vessagiriya of Anuradhapura and Situlpahuva in Southern province where the chronology of
paintings are uncertain.
44
Some scholars believe that the theme of the Sigiriya paintings is secular as will be discussed.in the sixth
chapter in detail. The descriptions ofDevendra, Rowland Silva, Siri Gunasinghe, Ravindra Pandya and
Chutivongs are conspicuous in this respect. Of these Devendra says that all the extant paintings of note in
the island are connected in some way with the Buddhist church. Nevertheless, the Sigiriya frescoes are
entirely different from them in this respect DT Devendra,Guide to Sigiriy!!, (no publication. data), 1948,
p.1 0; Rowland Silva observes that the fifth century paintings at Sigiriya are an exception since they have no
religious significance and are (according to some) portraits of ladies of the royal court Roland Silvaand
11

when only considerin_g their superficial appearance {Plate I), some critics have believed

that they belong to a Buddhist tradition of painting at least belonging to the Mahayana

(Great Vehicle) sect of the island on the basis oftheir subject matter.
4
>rn addition, among
the opinions of other critics expressed on the themes of Sigiriya paintings, the most

popular one that prevails at present is that th~ d~ict some_goddesses from Tusita heaven

as will be discussed in the sixth chapter in detail. The main reason for that view is the fact

that clouds cover the lower parts of the female .figures46and it is clear that the concept of

Tusita heaven also signifies Buddhist ideology to a great extent. Besides, the ceiling

paintings at the Cobra-hood cave at Sigiriya proves that the cave was used as a Buddhist
47
shrine and the Asana cave also at the site contains painted fragment of a scene of which

one panel depicts a worshipping scene. At least two fillures are discernible in the paintin_g

one being a male in the attitude of worship and the second a standing personage,

others, Cultural treasures of Sri Lanka, Ministry of Cultural Affairs, 1973, (no page numbers). See the
section on paintings; Gunasinghe states that these however, are not examples of Buddhist paintings; the
Sigiriya ladies are clearly of no religious significance; the flowers they carry are not offerings to the Buddha
and they are not on their way to pay homage to Him. They are pre-eminent expressions of mundane beauty
(physical as well as emotional) and exist in a realm quite distinct from any thing Buddhist. In any event,
their non-Buddhist nature notwithstanding, the Sigiriya murals must be regarded as an example of a local
tradition of painting a decorative medium which must have been popular enough to be followed in other
spheres as well, one of which much necessarily have been the religious. Siri Gunasinghe, "Buddhist painting
in Sri Lanka- An art of enduring simplicity," Spolia Zeylanica, Vol.XXXV, Nos, 1&2, 1980, p.479;
Ravindra Pandya says that the Sigiriya frescoes are the only ancient paintings in Sri Lanka that do not have
a religious significance. Ravindra Pandya, Cave paintings of Sri Lanka, Art Centre, Pragati Society,
Ahmedabad, 1981, p .8; Chutivongs states that Sigiriya, unlike most of the other sites is predominantly a
secular monument with paintings related to this field. The site itself had much natural potential for design
and no doubt for this reason was hand picked for the modelling of a royal abode. Nandana Chutivongs and
others, Paintings of Sri Lanka: Sigiriya, Archaeological Survey of Sri Lanka centenary publication, Central
Cultural Fund, 1990, p.39.
45
Percy Brown, Indian painting, Heritage of India Series, London, 1918, pp.36-7. Abbate Francesco, (tr.
Rean Richardson), Indian art and the art ofCey1on Central and South East Asia, Octopus Books, London,
1972. Nandadeva Wijesekara, Selected writing~ TisaraPress, Dehivala, 1983, p.255; J.C. Nagpall, Mural
paintings in Indi!!, Gain Publishing House, Delhi, 1988, p.28; D.B. Dhanapala,.Buddhist paintings from
shines and temples in Ceylon, Collins, Unesco, London 1964, pp.10-15; Mukul Chandra Dey, My
Eilgrimage to Ajanta and Bagh, Gain Publishing House, Delhi, (reprinted) 1986, p.199.
6
For further details please refer to MSomathilake,"The paintings ofSigiriya and their Subject matter,"
Sahitya Special Number, Cultural Ministry of Sri Lanka, Depani Press, Nugegoda, 1995.
12

apparently an attendant divinity, holding a flower and a flywhisk. These figures in the

cave strongly suggest that an image of the Buddha was placed on the existing throne. This

scene was evidently painted over an older layer of mural, which was part of a tree and

foliage of the earlier epoch. Accordingly, it is clear that at least a later series of paintings

in the Asana cave is, religious, apparently datin_g from the time when Sigiriya had again

become a monastic establishment after Kassapa'.s Ieign. 481n addition, it is conspicuous

that most of the critics have compared the Buddhist mural paintings of Ajanta with those

of Sigiriya since they display some similarities and both these traditions were

contemporary as discussed in the later part of the chapter. Therefore, it must be

emphasised here that in this study attention will be _paid to the_paintin_gs ofSigiriya too.

Although these paintings ofSri Lanka belong to along period which covers about

fourteen or seven centuries from second century BC or fifth century AD to the twelfth

century AD, it is reasonable to conclude that these form a part of one particular tradition or

style based on their special features and characteristics, as will be discussed in the fourth

chapter in detail. It is also evident that there is no essential difference in the techniques,

particularly in the sphere of methods and materials of the wall _paintin_gs even in the later

phase of the period concerned. Certainly, there is a continuity of similar technique from

the earliest times up to the 12th or 13th centuries AD and ..the only conspicuous difference in

this last phase is that in addition to the rock supports, there survive paintings on brick

47
HCP Bell, "Interim report on the operations of the archaeological SlllVey at Sigiriya, 1896," Journal of the
Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch), Vol.XIV, No.47, 1896, p.258.
48
Nandana Chutivongs and others, Paintings of Sri Lanka: Sigiriy!!, Archaeological Survey of Sri Lanka
centenary publication, Central Cultural Fund, 1990, pp.40-42. Although the chronology is uncertain,
according to some scholars the worshipping scene thus painted on the ceiling of the Asana cave possibly
dates to about the twelfth century AD, with the style comparable to the paintings at the Tivamka image
house. See Ibid, p.43.
13

walls too. 4~ence, despite some differences in their surface appearance, the Polonnaruva

paintings should be regarded as a continuation ofthe technique of the ancient tradition and
5
aesthetic. °Consequently, the paintings at Tivamka image house, though falling short of

the best products of the classical art of India, afford evidence that the ideals and canons of

classical art were still creative in Sri Lanka at a time when they had lost their vitality in

India itself 1(Plate ll).In addition, it is to be noted that the paintings ofthe Tivamka image

house are the only surviving examples of a complete cycle of paintings of the early period

of Sri Lanka though they are now in a bad state of preservation. Hence in this study it is

essential to focus attention on the murals of the 1ith century AD too.

At this juncture, it has to be realized that though the wall paintings of Sri Lanka

continue after the twelfth century AD up to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries AD as

mentioned above, these do not display such a complexity or similarity to the ancient

tradition of paintings in both the countries. Though this tradition continues to be Buddhist

and similar themes have been used, yet in the later period a rather simple, narrative style is

present Besides these superficial appearances, it is evident that this is an almost different

tradition even from the technical point of view. Therefore, the period of study has been

limited to between the second century BC and the twelfth century AD, which demarcates

a particular 'classical painting tradition.'

49
RH de Silva, "The evolution of the technique of Sinhalese wall painting and comparison with Indian
painting methods," Ancient Ceylon, Journal of the archaeological Survey of Ceylon, No.I, January 1971,
p.94; "Rock painting in Sri Lanka," Conservation in archaeology and the applied arts, (reprinted of) the
contnbution to the Stockholm Congress, June, 197 5, London, pp.69-73. For the detailed accounts of the
techniques of the paintings of Sri Lanka during the ancient period, as revealed by the scientific tests please
refer to Raja de Silva, "Painting: Early period 24 7 BC to 800 AD," Archaeological Department centenazy
( 1890-1990) commemorative series, Volume five -painting, ed. Nandadeva Wijesekara, State Printing
Corporation, Colombo, 1990, pp.21-25 and 31-34.
50
Siri Gunasinghe, "Art and architecture," Modem Sri Lanka: A society in transition, ed. Tissa Fernando
and Robert N Kearney, South Asian Series No.4, Syracuse University. ~ew York, 1979, p.255.
51
S Paranavitana, Sinhalayo, Lake House Investments, Colombo, 196"/, p.43.
14

When considering the paintings of ancient India, though Indian painting has a

hoary antiquity of over 10,000 years when prehistoric man adorned his rock shelters with

painting in the Narmada valley in central India, there are many gaps in our knowledge,

especially during the early historic period. 52The few examples of Buddhist paintings

belonging to this period are primarily at: Ajanta in Maharastra datedto the second century

BC 53 and fifth, sixth or seventh century AD 54 which covers a long period of time; 55

Aurangabad in the same state probably belonging to the end of seventh century AD; 56

Ellora also in the same state where the chronology is uncertain; and Bagh caves in
57
Madhya Pradesh belonging to the fifth, sixth or seventh century AD. Of these,

unfortunately the murals of Aurangabad and Ellora caves have now entirely disappeared.

It should also not be forgotten that the above places would not have been isolated

instances of contemporary paintings. When these caves were painted evidently there must

have been many other artists decorating many other Buddhist sites but these have long

perished. The caves ofPitalkhora can be cited as a good example. These belong to the first

52
MK. Dhavalikar, Masterpieces ofRastrakuta art the Kailasa, Taraporevala and co, Bombay, 1983, p.36.
53
C. Sivaramamurti, Indian painting, National Book Trust, India, 1970, p.25; Krishna Chaitanya, A history
of Indian painting: The mural tradition, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, 1976, p.10; Douglas Barrett and
Basil Gray, Treasures of Asia: Painting of India, The World Publishing Co, Ohio, 1963, p.24.Ajith
Mukeijiee, The arts of India from prehistoric to modern times, Charles E. Tuttle co, Vermount & Tokyo,
Japan, 1966, p.23.Dieter Schlingloff, Studies in the Ajanta paintings:· Identifications and interpretations,
Aj anta Publications, Delh~ 1987, p .1. For further details of the chronology of these paintings please refer to
the third chapter of this thesis.
54
It is to be noted that an absolute chronology of Ajanta would be impossible. See Sheila L Weiner, Ajanta:
Its place in Buddhist art, University of California Press, London, 1977, pp.4-6; See also Percy Brown,
Indian painting, YMCA Publishing House, 1927, p.29; C. Sivaramamurti, Indian painting, National Book
Trust, India, 1970, pp.33-34; Krishna Chaitanya, A history of Indian painting: The mural tradition. Abhinav
Publications, New Delhi, 197 6, p.27.
55
Thus, it is clear that the Ajanta wall paintings not only offer some of the most important masterpieces of
Indian art, but also give a comprehensive picture of nearly eight hundred years of rich history of the
£aintings of India.
6
PhilipS Rawson, Indian painting, Pierre Tisne, Editeur, Paris, 1961, p.51; Charles Fabri, "Frescoes of
Ajanta: An essay," Marg. ed. Mulk Raj Anand, Vol.IX, No. I, 1955, p.63.
15

century BC, 58and contain some minute remnants of paintings. It is obvious that in front of

the main cave, there were eight pillars and twenty-four pillars were in the inner cell on

which the figures ofBuddha and Bodhisattvas were drawn. Unfortunately, although some

'
local ruler damaged these figures while cleaning the site it is interesting to note that these

remnants of paintings are similar to those of Ajanta. 5'1-lowever, since the chronology of

these remains is uncertain some scholars like Deshpande believe that these caves were

embellished with the paintings in the fifth century AD 60while some other scholars suppose
61
that these Buddhist wall paintings were executed in the eighth century AD.

In addition, remains of paintings in other Buddhist caves like Kanheri near

Bombay, Karle,62Nasik and Junnar63 are also available. Of these, Nasik caves belonging

to the 1st and the 2nd centuries AD 64and it is noteworthy that an inscription at the site

mentions even a donation made for painting. 6 ~esides, the pillars of the chaitya caves at

Bhaja were also decorated with paintings of Buddha in various mudras during the

57
Krishna Chaitanya, A history of Indian painting: The mural tradition, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi,
1976, p.43; J.C. Nagpall, Mural paintings in India, Gain Publishing House, Delhi, 1988; C. Sivaramamurti,
Indian painting, National Book Trust, India, 1970, pp.30-32.
58
K DeB Codrington, "Ancient sites near Ellora, Deccan," The Indian Antiquary, ed. Richard Carnac
Temple and others, Vol.LIX, 1930, SwatiPublication, Delhi; (reprinted) 1986, p.ll.
59
Jyotsna Saxena, Early Indian paintings in Sanskrit literature, Bharatiya Kala Prakashan, Delhi, 1998,
fo93.
MN Deshpande, "Cave paintings in India," Wall paintings oflndia: A historical perspective, ed. OP
Agrawala, INTACH Conservation Centre, Lucknow, 1989, p.21.
61
Charles Fabri, "Frescoes of Ajanta; An essay," Marg, ed. Mulk Ray Anand, Vol.IX, No .I 1955, p.63.
62
It seems probable that the sidewalls of Karle cave were originally painted. There are obvious signs that
there has been some sort of plaster and at the left side near the stupa is more than suspicious painting of rail
pattern some 10 feet above the floor level. SeeRS Wauchop, Buddhist cave temples of India, The Calcutta
General Printin co, Calcutta, 1933, pp.44-45.
63
1bid, p.61.
64
K DeB Codrington, "Ancient sites near Ellora, Deccan," The Indian Antiquary, ed. Richard Carnac
Temple and others, Vol.LIX, 1930, Swati Publication, Delhi (reprinted) 1986, p.ll.
65
Himanshu Prabha Ray, Monastery and guild: Commerce under the Satavahanas, Oxford University Press,
Delhi, 1986, p.l90.
16

Mahayana phase. 66 Likewise, the painting remnants at the cave of Bedsa67resemble the

early Satavahana examples, but represent a late phase towards the end of the second
68
century AD. A1though the pillars of the caitya hall at Bedsa were thus originally painted,

they were unfortunately whitewashed late in the nineteenth century AD. 69Consequently

these paintings have. become very faint, but their outlines are still very clear.

According to all these descriptions it is clear that all those fragments or indications

of the murals are in too bad a state or too limited to compare to the paintings at Ajanta and

the fragments at Bagh. It is also evident that the Buddhist mural painting tradition

attainedits highest excellence in or about the sixth and seventh centuries AD, after which

we have few examples in India?Drt would seem that after the eighth century AD, the

large~scale wall painting tradition declined in popularity and there was a preference for

miniature paintings as seen in the Pala school ofBengal (ninth to twelfth century AD) in

the east and in the Gujarat school of western India (eleventh to fifteenth century AD). 71

During this later period another Buddhist mural painting tradition has also

survived in the Buddhist monasteries of the western Himalayan region in Arunachal

Pradesh; in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir. and in__ the Tabo valley of Lahaui and Spiti in

Himachal Pradesh, situated in the northern parts of India, belonging to the period oftenth

66
See Sheila L Weiner, Ajanta: Its place in Buddhist art, University of California Press, London, 1977, p.7;
MN Deshpande, "Cave paintings in India," Wall paintings of India: A historical perspective, ed. OP
Agrawala, INTACH Consetvation Centre, Lucknow, 1989, p.21; MK. Dhavalikar, Masterpieces of
Rastrak:uta art the Kail~ Taraporevala and co, Bombay, 1983, p.36.
67
RS Wauchop, Buddhist cave temples of India, The Calcutta General Printin co, Calcutta, 1933, pp.53-54.
68
Mario Bussagli and C Sivaramamurti, 5000 years of the art of India, Harry N Abrams Incorporated
Publishers, New York, (n.d), p.ll3.
69
Ananda Coomaraswamy, History of Indian and Indonesian art, Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi,
(reprinted) 1972, p.40.
70
Manohar Kau~ "Indian painting- Dark age," Kala Darshan, ed. Manohar Kaul, Vol.I, No.3, 1988,
fp-67-68.
- Vasudeva S Agravala, The heritage of Indian!.!!!, Publication Division, Ministry of Information and
Broadcasting, Govemmt:nt oflndia, 1964, p.32,
17

and thirteenth centuries AD. 72As in the case of the late medieval period murals of Sri

Lanka they display many dissimilarities with the 'classical Buddhist painting
73
tradition. ' The main reason for this would be their close relationship with the painting
74
traditions of Tibet, Nepal, Central Asia, China and Iran that are different from the

classical Buddhist wall painting tradition of India and Sri Lanka. 75 Although these

paintings appear to be thematically Buddhist, they are mainly devoted to the "Tiintric"

form ofBuddhism that flourished in the neighbouring countries during that period. 76Thus,

I consider it less academically stimulating to study this painting tradition comparatively

with the ancient 'classical Buddhist wall painting traditions' of the two countries.

Besides these Tantric forms of paintings, it is noteworthy that excavations done in

1974-82 at the famous Buddhist site ofNalanda ofPatna District revealed the remains of a

Buddhist temple along with the evidence ofmural painting in eastern India for the first

time. The continued work at the site has also yielded further evidence of paintings

72
A.K. Singh, Trans-Himalayan wall paintings, Agam Kala Prakashan, Delhi, 1985, p.l37.
73
See J.C. Nagpall, Mural paintings In India, Gain Publishing House, Delhi, 1988, pp.7 -8;
Madanjeet Singh, Himalayan art, UNESCO Art Books, New York Graphic Society, Greenwich,
Connecticut, 1968; Charls Genoud and Thkao Inoue, Buddhist wall paintings of Ladakh, Japan, 1982; A.K.
Singh, Trans-Himalayan wall paintings, Agam Kala Prakashan, Delhi, 1985; Karuna Goswamy, Kashmiri
~ainting; Atya Books International, New Delhi, 1998, pp.l-32.
4
See Charls Genoud and Thkao Inoue, Buddhist wall paintings of Ladakh; Japan, 1982, pp.29-34. A.K.
Singh, Trans-Himalayan wall paintings, Agam Kala Prakashan, Delhi, 1985, pp3-4, 28, 81.
75
In addition, it is to be noted that though the lands of Ladakh, Spiti and Kinnaur are the northernmost
frontier divisions of Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh today and belong to the Government of
India, in the medieval period these formed a part of the western Tibetan empire. Ibid, p.137.
76
It is evident that unlike the classical Buddhist mural paintings of peninsular India and Sri Lanka, these
paintings have used the themes of development of mental quiescence, the rules of monastic life, the
symbolic themes like mandala and so on. Among these different types of paintings, certainly the symbolic
representations are the most elaborate and difficult to understand. Charls Genoud and Thkao Inoue,
Buddhist wall paintings of Ladakh, Japan, 1982, pp.3 9 and 49. In addition, it is believed that unlike the
formal Buddhist teachings, Tantric teachings were never given to a large number of people. Each master
would carefully select his disciples and examine them over a long period before finally giving them
initiation.lbid, p.20. Thus, apart from the aesthetic and religious reasons, the pmpose of these painting may
also have been considerably different from the formal Buddhist art. This dissimilarity can be further noticed
even in the context of techniques, including methodology, style, lines used and mixture of colours etc. J.C.
Nagpall, Mural paintings In India, Gain Publishing House, Delhi, 1988, pp.7 -8.
18

depicting human and animal figures with flowers and geometrical designs on the stone

pedestal and on the lower portions of the walls of the sanctum hall. 77Nevertheless, it is to

be noted that the dating of Nalanda murals is a difficult task because the temple is of an

earlier origin and the murals were added to it in subsequent periods. Based on the

supportive evidence found at the site, it is believed that these fragments of paintings

belong to tenth or eleventh centuries AD. 78From the technical point of view, unlike the

mural paintings of Ajanta and Bagh, the paintings ofNalanda are executed on the stone

base of the building though these have been termed as murals. 79It is apparent that

stylistically also these are easily comparable with the miniature paintings of the Pala

period rather than the other wall paintings in India. 8<nue to all these reasons, in this study

attention will not be focussed on the Nalanda paintings, which are now m a very

fragmentary state.

In addition, at Satdhara also in the cliff over looking the Halali River, in a natural

rock shelter, two paintings were encountered. Of these, in the first scene a figure of

Buddha has been painted and in the second a stupa standing on_ a base. Of the two, the

Birendra Natb, Nalanda murals, Cosmo Publications, New Delh~ 1983, Introduction, p.xxi and preface.
77

78
Ibid, pp.63-64.
79
In addition, it is an accepted fact that the Nalanda painters were not as well versed in anatomy, artistic
patterns, floral and geometrical designs; ornamentation and· the useofdifferenttypes ofpigments; as were
those of Ajanta and Bagh caves. UpendraThakur, "An introduction to Nalandapainting;" Culture through
the ages, BN Puri Felicitation Volume, ed. Sarva Dmp.an Singh, Agam kala Prakashan, Delhi, 1996, p.l84;
Birendra Nath, Nalanda murals, Cosmo Publications, New Delh~ 1983, p.41. As regards the themes of the
paintings ofNalanda too, though these panels have been found on a huge pedestal of a deity like Padmapani
Bodhisattava and J ambala along with male and female worshipers in different forms of adoration, (Upendra
Thakur, "An introduction to Nalanda painting," Culture through the ages, BN Puri Felicitation Volume, ed.
Sarva Daman Singh, Agam kala Prakashan, Delhi, 1996, p.l83) in fact their themes are uncertain due to bad
state of preservation. Certainly, in these paintings the number of figures are also limited to almost about half
a dozen (Birendra Nath, Nalanda murals, Cosmo Publications, New Delh~ 1983, pp.54-57) and basically
these are decorative rather than a representation of the narrative form of art. Apart from all these facts,
though badly faded, these paintings imply a rich tradition known best from its descendants in Nepal and
Tibet (Federick MAsher, "FoiWard," Nalanda murals, Birendra Nath, Cosmo Publications, New Delhi,
1983, See also Birendra Nath, Nalanda murals, Cosmo Publications, New Delhi, 1983, p.65) tradition as in
the case of the naintino~ ofthP. frlln<:- T-J;m~l<>v~n n>mnn
19

painted Buddha figure of which the lower half is damaged is executed on a flat part of the

rock by preparing the ground with a yellowish ochre substance. The stupa is painted on a

raised base having mouldings with an illegible inscription on the lower recessed

mouldings between: the lower and upper portion of the medhi. On the upper moulded

projecting portion is painted the drum and on the body of the drum anther inscription is

painted. This reads with the usual sutra of the Buddhist creed_ ye dhamma hetu prabhava. '

Since the letters are of Gupta style, palaeography of the inscription place it in the Gupta

tradition of 4th or 5th century AD. Based on this fact it is believed that these paintings also
81
belong to the same period. But, unfortunately since these two fragments are limited only

to the faded outer contour of the figures, these cannotbe used for any detailed analytical

study. However, in contrast, all these remains ofBuddhist mural paintings oflndia clearly

show that in the early history ofBuddhism, the relevant authority found the painting brush

more effective in their mission of teaching the tenets of their creed to mankind. 82

It has been generally accepted that the Ajanta or the Andhra classical school of

painting tradition influenced the classical Buddhist painting tradition of ancient Sri

Lanka. 83 It has also been a common assumption that particularly the Sigiriya and

80
Ibid, pp.65-66.
81
RC Agrawal, "Stupas and monasteries: A recent discovery from Satdhara, India," South Asian
Archaeology 1995, Proceedings of the 13th Conference of the European Association of South Asian
Archaeologists, Cambridge 5-9 July 1995, ed. Raymond Allchin and Bridget Allchin, The ancient India and
Iran trust, Cambridge, Oxford, IBH Publishing co, New Delhi, Vol.I, 1997, pp.403-415.
82
Shanti Swarup, The art and crafts of India and Pakistan, DB Taraporevala, Bombay, 1957, p.l8.
83
H.C.P. Bell, Archaeological Swvey of Ceylon Annual Rtmorts, 1905, p.16; E.B. Havell, Indian sculpture
and painting, John Murray, London, 1908, pp, 73, 175; A.K. Coomaraswamy, Mediaeval Sinhalese art,
Broad Campden, 1909, pp177-78; G.A. Joseph, Ceylon Administration Rtmorts for 1918, p. D3; Percy
Brown, Indian painting, 1932, p.79; Benjamin Rowland and A.K. Coomaraswamy, The wall paintings of
India Central Asia and Ceylon, 1938, p.83; C. W. Nicholas & S. Paranavitana, A concise history of Ceylon,
1961, p.276; M.D. Raghavan, India in Ceylonese history society and culture. 1969, p.l05; Andrews Nell
"The influence of Indian art in Ceylon" The influence of Indian art, ed. F.H. Andrews, 1978, p.202; GC
Mend.is, The ear!y histo:ty of Ceylon and its relations with India and other foreign countries, Asian
Education Series, New Deihi, 1985, p.42.
20

Hindagala murals, the earliest datable paintings of the island are very closely related to, if

not directly derived from, those of Ajanta. It is evident that in the last decade of the

nineteenth century Bell, initiated this idea of a kinship between the two groups of

paintings by stating that it was beyond question that artists trained in the same school

possibly the very same hands executed both the Indian and Sri Lankan murals. 8 ~p to the

middle part of the next decade this idea has been repeatedly expressed by Bell in his

subsequent publications. 85But, some scholars questioned the Indian origin of the artists

responsible for the paintings of Sigiriya at the time. Fernando, for instance raised the

matter in discussion after Bell had reported to the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch)
86
in 1897 and the controversy continued in letters to local joumals. Consequently, it is

evident that Bell did not repeat his assertion as to the Indian origin of the paintings in the
87
1905 Annual Report ofthe archaeological survey ofCeylon.

84
HCP Bell, Archaeological Smvey of Ceylon Annual Reports, 1896, 10; 1897; p.14; 1905, p.l7.
85
Bell states that no one who chooses to carefully compare the Sigiriya paintings with those found in the
Ajanta caves will fail to be convinced that artists trained in the same school, if not the very same hands, must
have executed both Indian and Cey Ion frescoes. The evidence to be drawn from dress and ornament, no less
than from the quaint tricks of pose and colouring common to both alike, for differentiating race and
complexion and representing expression, is irresistible. HCP Bell, "Interim report on the operations of the
archaeological survey at Sigiriya, 1897 ,"Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch), Vol.XV,
No.48, 1897, pp .114-115; This has· been repeatedly stated by him that careful comparison of the Sigiriya
paintings with some of thosefound in the Ajanta caves proves beyond question that artists trained in the
same school possibly the very same hands executed both the Indian and Sri Lankan frescoes. Dress and
ornament, pose and colouring are common to both alike. HCP Bell, Archaeological Survey of Ceylon
Annual Reports I 905, HM Richards Acting Government Printer, I 909, p.40. He further concludes that in
one essential particular do the figures of the Sigiriya frescoes duffer from the generality of those in the
paintings at Ajanta; the latter are usually shown at full length from head to foot; the Ceylon figures are all
cut off short at the waist by cloud effects, no doubt to economise !.'Pace. HCP Bell, "Interim report on the
operations of the archaeological survey at Sigiriya, I 897 ," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon
Branch), Vol.XV, No.48, I 897, p.116.
86
For further details please refer to Bethia N Bell and Heather M Bell, HCP Bell: Archaeologist of Ceylon
and the Maldives, Archetype Publications, Wales, 1993, p.97.
87
Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that although later he has changed his mind in this connection, he has
been obseiVed some similarities between the paintings of Ajanta and Galviharaya ofPolonnaruva, which
belong to the 12th century AD. He has stated that little as has survived of the frescoes that once covered the
rock walls and roof of the Galviharaya depicting a scene which even these narrow strips explain with
unmistakable clearness, enough is left to suggest that the painting in the cave shrine of the Galviharaya may
well have appmached in techniqut: truth ofform, distribution and gradation of colouring and harmonious
21

But this debate has continued among most of the subsequent scholars, who have

argued for either the influence o£Aj~Bagh_andAmaravation_Sri_Lankan_paintings or

the close similarities between these two mural traditions of the two countries, particularly

when speaking ofthe paintings ofAj~Bagh.-SigiriyaandHindagala_ These include in

chronological order: Havell (1908), 88 Binyan (1913), 89 Mukul Dey (1925), 90 Marshall

(1927), 91 Coomaraswamy (1927), 92 Brown (1927), 93 Smith (1930) 94 Rowland (1937) 95

grouping, some of the best of the Indian frescoes to be found at Ajanta. HCP Bell, Archaeological Survey of
Ceylon Annual Reports 1907, HC Cottle, Government Printers, 1911, p.35; See also "Interim report on the
operations of the archaeological survey at Sigiriya, 1895," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon
Branch), Vol.XN, No.46, 1896, p.57.
88
Havell stated that a very-interesting offshoot of the great Ajanta school was discovered some years ago in
Ceylon, in two caves or pockets excavated on the westemJaceof the-wonderful Sigiriya rock. EB Havell,
Indian sculpture and painting; John Murray, London; 1908, p: 169;
89
Binyon believes that the same-Indian- artists-or artists-of the-same-school. were probably the- authors of a
less important but very interesting-series- of cave-paintings-found in the rocK of Sigiri- in CeyIon, an abrupt
mass rising from a plateau which was-occupied and-fortified king Kassapa. Laurence Binyan, Painting in the
Far East: An introduction to-the history of pictorial art-in-Asia, especially China and Japan, London; 1913,
~37.
Mukul Day concludes that in all the-Indian empire there are only three places where the.wonderful
Buddhist wall paintingS-are-still in.existence;..flfst the. well-known caves of Ajanta.in the-Deccan,. about three
hundredmiles eastofBomhay; secondly.-theBaglLcaves in..Gwalior.state,in.the.districtofMahva,.ov~ two
hundred and fifty miles north of Ajanta; and thirdly the caves of Sigiriya and at a place called T amankaduwa
in the island of Ceylon. Mukul Chandra Dey,_ My pilgrimage to Ajanta and Bagh, New York, _1925 Gain
Publishing House, Delhi, (reprinted) 1986, p.l99.
91
Marshallstates that Indianwallpaintings, it is true,_ are notnumerous. They are found in.only three groups
of cave temples; atAjanta in the northern Deccan, at Bagh in central India and at Sigiriya in Ceylon, and all
of them, without exception, have suffered severely at the hand of time. John Marshal, "The caves ofBagh,"
The Bagh caves in the Gwalior state, Indian Society, London and Department of Archaeology, Gwalior,
Delhi Printers Prakashan, Delhi, 1927, p.4.
92
Coomaraswamy describes that the Sigiriya paintings as of a style close to that of Ajanta. AK
Coomarswamy, History of India and Indonesian art, Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, (reprinted) 1972,
(first published 1927) p.l63.
93
Brown believ.es that the frescoes in the Buddhist cave temples at Ajanta and in the excavations at Sigiriya
and Bagh may be regarded as holding the same position in relation to Indian painting. Percy Brown, Indian
painting, Heritage of India Series, YMCA Publishing House, 1927, p.71
94
Smith states that the paintings of Sigiriya are particularly contemporary with the paintings at Aj anta; all
critics recognise the fact that the art ofSigiriya is closely related to that of Ajanta. Nevertheless, the
limitation of colours and the total absence ofblue in the Sri Lankan paintings are important differences, and
I do not think that the Sigiriya work equals the best at Ajanta. VA Smith, A history of fme arts in India and
Ceylon, second edition, Oxford, 1930, p.l09; DB Taraporevala, Bombay, (reprinted) 1969, p.lOO.
95
Rowland concludes that the Apsaras have a rich healthy flavour that by contrast, almost makes the
masterpieces of Indian art seem sallow and effete in over refmement. Just as the drawing is more vigorous
than that of the more sophisticated artists of India, so the colours are bolder and more intense than the
tonalities employed in the temples of the Deccan. The loudness of the colour approach but escapes
vulgarity; in this respect it has much of the same bright and open charm that for example, a peasant textile
TheJJ
THESIS
751.73095401
'j j 4 1:>ss: 6. 441~
So51 Hi . f'J~

lllllllllllllllllllllllll
TH8398
22

and (1953), 96 Yazdani (1937)97 and (1955),98 Leyden and Williams (1940), 99 Sana Ullah
100 101 102
(1943), Devendra (1948), Raghavan (1948), Ministry of Information and

has in comparison to the stuff from the more sophisticated looms of the city. Benjamin Rowland and
Ananda Coomaraswamy, The wall paintings of India Central Asia and Ceylon: A comparative study,
Boston, 1937,p.84.
96
In another instance, Rowland states that the resemblance of the figures of Sigiriya to the maidens of
Amaravati reliefs suggests their derivation from a lost school of Andhra painting. If the boldness of the
drawing and the brilliance ofthe colours are recognisable as typical Sinhalese, the actual physical types
represented, with heavy-lidded eyes, sharp aquiline noses and full lips may betaken as direct reflections of
actual Sinhalese types. Benjamin Rowland, The art and architecture-of India Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Penguin
Books, Melbourne, 1953, p:2l7.
97
Yazdani says that the glories of this art shone forth- in- far-distant lands, in the rugged mountains of
Mghanistan, in the lonely deserts of Central Asia, in- the age-worn cultural climes of China-andjn the
sea-girt lands of Ceylon, Java and Japan, but in the Deccan, the province of its own births, its light grew dim
by the eighth century AD and we see-the last flickering of it in the :frescoes of Aurangabad-and Ellora. G
Yasdani, Indian art of the Buddhist periocLOxford.University Press,l93 7, p .14.
98
In another occasion Y azdaniconcludes thaU:he. votaries from___Cey1on,.Afghanistan,_centralAsia and
China visited Ajanta and after learning the art practised there, adorned the walls of the shrines in their
motherlands with similar paintings when they returned to their own countries. The frescoes of Siririya in Sri
Lanka, Bamiyan in Afghanistan, Turfan in central Asia and Tun Huang in China show unmistakably the
influence of the art of Ajanta. Some of these -p_ainting_s are assig!!.ed to the fifth century AD so that their
painters must have visited Ajanta in that century or even earlier. G. Yazdani, Ajanta: Monochrome
reproductions of the Ajanta frescoes based on photography, Swati Publications, Delhi, Vol.IV, 1955, p.4.
Yazdani further states that in the-4th and- the-5tfi centuries AD Ajanta, under the enlightened patronage-of the
Vakataka kings, became an important centre of Buddhist religion and art and votaries from distinct climes
visited the place to be indicated_into the religious order and.also to acquire proficiency in the art of painting.
The views is confirmed by the paintings t Sigiriya in Ceylon, at Bamiyan in Mghanistan, at Turfan in central
Asiaand.at some places in__Chffia,__which_also_ exhibitclear intlnence..ofthe BuddhistartofAjanta. G
Yasdani, Ajanta: Monochrome reproductions of the Ajanta frescoes based on photo_graphy, Swati
Publications, Delhi, partiii,. (reprinted)-1983, p .I
99
Leyden and Williams believe that the Sinhalese pain~g belongs to the orbit of Indian art. Sigiriya is
contempora.cy wit:hAjanta__(Ca:ves.16.aruL11)-andt:hefami4' likeness is clear.Nevertheless•. t:hedrawing is
more crude and direct; the large hands, for example, have little of the expressive elegance of Ajanta; some
connoisseurs willprefer__thaLilhe.so_R_V Leyden_ and ill .MWilliams.Ceds),_Catalogne ofthe.exhibition of
Sarkis Katchadorian, Sinhalese frescoes from Sigiijya and Polonnaruva, Bombay art Society Salon, May
17- 27 .-1940.-Introdnction. p.i.
100
Sana Ullah observes that at Hindagala, the lower surface of the rock projecting beyond the roof of the
existing shrine still bears remains of religious scenes,which_have been executed, in the well-known__Ajanta
style. belonging_ to 5-7'11 centuries_Mohammro SanaUllah,.&port on. the treatment of the Si giriyafrescoes
and suggestions for the preservation of paintings in the various shrines and old monuments in Ceylon,
Ceylon.SesionalPaper, XXJ.__Ceylon.Government Eress,.Colombo.-1943, p.4. .
101
Devendra states that in technique, style and time they are believed to have a strong kinship with Ajanta
However.. one may regardthis view it is admitted by allthat Sigi.riyaJi:escoes belong to thehighestperiod of
the island's achievement in the plastic arts. DT Devendra, Guide to Sigirjyl!, (no publication data), 1948.
p.IO
102
Raghavan_ says t:hat.the moststriking_factor_ about the llliofSigiriya,_ is its absolute isolation, nothing
approaching it having been found within the island either earlier as foreshadowing it or letter as continuing
its Indian traditions. It has thus been an interestingspeculation of scholars to look for affinities on the Indian
soil. MD Raghavan, "The Sigiriya frescoes,'~ Spolia Zeylanic!!," ed. PEP Deraniyagala, Government Press,
Colombo, 1948, pp.71-72.
23

Broadcasting of Government of India (1951 ), 103 Paranavitana (1955) 104 and (1958i 05

Indian Museum (1956), 106 Debala Mitra (1956), 107


Dhanapala (1957), 108 Mulk Raj
09
(1958i and (1971 ), 110 Bharatha Iyer (1958), 111 Tresidder (1960), 112 Shankar Gupta and

103
Not only did Ajanta painting attain the status of a national art in India, but also its influence spread to the
neighbouring countries of central Asia, Burma, Ceylon, China and Japan. Indian art through the ages,
Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 1951, p.7.
104
Paranavitana states that the paintings of Sri Lanka are the work of artists who had centuries of tradition
behind them and who belonged to a school which in the days ofitsvigour, had ramifications all through the
sub-continent of India and the maturity of which is represented by the famous paintingin the caves of Ajanta
and Bagh. By the twelfth century, the light of the tradition was flickering, if it had not been altogether
extinguished, in India itself, but the paintings that we hav~here afford proof to the fact that the traditions of
school were preserved in this island long after they had ceased to be creative in the lands of their origin. The
painters ofPolonnaruva were capable, though it my not be to the same degree as those of Ajanta, ofbalanced
· composition; their work possessed beauty of line and created forms majestic grace. S Paranavitana, " The art
and architecture. of the Polonnaruva period," The Ceylon Historical JournaL ed. SD Saparamadu, Special
number on thePolonnaruvaPeriod, Vol.IV,Nos. 1-4, 1954-and 1955, pp.88-89
105
In another occasion, Paranavitana-concludes th.1t stylistically, the-painting ofHindagala closest. to the
paintings of the latest phase atAjanta..S Paranavitana, "TheHindagalarock inscription," University of
Ceylon Review, Vol.XVI, Nos. 1&2, 1958, p.l. '
106
Anuradhapura, ancientcapitalofCeylonis noteworti:J_y fo:rits monumental remains ofBuddhistart and
architecture derived from early Indian prototypes. The traditions of Indian paintings at Ajanta find a ready
echo in the fresco painting at Sigiriya and Polonnaruva. Buddha Jayanti exhibition of Buddhist art, Indian
Museum, Calcutta, I 956, p.l9
107
DebalaMit:rastates thatthe important of the murals ofAjanta.lies in.thei:rbeingth.e solerepresent_ative.
Except of course the scrappy fragments ofBagh, of an Indian school, which had once influenced deeply the
art tradition of the Buddhist world out side India like Sigiriya in Sri Lanka and Tung Huang in Central Asia.
Debala Mitra, Buddhist monuments, (frrst published 1956) Sahitya Samsad, Calcutta, (reprinted) 1971,
ft.l78.
~ Dhanapala believes that.these twenty-one three~quarte:r length figures ofwomen..bearing a. close a.t;finity,
if not a resemblance, to the pictures at Ajanta display a full knowledge of the human and a sureness of line
associated.with_master.DB.Dhanapala,.,The.stocy of Sinhalese.paintin g, SamanEress,.Maha.raga.ma._ 1957,
4
fw Mulk Raj states. that in their style, the Qaintings at Sigiriya are reminiscent of the frescoes in the famous
Ajanta caves of the Deccan, in central India Mulk Raj Anand, India in colour, Themes and Hudson,
London, 1958, p.86.
110
In another instance he states that after 800 years of major achievements, which is a record of sustained
creativity of one part of the human race, the various elements of the Ajanta style spread in to different parts
of India. At Bagh in Madhya Pradesh, in Sittannavasal, Badami and Sigiriya in the south, in T sparang of
western Tibet, in Bamiyan in central Asia, Tun Huang in China, the illuminated monuments were
apprehended from the glow of Ajanta walls. Mulk Raj Anand and RR Bharadwaj, Aj anta, Marg
Publications, Bombay, 1971, p.59.
111
Bharatha Iyer believes that the Indian pictorial tradition, which reached.its great height of achievement in
Ajanta and at Bagh, spread later to Ceylon (Sigiriya), Khotan and Tunghuan in Central Asia and to far-away
Japan (Nara and Horuyuji). K Bharatha Iyer, Indian art: A short introduction, Asia Publishing House,
Bombay, 1958, p.66.
112
Tresidder states that the Sigiriy-a.frescoes are contemporary with and superficially resemble those in
Ajanta caves in India. Argus John Tresidder, Ceylon: An introduction to the reSJllendent land, D Van
Nostrand co, Canada, 1960,P.201.
24

113 114 115


and Mahajan (1962), Wijesekara (1962) and (1983), Lindsay Opic
116 117 118 119
(1970), Sushila Pant (1970), Thomas (1971), Nadun (1976), Chaitanya
120 121 122 123
(1976) and (1987), Agravala (1977), David Piper (1981), Pandya

113
They believe that the paintings of Sigiriya are in a much better state of preservation than the Ajanta
paintings to which thy are closely related. Ramesh Shankar Gupta and BD Mahajan, Ajanta, Ellora and
Aurangabad caves, DB Taraporevala sons, Bombay, 1962, pp.43-44.
4
I I Wijesekara concludes that just as the classical art of the Gupta period seems to have found its way to

Ceylon, its painting too would have influenced the schools of painting in the island. At least 1he Andhra
School of painting with its centre at Amaravathi probably exercised the greatest influence on the schools in
the island. Sigiriya is unique in this respect. The paintings of Sigiriya are closely related to the famous
paintings of Ajanta and Bagh. Nevertheless, in the display of colour and delineation of the female form these
are reminiscent of a lost tradition of Andhra paintings. Nandadeva Wijesekara, Ancient paintings and
sculpture of Ceylon, Department of Cultural Affairs, 1962, pp.9-10.
115
Wijesekara further concludes that judge on the merits of each tradition according to its style, technique,
draughtsmanship and spirit together with the dress, orientation and ornament, one must necessarily 11dmit
the closet relationshiP-between the Sigiriya frescoes and those seen at Ajanta caves 16 and 17 which have
been dated to the 5th century AD. The Sigiriya frescoes confirm to the Gupta ideals as much as Ajanta does
in its heyda v of development Hence the close affinity of Sigiriya to Ajanta andBagh,_ which rightly leads
one to the conclusion, that Sigiriya frescoes show yet another phase of the Gupta School of painting.
Nandadeva Wijesekara, "Dating of Sigiriya frescoes," Selected writings,Tisara Press, Dehivala, 1983.
p.271; In addition, he states that religious art with the forceful appeal of Buddhism exercised an
extraordinary fascination on the indigenous people's ofterritories like Ceylon, Cambodia, Siam and Java. In
addition, it is to one of these movements that we in Ceylon owe our cultural heritage, artistic traditions,
psychological make-up and religious faith. Other movements of a similar nature followed in the wake of the
earlier movements thus maintaining a continuity of connected traditions between the Indian continent and
Lanka. Nandadeva Wijesekara, "Sinhalese art with special reference to Sigiriya," Selected writings, Tisara
Press, Dehivala, 1983, p.252.
6
I I Lindsay believes that the Sigiriya apsaras are generally likedwith_the Ajanta cave paintings inlndia, but
there is no real connection except insofar as the Ajanta style influenced Buddhist painting all over the
eastern world. Thus, the technique of modelling in pearly chiaroscuro comes from Ajanta. John_Lindsay
~ic, Island Ceylon, Themes and Hudson, London, 1970, p.l31.
I I Sushila Pant concludes that the painting of Sri Lankawas probably due to the influence oftheAjanta and
Ellora paintings. Sushila Pant, The art of Ceylon, 1970,_p.20. But it has to be realized that at Ellora no1hin~
has been remain any Buddhist mural painting though the caves are originally painted.
I Thomas concludes that some of the cave monasteries of Ajanta in their day became famous thro1,1~ tru:
18

Buddhist world, particularly for their superb frescoes and art traditions, which influenced painting in many
parts of the eastern world like Sigiriya, Tuntuan and Miran. P Thomas, Festivals and history oflndi!!, DB
Taraporevala, Bombay, 1971, p.72.
119
Nadun believes that the wolk is heroic even as the sculpture at Polonnaruva is heroic; it was a.heroic
period and the paintings belong to the same tradition as Ajanta. All the elements of the same canon that
determined types of beauty on the wall paintings of India are recognisable; it is the rhythm that holds as
permanent place in Asian art, not an imitation of nature. Nadun, "Mural painting," Viskam (Creativity),
Souvenir publication on the occasion of the 5th Non-aligned summit conference held in Sri Lanka 197 6,
State Printing Corporation, Colombo, 1976, p.55.
120
According to Chaitanya the style ofSigiriya painting is closely related to that ofAjanta. Sigiriya is an
interesting example of the way in which artistic traditions spread from land to land. A style, which
developed originally in close association with religious motives, has crossed the seas along with religious
doctrines and has been employed later in the representation of secular themes. Krishna Chaitanya, A history
of Indian painting: The mural tradition, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, 1976, pp.50-51 and he further
25

124
(1981), Deshpande (1989), 125 Chutivongs, Prematilaka and Roland Silva (1990), 126De
127
Silva (1990) and Wiliams (1997i 28 etc.

states that "we cannot posit the Indian tradition as an active and immediate influence in Sinhalese painting
even beyond the epoch ofSigiriya. Ibid, p.57
121
He further states that these gracefully posed figures of Sigiri that seem to be casting down a rain of
flowers, could have come directly from Ajanta. Identically, here 1he idiom is used for a secular, purely
decorative intention. Krishna Chaitanya, Arts of Indi!!, Abhinav Publishing, New Delli~ 1987, p.49.
122
Agravala believes that the celebrated examples of Gupta painting are preserved in the wall frescoes of the
Ajanta caves, the Bagh caves in Malwa and the rock-cut chambers at Sigiriya in Ceylon. Vasudeva S
Agravala, Gupta art (A stoty of Indian art in the Gupta period 300-600 AD), Prithivi Prakashan, Varanasi,
1977, p.92.
123
According to Piper, in style _and technique, the figures of Sigiriya closely resemble the fifth century
frescoes at Ajanta. David Piper, The history of painting and sculpture: New Horizons, The Mitchell Beazley
library of art, Vollll, Mitchell Beazley Publishers, London, 1981, p.l6
124
Pandya believes that the Sublime of Indian painting is not seen only in Indian but in the Far-eastern
countries also. The wider impact of the Indian painting is found beyond the Cape-Comorin in the Sinhala
dweep situated in the Indian Ocean. The Sinhal dweep, which is known as Sri Lanka, is a very small
country. Nevertheless, the cave painting of Lanka is fully influenced by the Indian painting and there is a
marked similarity with AjantiL Ravindra Pandya, Cave paintings of SriLanka.Art Centre, Pragati Society,
Ahmedabad, 1981, p.13; He further concludes that from 1he point of view of art, Ajanta's painting is more
effective than the paintings of Sigiriya. Their expression is laudable. They have naturalness, beauty and life.
In the Sigiriya painting, the painter had to sweat less. There is no doubt that 1he main theme of Sigiriya' s
painting is limited to the female form. On_ the contrary, inAjanta, besides the womeaimages many scenes
from Lord Buddha's life have been painted on a grand scale. In addition, the painting was not confmed to the
walls but decorated roofs, pillars, galleries and floors too. In comparison to this, the painters of Sigiriya
wmked less. Ibid, p.17; Nevertheless, if we compare 1hem with the paintings of Ajanta, we feel that these
painters could not reach the standard.ofthe Ajanta paintings. It lacks the qualities of the paintings of Ajanta.
Ibid, p.22;In addition, he believes that the painting style of the Tivamka shrine is like that at Ajanta, Sigiriya
and Bagh. In preparing the. surface, the saine technique has also been used. Ibid,p.35.
125
Deshpande states that Ajanta caves are examples par excellence of Asiatic art and we fmd paintings in the
Ajanta style at Sigiriyain arock cutcave in Ceylon as also inAfghanistan.atBamiyan.Ajantaarttravelled
with artist-monks to central Asia and extensive paintings bearing Ajanta influence have come to light in
caves alone the silk route leading to China through a.number of Buddhist sites in Central Asia. Noteworthy
among them are paintings in Tunhuang caves and those at kizil. The art of paintings also reached china and
Japan through Central Asia. MN Deshpande, "Cave.paintings in India," Wall paintings of India: A historical
~erspective, ed. OP Agrawala, INTACH Conservation Centre, Lucknow, 1989, p.21.
26
According to Chutivongs, the paintings of the Cobra-hood cave can. also be assigned.to about the late
sixth of the stylised animals are similar to those found in cave 17 and 1 at Ajanta, which are dated to about
sixth and seventh centuries. The exuberant trends in these depictions at Sigiriya bring them nearer in style
and expression to the paintings of the seventh century in cave no I at Ajanta. Nandana Chutivongs and
others, Paintings of Sri Lanka: Sigiriya, Archaeological Survey of Sri Lanka centenary publication, Central
Cultural Fund, 1990, pp.42-43; He further concludes that unfortunately, the examples found at Ajanta that
are before Sigiriya are rare. Those that are earlier than Sigiriya include certain panels in cave no 10, while
the majority of the paintings in cave nos. 16 and 17 may be more or less contemporary with Sigiriya. This
attempt to compare the two sites has been based on reasonable deductions, since there are clear stylistic
similarities between the two sites. The figurative style and the ideals of beauty expressed at Sigiriya also
fmd parallel at Ajanta The artists wotking at both sites closely followed the classical Indian tradition. The
Sigiriya ladies are equally full-breasted and slender-waisted but lack the visibly sensuous languidness of the
Ajanta figures. The celestial court ladies at Sigiriya carry poise in keeping with regal dignity and spirited
alertness. Ibid, pp.45-46; In addition, he states that fragments of rich decorative motifs, similar in theme and
26

This is not accepted by others who argue that there is no such close connection

between the two painting traditions of India and Sri Lanka, though they do not explain

the more obvious overall differences between the two traditions of artistic
129
practice. According to them, the so-called influence of Andhra or Ajanta painting

traditions on Sri Lankan painting is just a speculation. 130The main reason for this is not

only that there are no remains of paintings from Amaravati or any other Andhra site with

which the Sigiriya paintings can be compared, but there is also no discernible

resemblance, as Benjamin Rowland sees, between the ladies of Sigiriya and those of

Amaravati. For instance, it is obvious that the Amaravati figures have round faces, fleshy

cheeks, wide open eyes and heavy lips as against the oval faces with less heavily

delineated features of Sigiriya woman. Overall, the Amaravati female form is more

robust and of ampler proportions compared to the Sigiriya paintings. Rowland also sees

style to those adorning the ceilings of many caves at Ajanta are preserved on the soffit of the Cobra-hood
cave. Ibid, p.42. ·
127
According to De Silva, we can come to one conclusion from a short comparative look at the styles and
techniques of painting at the two sites of Ajanta and Sigiri which are widely separated in distance and time
for travel but which had the same religious background; the same as Bell's that Ajanta and Sigiriya paintings
were done by the artists of the same school. It requires further study to decide who influenced whom. RH de
Silva, "Painting (early period 247 BC to 800 AD," Centenary (1890-1990) commemoration series of the
Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka. Volume five- painting, ed. Nandadeva Wijesekara, State Printing
Corporation, Colombo, 1990, p.16. He further stated that the subject of the paintings ofHindagala was
descnbed as probably the visit of the god Sakra to the Buddha in the Indasala cave and was stylistically
regarded as the closest in the island to the latest phase at Ajanta Ibid, p.30.
128
Williams concludes that one of several characteristics that distinguish the Sigiriya paintings from
contemporary Indian murals is the way they relate to the rough surface of the cliff, which retains its natural
contour. He further stated that physically and in other ways, Sri Lankan painting cannot entirely be
subsumed within a tradition originating on the Indian mainland. Joanna Williams, "The construction of
gender in the paintings and graffiti ofSigiriya," Representing the body: Gender issues in Indian art, ed.
Vidya Dehejia, The Book Review Literary Trust, New Delhi, 1997, p.60.
129
Philip Rawson, Indian painting, Paris, 1961, p.56; Nandadeva Wijesekara, Early Sinhalese painting,
Maharagama, 1959, pp.88-90; Siri Gunasinghe, "Buddhist paintings in Sri Lanka- An art of enduring
simplicity", Spolia Zeylanic!!, Vol.XXXV, No.1&2, 1980, p.479; "Ajanta's shadow on Sigiriya," The art of
Ajanta: New perspectives, ed. Ratan Parimoo and others, Books and Books, New Delhi, Vol.ll, 1991, p.497;
Albert Dharmasiri, The painters and the paintings of the school of Sigiriya, Sigiriya seminar, Colombo, 15
October, 1983, Mimeograph, pp.2-3.
130
Siri Gunasinghe, "Ajanta 's shadow on Sigiriya," The art of Ajanta: New perspectives, ed. Ratan Parimoo
and others, Books and Books, New Delhi, Vol.ll, 1991, p.497.
27

an Indian origin of what he calls the technical tricks of representing the nose in profile on

a three-quarter face and showing the nose in three-quarter view. Whether such details can

be regarded, as clear evidence of artistic borrowing will remain a valid question.

Certainly, what affinity there is between the Amaravati and Sigiriya figures follows from

the collective sharing of the classic ideal offemale beauty and not from formal or stylistic

essentials.

Similarly, in addition to the conspicuous dissimilarities of the murals, particularly

in the context of styles and techniques as will be discussed in the fourth and fifth chapters

in detail, it is to be noted that as far as Sigiriya is concerned one is hard pressed to find any

line of communication, direct or indirect, between itand Ajanta too. Certainly, there is no

historical evidence of any political or cultural exchange between Sri LUlka and the

Vakataka kingdom ofthe 5th century AD when Ajanta was an active centre ofBuddhism.

It is noteworthy that there is also no epigraphical or literary record in India or Sri Lanka

that would point to any islanders Buddhist visiting the Mahayana establishment at Ajanta

in particular or of anyone arriving at Sri Lanka from Ajanta. 131It is also important to

remember that the history of mural painting in Sri Lanka can be said to go back much

further than Sigiriya and Hindagala. For example, it is generally believed that the

paintings of Karambagala belong to the second century BC as discussed in the third

chapter in detail. Besides, though the relevant pictorial records are not available for

examination, there is no reason to doubt the literary document's statements that the inner

walls of the relic chamber of the Ruvanvali dagoba had Jataka stories, episodes from the

131
Ibid, pp.495-496.
28

life of the Buddha painted their in the second century BC, 132 since some other relic

chamber paintings also have been found from the stupas, which belong to the subsequent
133
periods. Similarly, stretching as they do over a long period of time and an extensive

geographical area, 134 the fragments of ancient mural paintings of the island provide

evidence of a popular artistic tradition that furnishes a context, both historical and

technical, for the murals of Sigiriya and Hindagala, a context that is local and not Indian
.
Andh ra or AJanta trad"ttion.
. 135

It is interesting to note at this point that besides this debatable concept of so-called

'common Indo-Sri Lankan painting tradition,' some scholars have remarked on

similarities between the painting traditions of India and other eastern and western

countries too. For instance, some scholars have noticed a close similarity between the

paintings of Ajanta and those of such widely divided schools like early Italian and

Chinese. ~ut, it is obvious that it is useless to compare Ajanta murals with the art ofltaly
13

for fundamentally it does not permit of such a comparison. Certainly, to a great many

people the paintings of Ajanta are on a far higher plane of aesthetic achievement than

anything ever done in Europe and hence such comparisons are as futile as they are

meaningless. 137

132
Mahavamsa, tr. W. Geiger, Pali Text Society, London, 1912, p.204.
133
For further details, please refer to the third chapter.
134
Please refer to chapter 3 for further details.
135
Siri Gunasinghe, "Ajanta's shadow on Sigiriya," The art of Ajanta: New perspectives, ed. Ratan Parimoo
and others, Books and Books, New Delhi, Vol.II, 1991, p.501.
136
The cyclopaedia of India, Cyclopaedia Publishing co, Calcutta, Vol. I, 1907, p.90.
137
Karl Khandalavala, Indian sculpture and painting: An introductory study, DB Taraporevala and sons,
Bombay, (n. d), p.54; See also Percy Brown, Indian painting, Heritage of India Series, YMCA Publishing
House, 1927, p.7.
29

Nevertheless, it is to be noted that when writing of the murals at Ajanta, and

particularly of a painting supposedly depicting the arrival of an embassy from a Sassanian

king ofPersia in the seventh century AD, some scholars have wrongly concluded that the

picture, in addition to its interest as a contemporary record of unusual political relations

between India and Persia, is one ofthe highest value as a landmark in the history of art.

Under this impression, it has been mistakenly concluded that it not only fixes the date of

some of the most important paintings at Ajanta and so establishes a standard by which the

date of others can be judged, but also suggests the possibility that the Ajanta school of

pictorial art may have been derived from Persia and ultimately from Greece. 138Similarly

some other scholars like Fabri concluded that some of the paintings at Ajanta show

Hellenistic influence that could easily be at the end ofthe first century AD. 13 ~ut, Binyan,

while writing the introduction of the first volume of Yazdani's monumental publication

on Ajanta, has reasonably pointed out that it is not impossible that the Indian artists knew

the Hellenistic paintings, but we do not know what those were like. 140Indian historians

reacted sharply to such statements and attempts were made to prove either that India had

not derived any part of its culture from Greece or else that the culture of India was a close

parallel to that of Greece, manifesting all the qualities, which were present in the
141
latter. As one of such scholar pointed out, it has to be realized that every civilisation has

its own miracle and this has not yet been recognised either by European or by Indian

138
Vincent A Smith, Early history of India, fourth edition, Oxford, 1924, p.442.
139
Charles Fabri, "Frescoes of Ajanta; An essay," Marg, ed. Mulk Ray Anand, Vol.IX, No.I 1955, p.63.
140
Laurence Binyon, "Introduction," G Yazdani, Aj anta: Monochrome reproductions of the Ajanta frescoes
based on photography, Swati Publications, Delhi, Vol. I, 1983, p.xii see also pp.xv-xvi.
141
Romila Thapar, A history oflndi!!, Penguin Books, New Delhi, Vol.I, (reprinted) 1990, p.18. This
condition can easily be understood when considering the fact that Greece and India indeed the two opposite
poles in the development of the Aryan culture. Max Muller, A history of ancient Sanskrit literature, 1859,
p.8.
30

historian. The idea of assessing a civilisation on its own merits was to come at a later
142
stage.

Besides these so-called western similarities, it is noteworthy that some critics have

observed even Chinese and Japanese features also in the paintings of Ajanta. In fact, this

was an accepted fact during the first part of the last century though Smith states that a few

late paintings at Ajanta, resemble the Chinese manner to a certain extent, but the majority

belong to a phase of art which one can call nothing except Indian, for it is found nowhere

else. 143 Interestingly enough, some recent writers also observe that the avaricious Brahmin

of the V essantara Jataka painted on the left wall of cave no 17 at Ajanta recalls the

calligraphic line of Chinese and Japanese traditions and the monk painted in cave 6 can
144
easily be mistaken for a detail from a Chinese painting. Thus it is evident that time was

when the Ajanta paintings were frequently compared with othei" paintings - Chinese, early

Renaissance and so on, according to individual training and inclination- to establish their

superiority or indicate their deficiency· and were even dismissed as hardly to be classed

among the fine arts, because they were more decorative than pictorial.

Nevertheless, it is remarkable that some scholar.s have expressed their views

contrary to these beliefs. Zimmer, for instance, believes that during the period of the prime

of this art, Chinese Buddhist pilgrims were visiting India to study their religion at its

source and they journeyed through the land for centuries, visiting the sacred sites. When

they returned home, laden with manuscripts, sacred images and drawings they brought to

142
Romila Thapar, A histmy oflndia, Penguin Books, New Delh~ Vol.I, (reprinted) 1990, p.18.
143
VA Smith, "Indian painting at thefestival of empire, 1911" The Indian Antiquary, Vol.X, 1911, p.298;
See also Laurence Binyan, "Introduction," G Yazdani, Ajanta: Monochrome reproductions of the Ajanta
frescoes based on photography, Swati Publications, Delh~ part I, 1983, p.xii
144
Krishna Chaitanya, A history of Indian painting: The mural tradition, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi,
1976, p.28.
31

China a knowledge also of the sculpture and paintings of the Indian shrines and

monasteries. Under this impression, he strongly believes that the Buddhist art of the

Chinese T'ang dynasty {618-906) was influenced directly by the mural paintings of
145
Ajanta and the other sanctuaries of the period. Similarly, some other critics believe that

the paintings of Ajanta influenced Japanese paintings also. 146 Thus, although it is evident

that to assume that the cradle and origin of Asiatic style belonged to any one country of the

continent in particular would be a supposition, an unprofitable starting-point for inquiry, it

might be natural, for lack of evidence, to suppose that India, which gave to Asia the

kindling ideals and imagery of Buddhism was that land to which we should tum for the

noblest creation of art. 147

Nonetheless, it has to be realized that as Singer has reasonably concluded that if

we are dealing with cultural performances in different cultures, we have to experience

them in their own terms, but if we try to understand them in terms of the language and

concepts from our own culture, we have a problem in intercultural communication. 148m

this context, it is to be noted that the Asian paintings though belonging to the same broad

'tradition of Asiatic style,' they also display some conspicuous dissimilarities in many

respects. For instance, though the Sri Lankari Buddhist mural paintings also belong to the

same broad traditions of Asian art, as the various continental schools of the time, it is

evident that the specific character and historical continuity ofthe SriLankantradition give

145
Heinrich Zimmer, The art of Indian Asia: Its mythology and transformations, Bollingen Series XXXIX,
Pantheon Books, Toronto, Canada, 1955, p.186.
146
See Shashiba1a, "Ho:ryuji murals and Ajanta," Buddhist art and thought, ed. Kewal Krishan Mittal and
Ashvini Agraval, Harman Publishing House, New Delhi, 1993, pp. 137-142.
147
Laurence Binyon, Painting in the Far East: An introduction to the hist01y of pictorial art in Asia.
eSj>ecially China and Japan, London, 1913, p.36.
32

it its own distinctive place in the art of the region. 14~ence, in this work more emphasis

has been laid on the comparative study of the aricient Buddhist mural paintings of

peninsular India and Sri Lanka to comprehend this perspective more accurately.

Survey of literature:

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a few critics focussed their attention on

comparative studies offine arts of India and Sri Lanka during the ancient period, covering

the entire traditions of artistic activities in both countries. Among these, the studies of

A.K. Coomaraswamy, 15CV.A. Smith and Kde B Codrington, 151 J. Ph. Vogel, 152and Rean
153
Richardson can be cited as importarit examples. In the 1930s, on the other hand,
154
Rowland and Coomaraswamy did a comparative study not only of the paintings of India

and Sri Lanka, but also those of Central Asia. This does not, however, cover the whole

Buddhist tradition of mural paintings of Sri Lanka and India during the ancient period.

The book is in two volumes, though its second volume contains only the plates of the

paintings. The first volume is divided into two major sections out of which the first part

written by A.K Coomaraswamy on "The nature of Buddhist art" does not deal with the

painting traditions of India or Sri Lanka at all, but .mainly focuses on Buddhist

148
Milton Singer, "Cultural performance as a Blurred genre: Remarks to inaugurate a conference," Arts
patronage in India: Methods. motives and market, ed. Joan L Erdman, Manohar Publications, New Delhi,
1992, p.24.
149
Senaka Bandaranayaka, The rock and wall paintings of Sri Lank!!, Lake House Bookshop, Colombo,
1986, p.30.
150
A.K Coomaraswamy, Arts and crafts of India and Ceylon, T.N.Folis & co, London, 1913.
151
V.A. Smith and K de B. Codrington, Histoty offme arts in India and Ceylon, Oxford University Press,
London, 1930.
152
J. Ph. Vogel (tr. A.J. Bamouw), Buddhist art in India - Ceylon and Java, Clerendon Press, Oxford, 1936.
153
Abbate Francesco, (tr. Rean Richardson), Indian art and the art of Ceylon Central and South East Asia
Octopus Books, London, 1972.
154
Benjamin Rowland and Ananda Coomaraswamy, The wall paintings of India Central Asia and Ceylon: A
comparative study, Boston, 1937.
33

iconography. The second section of the book is an explanatory text written by Benjamin

Rowland covering introductory remarks, paintings of Ajanta and Bagh caves, murals of

Sri Lanka, the impact of Indian art on the paintings of the Far East etc. Therefore it is

obvious that although the book is titled The wall paintings of India Central Asia and

Ceylon: A comparative study, in reality, it does not provide a comprehensive comparative

study of the two wall painting traditions of India and Sri Lanka during the ancient period.

A survey of the secondary literature shows that a majority of the res~arches on

paintings of both countries have either discussed India or Sri Lanka. At least from the

beginning of 1820s, some critics did pay attention to some individual sites of the two

countries where the paintings of the ancient period were available. Out of such essays,

the books and articles written on the cave paintin_gs of Aj<.:.nta occupy foremost place in

the table of precedence. From the beginning up to now, more than a hundred essays

including books and articles have been published on the paintings of Ajanta.

At this juncture it has to be realized that of the above mentioned four important

Buddhist mural painting sites of Ajanta, Bagh, Aurangabad and Ellora in India, the

paintings of the last three sites are now almost losL Hence, certainly no publications are

available on either the Buddhist mural paintings at Aurangabad or Ellora caves. The

situation is the same concerning the paintings of Bagh_ caves except a few brief essays

like those by John Marshall 155and Fyzee Rahamin. 156Hence, even in this comparative

study the main attention has to be given to the painting series of Ajanta caves and

155
John Marshall, "The caves of Bagh," The Bagh caves in the Gwalior state, Delhi Printers Prakashan,
Delhi. 1927.
156
S. Fyzee Rahamin, "The cave paintings ofBagh," The Indian art of drawing pictures in the caves of
~,The Indian Daily Mail, Bombay, 1928.
34

accordingly, it is reasonable to start this survey of literature from the essays on Ajanta

itself

In this context, the only reference to the caves of Ajanta in ancient literary sources

is that by the Chinese pilgrim Yuan Chwang who stayed in India for more than twelve

years in the middle of the seventh century AD. Although it is believed that Yuan Chwang

did not visit the caves of Ajanta, his brief description on the caves is important. 157 After

more than thousand years of oblivion or neglect, some British officers of the Madras

Army discovered the caves of Ajanta in 1819.


15
sm fact, it is obvious that the written and
visual creation of Ajanta's paintings begin with this rediscovery. 159Accordingly, though

it is short and far from satisfactory, the first publication on the caves of Ajanta appeared
160
. in 1829 written by Lieutenant James Alexander, who had visited the caves in 1824.

Since this publication, Ajanta caves have understandably aroused considerable interest

among scholars and a great deal has been written on them. At this initial stage, among

those who studied the paintings of Ajanta, Ralph and Captain Gresley attempted a

description of the paintings. They visited the place in 1828 and made a report that

endeavoured to describe most of the paintings remaining at the caves. 161 But, according to

the details presented by them, it is clear that this only contains a descriptive account

rather than comprehensive analytical details.

157
For further details please refer to third chapter of this thesis where the chronology of Ajanta is discussed.
158
J Burgess, "The Ajanta caves," The Indian Antiquary, Vol.lll, 187 4, p.273; A. Ghosh, "Introduction,"
Ajanta murals: An album of eighty-five reproductions in colour, ed. A Ghosh, Archaeological Survey of
India, New Delhi, 1967, p.2. Walter Spink has pointed out that he has noticed the name of a British officer,
with the date 1819, engraved in cave no 10. The inscription appears above man-height, inferring that the
lower portion of the cave had been covered with debris at the time of visit, Ibid, ffl.
159
William Erskine, "Remains of Buddhists in India," Transactions of the Bombay Literary Society, Vol.lll,
containing a note by Morgan on the visit of the Army officers in 1819, p.520.
160
J.E Alexander "Notice of a visit to the cavern temples of Adjunta in the East-Indies," Transactions of the
Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. IT, 1829, pp.362-370.
35

Hence, the first 'scholarly work' on Ajanta was by James Fergusson, in a paper

read at the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland in 1843 and published in
162
1846. Although the description is short he has given details of architectural and

chronological perspectives of Ajanta caves and rightly observed the prolonged time

range of their excavations. Subsequently, Bird's description on Ajanta was published in

1847 in which the erroneousness of the author's opinions on Buddhism is only matched

by the inaccuracies ofthe drawings that illustrate it. 163 Thereafter, James Burgess ofthe

Archaeological Survey of India made the, first detailed systematic report. 164 In this

treatise, architectural and sculptural details of the caves as well as their inscriptions were

recorded, presenting valuable information for their chronology and political affiliations.

But, in the joint effort of Fergusson and Burgess 165 a more general description of the

paintings is interspersed with the account of the architectural features and this contains

references to all that has been previously written on the subject. In another report made

by Burgess 166 further details are given with many illustrations of sculpture and

architecture of the site.

Meanwhile Fergusson identified a scene of cave no 1 at Ajanta as an ambassador

of the Persian king Khusrau II presenting himself to the court of Pulakesin of the

161
This report is printed in J. Prinsep's, "Facsimiles of various ancient inscriptions," Journal of the Asiatic
Society ofBeng!!l, Vol.V, 1836, pp.554-561.
162
J. Fergusson, "The rock-cut temples of India," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and
Ireland, Vol. VIII, 1846, pp.30-92.
163
J Bird, Historical researches on the origin and princijlles of the Buddha and Jaina religions, Bombay,
1847, pp.16-18.
164
J Burgess, Notes on the Buddha rock temple of Ajanta. their paintings and sculptures and on the paintings
of the Bagh caves, Bombay, 1879.
165
James Fergusson and James Burgess, The cave temples of India, London, 1880.
166
J Burgess, Archaeological Sutvey Reports on the Buddhist cave temples, London, 1883.
36

Chalukya dynasty, 167though the identification of the scene was shown to be wrong
168
subsequently. But, it is noteworthy that based on this misidentification some scholars

have wrongly concluded that the Ajantaschool of painting may have been derived from

Persia and ultimately from Greece, as already noted above169 though now it is realised

that Ajanta art was born and nurtured on the indigenous soil and inspired by an

indigenous religion 170

Based on Burgess's interpretations and identifications of the Ajanta mural

paintings, Oldenburg was also able to identify a few other Jataka stories. I7I

Subsequently, with the help of painted inscriptions at the site, Liiders has identified two

additional Jataka stories as given in the Jatakamala of Arya.Siira, confirming that some

texts other than the traditional Pali Jatakas had been utilised in the finalising of the

paintings of Ajanta. 172 In addition, Foucher's study succeeded in recognising a large


173
number not only of the sculptural figures but also of painted scenes. Recently,

Schlingloff 74 also did his research on the identification of the paintings of Ajanta by

examining the thematic linkage with Mahayana Buddhist texts. As he stated his aim was
175
to continue the work Foucher began earlier in the first part of the twentieth century. In

167
J Fergusson, "On the identification of Chrosroes II among the paintings of Ajanta," Journal of the Royal
Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Irelang, (New Series), Vol.XI, 187 9, pp.IS 5-17 0.
168
A. Ghosh, "Introduction," Ajanta murals: An album of eighty-five reproductions in colour, ed. A Ghosh,
Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi, 1967, p.4. This has been discussed in the sixth chapter in detail.
169
Vincent A Smith, Early histozy of India, fourth edition, Oxford, 1924, p.442.
170
A. Ghosh, "Introduction," Ajanta murals: An album of eighty-five rtmroductions in colour, ed. A Ghosh,
New Delhi, 1967, p.7.
171
S.F. Oldenburg (tr. L Wiener), "Notes on Buddhist art," Journal of the American Oriental Society,
Vol.XVIII, 1897,pp.l83-201.
172
H.Ltiders, (tr. J. Burgess) "Aryasura's Jatakamala and the frescoes of Ajanta," Indian Antiquary,
Vol.XXXll, 1903, pp.326-329.
173
A. Foucher, (tr. M.S.A. Hydari), "Preliminary report on the interpretation of the paintings and sculptures
of Ajanta," Journal of the Hvderabad Archaeological Society for 1919-1920, Vol.V, 1921.
174
Dieter Schlingloff, Studies in the Ajanta paintings: Identifications and interpretations, New Delhi, 1987.
175
Ibid, pp.ix-xii.
37

this exhaustive work, he has critically examined the identifications of Ajanta paintings of

the early researchers. Hence, his work exemplifies the assumption made by scholars up

to now that detailed analysis will continue to reveal new information regarding the

content and the meaning of the paintings.

Besides these identifications of the murals, over the years, a substantial literature

has been published on the evaluation of Ajanta caves. Solomon, 176 Mukul Dey, 177
178 179
Goloubew, Vakil, Coomaraswamy 180 and Debala Mitra181 made early evaluation of

the paintings. Of these, the small booklet ofDebala Mitra is an useful treatise on Ajanta,

although it does not seem to use extensive literature. Particularly, the statement that the

caves are numbered not chronologically, but as a matter of convenience, starting with the

one at the outermost extremity182 implies that the.author was perhaps not concerned with

their chronology. Nevertheless, it is conspicuous that later researchers like Spink, 183
184 185
Begley and Weiner mainly devoted their attention to either the problem of

176
W .E. Gladstone Solomon, The women of the Ajanta caves, The Times Press, Bombay, 1923; Jottings at
Ajanta, The Times Press, Bombay, 1923. The author has been focussed his attention mainly on the beauty of
the Ajanta ladies.
177
Mukul Dey, My pilgrimage to Ajanta and Bagh, New Yolk, 1925.
178
V.Goloubew, "Documents pour servir a I'etude d' Ajanta, Les peintures de 1a premiere grotte" Ars
Asiatic!!, Vol. X, Paris and Brussels, 1927.
179
K.H. Vakil,AtAianta,Bombay, 1929.
180
A.K. Coomaraswamy, "The painter's art in ancient India: Ajanta," Journal of the Indian Society of
OrientalArt, Vol.I, No.1, 1933.
181
Debala Mitra, Ajant!!. Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi, 1996.
182
Ibid, p.l4.
183
W. Spink, "Ajanta and Ghatotkacha: A preliminary analysis," Ars Orientalis, Vol. VI, 1966, pp.135-55;
"Ajanta to Ellora," Mm, Vol. XX, No.2, March, 1967, pp.6-67; "Ajanta's chronology: The problem of
cave eleven," Ars Orientalis, Vol. VII, 1968, pp.l55-68. Ajanta to Ellora, Ann Arbor, Michigan, (n.d.);
"Ajanta: A brief history," Aspects oflndian art," ed. Pratapaditya Pal, Leiden, 1972, pp.49-58; The
splendours of Indra' s crown: A study of Mahayana developments at Aj anta," Journal of the Royal Society of
Arts," Vol.l22, No.5219, London, 1974, pp.743-67; "Ajanta's chronology: Politics and patronage,"
Kaladarshan!!, Leiden, 1981, pp.109-126; "Ajanta's chronology: The crucial cave, Ars Orientalis, Vol.X,
1975, pp.143-69; Ajanta to Ellora, East and West, Vol..XIX, 1969, pp.230-3 i.
184
WE. Begley, The chronology of Mahayana Buddhist architecture and painting at Ajanta, Ann Arbor,
Michigan, 1966.
185
S.L. Weiner, Ajanta and its origins, Harvard, 1970; "Ajanta iconography and chronology," East and
West, Vol.XX:Vl, 1976, pp.343-58; Ajanta: Its place in Buddhist art, Berkeley, Los Angeles, 1977.
38

chronology of Ajanta murals or the gradual architectural development of the caves.

Besides, the studies ofKramrisch, 186 Goetz, 187 Auboyer 188 and Fabri 189 etc are mainly on

the aesthetic or technical aspects of the paintings of Ajanta and are useful to understand

its style. Of these, it is noteworthy that Kramrisch coined the phrase "The Ajantaesque

type of human figure," 190 a concept that has itself becomes an icon of Indian art.

Meanwhile, the work of Ghosh 191 provides a representative collection of images

emphasising the best-preserved paintings.

Besides these early writings, among the recent publications of Ajanta, the book

titled The Art of Ajanta: New Perspectives192 is a collection of research papers of a

seminar on varioi.ls aspects of the caves at the site and hence is one of the important

treatises on the subject In this book of two volumes, forty article~ have been presented

on various aspects of Ajanta, out of whiclut least more than two third have discussed its

paintings. Nevertheless, it is to be noted that among the other recent publications on the

subject, the book published by Sharma193 is not .a research oriented one and is suitable

only for beginners in the field. The very short descriptions of paintings, given under a

large number of subtitles clearly show the actual status of the book

Apart from these treatises, members of the Royal Asiatic Society were at once

impressed by the importance of the discovery of the _paintings of Ajanta and they

186
Stella Kramrisch, A smvey of painting in the Deccan, Hyderabad, 1937.
1117
H. Goetz, "The neglected aspects of Ajanta art," Marg. Vol.II, No.4, 1947, pp.36-64; "The golden age of
Buddhist art," Marg, Vol IX, No.2, pp.86-92
188
J Auboyer, "Composition and perspective at Ajanta," Arts and Letters India and Pakistan, (New Series),
VoLXXII No.I, 1948, pp.20-28.
189
C. Faibri "Frescoes of Ajanta: An essay," M!!rg, Vol. IX, No.I, 1955, pp.61-76.
190
Stella Kramrisch, A survey of painting in the Deccan, Hyderabad, 1937, p.89.
191
A Ghose (ed), Ajanta murals: An album of eighty-five reproductions in colour, Archaeological Survey of
India, New Delh~ 1967.
192
The art of Ajanta: New perspectives. ed. Ratan Parimoo and others, Books and Books, New Delhi, 1991,
2vols.
39

addressed the directors of the East India Company with a plea for the preservation of the

caves and the execution of copies of the frescoes. Consequently, Major Robert Gill of the

Madras army was appointed to make facsimile copies of all the pictures at the
194
site. Tragically these were lost in the 1860s "Crystal Palace Company fire," at

Sydenham, London. 195 Thereafter, Griffith's copies of Ajanta 196 made near the end of the

nineteenth century (between 1872 and 1885) were also lost in a fire at Victoria and Albert

Museum in 1885/ 97 but copies of the copies were preserved and published in his two

volume monumental work. 198 At the beginning of the twentieth century Goloubew also

began recording all figures sequentially with cave no 1199 but unfortunately his death

curtailed that admirable effort.

Besides, the later portfolios of reproductions of Lady Herringham, 200 Pratinidi,201


202 203 204
Katchadorian, Lalit Kala Academy, and UNESC0 are also important, but the

193
LC Sharma, A briefhisto:ry of Indian painting, Goel Publishing House, Meerut, 1995.
194
Guide to Ajanta frescoes, Archaeological Department, Hyderabad, 1949, p.1.
195
James Ferguson and James Burgess, The cave temples of India, Oriental Books Corporation, Delhi, 1969
(First published London, 1880), p.282; John Griffiths, The paintings in the Buddhist cave temples of Ajanta
Khansdesh, India, 1896; Cexton Publications, Delhi, Vo11, (reprinted) 1983, p.3.
1
~e Government of India having sanctioned an expenditure ofRs.50000 for this purpose, Griffiths and a
party of students went to Aj anta and it is satisfactory to learn that the entire ceiling worth copying and four
pieces of the wall painting of caves has been successfully copied. J Bergess, "Ajanta caves;" The Indian
Antigumy, ed. JBergess, Vol.ll, 1873, p.158; Copies were made :from 10th December 1872 until171hMay
1873. J. Burgess, "TheAjanta:frescoes," The Indian Antigumy, ed. JBurgess, Vo1Ill, January 1874, p.25;
See also Pioneer, "Ajanta frescoes," The Indian Antiqumy. No.1, 1872, p.354. See also WE Goldstone
Solomon, Mural paintings of the Bombay school, The Times of India Press, 1930, Introduction, p.ll.
197
James Fergusson and James Burgess, The cave temples of India, Oriental Books Corporation, Delhi,
1969 (First published 1880), p.x; John Griffiths, The paintings in the Buddhist cave temples of Ajanta
Khandesh, India, 1896, Cexton Publications, Delhi, Vol.I, (reprinted) 1983, p.3; See also Dieter Schlingloff,
"Kalyanakarin's adventures: The identification of an Ajanta painting," Artibus Asiae, Vol.XXXVlll, p.5.
198
John Griffiths, The paintings in the Buddhist cave temples of Ajanta Khandes, Indi!!, London, 1896-7.
199
V.Goloubew, "Documents pour setVir a I' etude d' Ajanta" Ars .A..siatica, Vol. X, Paris and Brussels, 1927.
200
Lady Herringham, Ajanta frescoes: Being reproductions in colour and monochrome of frescoes in some
of the caves at Ajanta after copies taken in the years 1909-1911, Oxford, 1915.
201
B.P. Prathinidhi, Ajanta: A handbook, Bombay, 1932.
202
S. Katchadourian, Indian fresco paintings: Ajanta, Badami, Bagh, Sittanavasal. Kumatgi, Bombay, 1939.
203
Lalit Kala Academy, Ajanta naintings, New Delhi, 1956.
204
India: Paintings from Ajanta caves, UNESCO World Art Series, New York Graphic Society, 1954;
The Ajanta caves, UNESCO Art Book, New York, 1963.
40

selection has been haphazard, all the paintings reproduced being post-fifth century AD. Of

these, it is noteworthy that the plates of the Lalit Kala Academy have been reproduced

from the same colour photographs that were used for the UNESCO publication on Ajanta

paintings. That means that, unfortunately, the selection is equally limited and the

reproductions in this publication look insipid compared with the reproductions in the
205
UNESCO volume. But, it is conspicuous that the selection is ampler and more

representative in Madanjeet Singh's album?06 The descriptive text that he has presented is

also equally important.

Other excellent presentations are the album of the Archaeological Survey of India
207
and Yazdani's work, by virtue of their documentation and the fully representative

illustrations. In addition, the descriptions given by Yazdani are more extensive and

elaborate than the descriptions of other scholars who have discussed these briefly in their

various albums and portfolios. In the textual parts of his massive four volumes Yazdani

has conspicuously discussed almost all the fragments of paintings, which were neglected

by previous scholars and exclusively described their cultural and historical interest as

well. But it is evident that his textual volumes are filled with various .elementary

interpretational mistakes, and it is particularly unfortunate that he did not consider

previous studies and thus wrongly explained numerous subjects that had long been

correctly interpreted as in the case of the so-called 'Persian embassy' scene.

205
For a short review of these reproductions please refer toR. V. L. (complete name has not been given),
"Ajanta paintings, Lalit Kala Academy, New Delhi, 1956," Lalit Kala, ed. Karl Khandalavala and Moti
Chandra, No.3-4, 1956-1957, pp.l38-139. _
206
Madanjeet Singh, The cave paintings of Ajanta, London, 1965.
207
G.Y azdani, Ajanta: Monochrome reproductions of the Ajanta frescoes based on photography, Swati
Publications, Delhi, London, 1930-55, 4 Vols.
41

Recently, Andre Bareau and Amina Okada have also made a good reproduction on

Ajanta. Though the presentation of plates are of a high quality since they have used more

modem techniques of printing methods, unfortunately these reproductions are limited

only to cave nos. 1, 2 and 17.Z08The reproduction ofBenoy KBehl is another work ofthe

same quality209though the selection of plates is again limited only to the paintings of cave

nos. 1, 2, 16 and 17 at Ajanta.

In contrast, although the above mentioned studies indicate various aspects of

paintings of the site what is discussed in detail in these publications is the sculptural and

architectural developments of the caves, historical settings of the paintings or the beauty

of the paintings etc. In this context, it is evident that some scholars, instead of giving

adequate explanation of the paintings, have dwelt only on the description of plates and the

paintings. The above-mentioned reproductions and albums are good examples in this

respect.

In additionto these publications on Ajanta, as already mentioned above, a majority

of the researches on Buddhist mural paintings of the two countries have either discussed

peninsular India or Sri Lanka individually. Of such researches on Indian paintings, the

earliest scholarly research was Percy Brown's study?10This small book, which is about

125 pages, is merely a description of the different traditions of paintings of India and

another problematic issue is the periodisation of the paintings. His classification oflndian

paintings into a few categories such as ancient or medieval is certainly a reflection of a

categorisation based only on political history, which is unsuited for the field of art history.

208
Andre Bareau and A.mina Olada, Ajant!!, Brijbasi Printers Private ltd, 1996.
209
Benoy K behl, The Ajanta caves: Ancient paintings of Buddhist Indi!!, Thames and Hudson, 1998.
210
Percy Bro\\'11, Indian painting, YMCA Publishing House, London, 1927.
42

In addition, some ofthe important aspects of murals that have not been discussed include

themes, painters and their views reflected by the paintings and so on. The author himself

acknowledging this observes: "as this little book owing to its size is limited to the
211
outlines." But it is noteworthy that as a pioneer in the field without any previous model,

a valuable description has been given in this booklet. It is evident that of the overall

paintings of India, not more than 25 pages have been devoted to the Buddhist tradition of

paintings based entirely on the murals at Ajanta caves.

Philip Rawson's research212is another study on the subject and he describes the·

paintings of India from prehistoric times up to the seventh century AD. In this short book

which contains more or less 70 pages, the second chapter titled ''The Wall Paintings: First

century AD to Seventh century AD," describes the paintings oi Ajanta. Since the author

has presented many plates interrupting the continuity of the very short text, the usefulness

of the book is limited. Besides, the work of Douglas Barrett and Basil Gra/ 13 is also

another brief study on the subject Although the main intention of the authors is to present

details of the Mughal miniature painting tradition, the first_ part of the study is devoted to a

description of paintings of India from second century BC to sixteenth century AD. Since

this is only a brief introductory note to the _paintings of the early period of India, it is not a

useful treatise on the Buddhist mural paintings of peninsular India.

In addition, eminent art critic Sivaramamurti214 has also studied .Indian painting

covering the period from the earliest times to the nineteenth century AD. The focus of this

small book, which contains more than twenty five chapters is on paintings, art galleries,

211
Ibid, Preface to its second Edition.
212
Philip Rawson, Indian paintinl!. Pierre Tisne, Editenr, Paris, 1961.
43

the painter, tools and materials, canon of art criticism, prehistory etc. From the contents, it

may be inferred that it has not discussed most of the important aspects of the paintings at

length and the whole book, which contains no more than hundred pages shows that the

author's venture is only a description of the different traditions of paintings which

flourished in the different periods in India. But evidently, his periodisation of the

paintings is problematic, as it is mainly based on dynastic history.

Moti Chandra's studl1\s another research work in the field of lndian painting.

The main theme of the book is the "transformation of the Gupta V akataka tradition" and

"the development of the mediaeval idiom" as also "the Western Indian style in the

fifteenth century and the emergence of new traditions." Thus, it is evident that the book

presents an overview of the paintmgs of India from ancient times up to the modem period,

which continued to be based on contemporary kingdoms or dynasties that ruled during

that particular time. Another drawback of the book is that it does not cover adequately the

materials in the field of Buddhist mural paintings of peninsular India. But it is noteworthy

that Karl Khandavala's216 study, although small containing about fifty pages, covers the

wall painting tradition of India through the ages and adopts a new approach as evident

from the title itself. This book contains two major _parts titled "From earliest times till

Ajanta" and the "Aftermath of Ajanta," which clearly shows that the author has given a

prominent place only to the paintings at Ajanta caves in this. study.

213
Douglas Barrett and Basil Gray, Treasures of Asia: Paintings of India, The World Publishing Co, Ohio,
1963.
214
C. Sivaramamurti, Indian painting, National Book Trust, New Delhi, 1970.
215
Moti Chandra, Studies in early Indian painting, (Third series of the Rabindranath Tagore memorial
lectures- 1964 ), Asia Publishing House, London, 1970.
216
Karl Khandavala, Development of style in Indian painting, Macmillan, Matlras, 197 4.
44

The next work relating to this field is Krishna Chaitanya's217study and its second

chapter provides information on the inspiration ofSiddhartha at Ajanta, Bagh etc. Hence,

it is useful for this study, as it discusses the Buddhist mural painting tradition of India,

although, the author has mainly focused his attention on the remaining paintings at

Ajanta caves alone. Subsequently, Sivaramamurti's 218 study suggests a different

approach to the paintings of India and most of his descriptions are apparently based on

Sanskrit literature that he has quoted at length. Thus, although this work presents

descriptions relating to ancient paintings and painters of India, mainly based on

descriptions found in Sanskrit literature, almost all the descriptions relate only to the

Hindu tradition. Besides these, another study on Indian mural paintings is that by

Nagpall. 219Certainly, the most important part of the book is its long introduction which

runs into thirty five pages and has mainly focused on the geographical distribution of the

murals and the influence of historical factors; techniques; survey and evolution;

conservation problems and methods etc. Consequently, the book provides useful

information, particularly relati11g to the techniques of the mural painting traditions of

India throughout the ages. Nevertheless, other essential aspects of the wall paintings like

themes and the painters of the period have not been discussed by the author,

So far, we have discussed books written on Indian paintings, but the situation is

the same when dealing with the Buddhist mural painting traditions of Sri Lanka too. The

book ofParanavitana and Archer220may be mentioned at this point. Although the preface

217
Krishna Chaithanya, A history of Indian paintings: The mural traditio!!, Abhinav Publications, New
Delhi, 1976.
218
C. Sivaramamurti, The painter in ancient India, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, 1978.
219
J.C. Nagpall, Mural oainting in India, Gian Publishing House, Delhi, 1988.
220
Senarat Paranavitana and W.G. Archer, Ceylon paintings from temple shrine and rock, New York,
Graphic Society, Unesco, Paris, 19 57.
45

of the book has been written by Archer and the introduction compiled by Paranavitana,

the main aim of the two authors while giving some introductory notes on Sri Lankan

paintings has been to present illustrations of some of these examples. However, the

comparison of the paintings of Sigiriya with those of Ajanta has been accorded prime

importance. Another contribution of the book is the chronology of paintings extant at

various sites and dated to the ancient period of Sri Lanka. It is conspicuous that most of

the art critics have accurately adhered to the chronology given by Paranavitana to this

day. But, in this study, since the tradition of wall paintings in Sri Lanka from the earliest

times up to the nineteenth century has been discussed without considering any reasonable

demarcation, this might mislead the reader to believe that all these paintings of Sri Lanka

belong to one particular tradition. Another drawback is that the authors of the book have

used a periodisation, which relies only on the political history of the country. It is clear

that this approach is not suitable in the sphere of paintings or any other artistic works

though they were the pioneers in the field. In addition, since they have mainly discussed

the themes and the nature of the paintings now remaining at Sigiriya fortress of the fifth

century AD, the available information relating to other sites ofBuddhist wall paintings of

Sri Lanka has been dealt with at a very sketchy level.

Subsequently, D.B. Dhanapala has also compiled a booklet on Sri Lankan


221
paintings. As this book describes the paintings of Sri Lanka from the earliest times up

to the nineteenth century AD, the descriptions have been given in an abridged form,

which is not very useful for critical research work on the paintings of Sri Lanka.

Certainly, this short book, which contains around 40 pages, provides only introductory

221
D.B. Dhanapala., The stmy of Sinhalese paintings. Saman Press, Maharagama, 1957.
46

notes to the paintings of Sri Lanka throughout the ages. Similarly, the other examination

that has also been done by Dhanapala222presents the painting tradition of Sri Lanka from

the earliest times up to the nineteenth century AD without making any suitable

categorisation. As it is also a small booklet containing not more than 20 pages, the author

has given only short descriptive notes on the paintings of Sri Lanka rather than presenting

substantial analytical details. Hence, the usefulness of this book for research work in the

field is unquestionably limited.

In contrast to the above, Wijesekara's study223 includes comprehensive research on

the paintings of Sri Lanka. But it is unfortunate that instead of providing the relevant

information in chronological order or in any other suitable way, the author has given it in

alphabetical order. This in essence devalues the importance of the book_ In addition, it

should be noted that the second chapter of the book contains details of the background of

Sri Lankan relations with neighbouring countries, which does not directly deal with the

painting traditions of Sri Lanka or any other country. In contrast, this book, which

contains more or less hundred pages, clearly shows that it is only a short description of

paintings of Sri Lanka during the ancient times. Nevertheless, the descriptions of the

subject matter; social background of the paintings; techniques; materials; style and the

authors of the murals are important aspects. Of such discussions, particularly the very

short description, which compares Sri Lankan painting tradition with 'that of

contemporary neighbouring India, occupies an important place and it indicates the need

for further studies of wall painting traditions between the two countries.

222
D.B. Dhanapala, The Buddhist paintings from shrines and temples in Ceylon, Collins, UNESCO,
London, 1964.
223
Nandadeva Wijesekara, Early Sinhalese painting, Saman Press, Maharagama, 19 59.
47

The study by Senaka Bandaranayake224 is another recent publication on Sri Lankan

wall painting traditions. In this treatise he has given some important details on these

paintings from prehistoric times to the nineteenth century AD. Although at first glance,

the book appears to be a comprehensive text giving details on these murals, in reality it

has not provided such a treatment on the subject. However, the second chapter of the

book, which describes paintings of the early- middle historical period of Sri Lanka, takes

foremost place among all the other chapters of the book. This is so because it has

provided some important information relating to the paintings found at the rock fortress

of Sigiriya, its boulder garden paintings, cave shrines of Anuradhapura, relic chamber

paintings at Mahiyanganaya and Mihintale, Polonnaruva murals etc. all belonging to the

ancient painting tradition of the island.

Another significant publication on the subject is the fifth volume of the Centenary
225
Commemoration Series of the Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka. This book

contains five major chapters compiled by various writers and the first and the second

chapters are relevant to this stu,dy, since they have particularly focused on the mural

paintings of the ancient period of Sri Lanka. Of these, the first chapter written by Raja de

Silva has mainly focussed on the various aspects of the Sigiriya paintings. But, the

analytical details given by him o~ techniques of painting of the other sites of the island

are more important, since they are primarily based on laboratory researches. The second

chapter of the book is written by N Wickramasinghe on mural paintings of Sri Lanka

224
Senaka Bandaranayake, Rock and wall paintings of Sri Lanka, Lake House Bookshop, Colombo, 1986.
225
Centenary ( 1890-1990) commemoration series of the Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka; Volume
five- painting, ed. Nandadeva Wijesekara, State Printing Corporation, Colombo, 1990.
48

during the period of 800 AD - 1200 AD and particularly discusses the paintings of

Mahiyangana stupa, Tivamka image house, Galviharaya and Dimbulagala.

Apart from the above-mentioned studies, it is noteworthy that as in the case of

Ajanta, most of the scholars who have paid attention to Sri Lankan paintings have written

mainly on the paintings founa at Sigiriya. The essays of C. A. Murray, 226 H. C.P.

. 229 G.A. Josep h, 230 A.H. Lon ghurst, 231 S.


Bell , 2n A.K C oomaraswamy, 228 V.A. Smtth,

Paranavitana, 232 M.D Raghavan, 233 P.E.P. Deraniyagala, 234 Marcus F emando, 235 RH. de
236
Silva and N. Chutiwongs237are examples. It is interesting that as iri the case of Ajanta, a

British military officer, Jonathan Forbes supplied the first reference of the paintings of

Sigiriya in 1830s.238 He reported the existence of plaster laid on the rock above the gallery

and noticed that the plaster was painted over in bright colours butdid not describe the
. . 239
pamtmgs.

226
C.A. Marray, "The rock paintings of Sigiriya," Ceylon Literary Register, 1891.
m H.C.P. Bell, "Interim report on the operations of the archaeological survey at Sigiriya," Journal of the
Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch), 1895, 1896 and 1897.
228
A.K Coomaraswamy, Mediaeval Sinhalese art, Broad Campden, 1909.
229
V.A. Smith, Histoty of fine arts in India and Ceylon, Oxford, 1911.
230
G.A. Joseph, "Sigiriya paintings," The Ceylon National Review, 1906.
231
A.H. Longhurst, "The Sigiriya frescoes," Journal of the Indian society of Oriental Arts. 1937.
232
S. Paranavitana, "The subject of Sigiriya frescoes," India Anti qua, 1947; "Sigiri, the Abode of a God
king," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch), Centenaty Volume 1845-1945, (New Series),
Vol.I, 1950; "The significance of the paintings of Sigiriya," Artibus Asiae, 1961; The stocy of Sigiri, Lake
House Investments, Colombo, 1972.
233
M.D Raghavan, "The Sigiriya frescoes," Spolia Zeylanica, 1948.
234
P.E.P. Deraniyagala, "Some unrecorded frescoes from Sigiriya," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
(Ceylon Branch), 1948; "Some side lights on the Sinhala Monastery-Fortress ofSihagiri," Spolia Zey1anica,
1973.
235
W.B. Marcus Fernando, Sigiriy!l, Archaeological Department, Colombo, 1967.
236
R.H. de Silva, Sigiriya, Department of Archaeology, Colombo, 1976.
237
N. Chutiwongs and others, Paintings of Sri Lanka: Sigiriya, Archaeological Survey of Sri Lanka, 1990.
238
Forbes, Eleven years in Ceylon, London, second edition, Richard Bentley, London, second edition, 1841,
Vol.II, 1840, p.lO.lt is evident that the earliest recorded visit paid to Sigiriya in modern times was by Major
Forbes who rode in search of the fortress in 1831 and revisited the rock in 1833.1bid, p.l
239
Ibid, p.370.
49

Subsequently, in 1870s, ~lakesley and Rhys Davids examined these paintings

through the telescope since it is difficult to reach the place where the paintings were
40
executed? 0f them, Rhys Davids mentioned that there were ornamental patterns to be

seen on a terrace higher up the rock and surmised that a large number of them must have

been erased by the passage of time. 241 lt is certain that it was Blakesley, who reported for

the first time on the subject of the extant paintings. He recognised them to be groups of

female figures represented repeatedly, the upper parts of the body being depicted richly

ornamented withjewellery. 242

In 1851 an anonymous writer published .an account of his visit to Sigiriya

describing the walled gallery and the rock which faced it as being plastered and covered

all over with fresco painting chiefly of lions, which is said. to have given it the name of
43
Sigiri? Although his descriptions, particularly the subject matter of the murals at the site

are extremely doubtful, it is noteworthy that about 1875 AD Blakesley also recorded the

rock bearing frescoes of lions?44However, it is evident that in 1889 at the request of Sir

w·illiam Gregory, a former Governor of colonial Sri Lanka, Murray of the public works

department succeeded in climbing into the fresco pocket and taking tracing of thirteen

240
TH Blakesley, "On the ruins of Sigiri in Ceylon," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Grate Britain
and Irelan!!, (New Series), Vol.VIII, 1876, p .54; Rhys Davids, "Sigiri the lion rock near Pulastipura, CeyIon
and the thirty-nine chapter of the Mallavamsa," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Grate Britain and
Ireland, (New Series) Vol.Vll, 1875, p.193.
241
TW Rhys Davids, "Sigiri the lion rock near Pulastipura, Ceylon and the thirty-nine chapter of the
Mahavamsa," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, (New Series), Vol. VII,
1875, pp.191-209.
242
TH Blakesley, "On the ruins of Sigiri in Ceylon," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain
and Irelan!!, (New Series), Vol. VIII, 1876, pp.53-6l.
243
From the notebook of a traveller, Young Ceylon, Vol.i, No.2, Aprill851, p.98.
244
TH Blakesley, "The ruins of Sigiriya in Ceylon," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain
and Ireland, Vol. VITI, 1875, p.58; See also PEP Deraniyagala, "Siha-giri: The lion rock," Marg. ed. Mulk
Raj Anand, Vol.V, No.3, pp.52-53.
50

figures therein. 245 Hence, he seems to have been the first to reproduce the paintings at

Sigiriya.

In contrast, the first scholarly study of the paintings at the site begins with the

commencement of archaeological operations ofBell from 1890s?~ell with his intimate

knowledge, close and continuous observations described the paintings at length and in

detail. Hence, his reports will always remain useful. In Bell's interestil}g paper read before

the Royal Asiatic Society, Ceylon Branch, at the end of the 19th century he correctly

suggested that the paintings were in tempera and that the pigments were mixed with some

liquid medium and laid on a dry surface?47But it is conspicuous that in another publication

he has wrongly concluded that a comparison with those of Ajanta proves beyond question

that artists trained in the same school- possib!y the very same hands- executed both the

Sri Lanka and Indian paintings since dress and ornaments, pose and colouring are

common to both alike. 248Coomaraswamy also .concludes that the figures in Sigiriya differ

in character and technique from all modern paintings but resemble those of Ajanta and

Bagh_249

It is noteworthy that Smith notes the absence of blues that are conspicuous at

Ajanta and Bagh. 250 The views of Percy Brown may also be .interesting at this point. He

concludes that on the whole, while these examples do not exhibit quite the skilLof the best

245
CA Murray, "The rock paintings of Sigiri," Ceylon Literacy Register, Vol. VI, No, 11, 1891, pp.85-86. In
fact this was a very difficult effort. See Bethia N Bell and Heather M Bell, HCP Bell: Archaeologist of
Ceylon and the Maldives, Archetype Publications, Wales, 1993, p.87.
246
Archaeological Survey of Ceylon Annual Report, 1905, pp.7-19. HCP Bell, "Interim report on the
operations of the archaeological sUivey at Sigiriya (Third season) 1897 ,"Journal of the Royal Asiatic
Society (Ceylon Branch), Vol.XV, No.48, 1897, pp.93-122.
247
H.C.P. Bell, "Interim report on the operations of the archaeological survey at Sigiriya," Journal of the
Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch), 1897, pp.93-117.
248
H.C.P. Bell, Archaeological Survey of Ceylon Annual Repon, 1905, p.l6.
249
AK Coomaraswamy, Mediaeval Sinhalese m, Broad Campden, 1909, pp.177 -178.
250
V.A. Smith, History of fine arts in India and Ceylon, Oxford, 1911, pp.l 09-111.
51

work of Ajanta they are nevertheless very charmin_g works of art. Particularly, the same

careful treatment as at Ajanta. prevails here. Consequently, the hands are most gracefully

rendered, the actual being considered in each case. The long tapering fingers are

beautifully drawn and designed. In addition, the boldness ofhandling the modelling of the

figures and brushwork that is spontaneous proclaims the paintings to be the work of an

artist of strong individuality. In draughtsmanship generally the Sigiriya painting is freer

and looser than the Ajanta work, but denotes the same masterly knowleqge. The line is

also equally expressive and a confident sweep of the brush has been applied with an

abandon that is startling in its impulsiveness. 251

Nevertheless, according to Havell's opinion also the paintings of Sigiriya are

apparently derived from Ajanta and drawn by court painters of Kasyapa He furthe.r

concludes that masters and pupils have done the work. 252But, Benjamin Rowland on the

other hand, suggests a possible new sphere oflndian.influence - so far unsuspected. in the

Sri Lankan painting tradition - from an original school in southeast India where that is

now a lost tradition- the Andhra school. 253He further states in this regard that the apsaras

have a rich healthy flavour that by contrast almost makes the maste:cpieces of Indian art

sallow and effete in over refinement.Z54Nevertheless, it is to be noted that unlike the essays

of previous scholars, Paranavitana's observations of Sigiriya paintings are mainly based

on the inscriptions engraved on the famous mirror wall. 255It is noteworthy that according

to the palaeographic and chronological evidence, these inscriptions can be dated.from the

251
Percy Brown, Indian painting, YMCA Publishing House, London, 1927 .p.79.
252
E.B. Havell, Indian sculpture and painting, London, 1926, pp. 73, 175.
253
Benjamin Rowland and Ananda Coomaraswamy, The wall paintings of India Central Asia and Ceylon: A
comparative study, Boston, 1937, p.83.
254
Ibid, p.83.
255
S. Paranavitana, Sigiri Graffiti, Oxford Press, 1956.
52

dated from the sixth to the eleventh century, with a concentration during the eighth.

Nevertheless, those that refer to the paintings cannot be definitely dated before the eighth

century perhaps some may be even earlier. Apart from these opinions of various scholars,

it must be emphasised_ here that a special seminar series was also held on the various

aspects ofSigiriya, as in the case of Ajanta. 256

Thus, according to this survey, it is obvious that in_the SriLankan..context, most of

the critics have focussed their attention mainly on the murals ofSigiriya. 257 Consequently,

it is apparent that there has been insufficient data on paintings of the other sites of Sri

Lanka, which belong to the period concerned. Hence, the few essays ofHCP Bell, 258 GA

CE Godakumbure 2~and William Ward, 261 which are mainly based on other
259
Joseph,

Buddhist painting sites o£the island, are very important.

,
The scope of the research:

Thus, it is clear that while some scholars have focusecl on the painti..llgs of

individual sites, most of the scholars have discussed either the painting traditions of India

256
It was held 15th October 1983 organised by the Central Cultural Fund and the Sri Lanka Foundation
Institute. Although there are a few collections of mimeographs available, they have not yet been published.
257
But it is to be noted that unfortunately on mid October 1967 AD, vandals had hacked away major parts of
two of those paintings at the site and daubed point on a total of fourteen ftgures, which included the hacked
panels. RH de Silva, Sigiriya, Department of Archaeology, Colombo, 1976, p.l7. Nevertheless, another
writer states that this has been happened in mid September-of the same year. Abeyratna Banda Abeysinghe,
An archaeological guide to Sigiri frescoes, Gunasena, Colombo, 1995, p.l6. See also John Lindsay, Island
Ceylon, Themes and Hudson, London, 970, p.131. For the restoration works ofltalian chemist Maranzi
please refer to L Maranzi, Ceylon: PreseiVation of mural paintings. Feb-May 1972, UNESCO, Paris, July
1972, pp.6-7; See also GD Weerasinghe, "Maranzi and the murals," The Ceylon Daily News, Wednesday,
February 9, 1972.
258
H.C.P. Bell, "Frescoes at Demalamahasaya viharaya- Polonnaruva," Archaeological Survey of Ceylon
Annual Rq>or!, 1909 and1914; "Demalamahasaya paintings," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon
Branch), 1918. .
259
GA Joseph, "Hindagala paintings,'.' Ceylon Administration Rq>ort for 1918; "The Galvihara and
Demalamaha-seya paintings at Polonnaruva," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch), 1918.
260
CE Godakumbure, Murals at Tivamka pilimage, Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka, 1969.
261
William E. Ward, "Recently discovered Mabiyangana paintings", .Artlbus Asiae, Vol. XV.
53

or Sri Lanka over a very long period. In contrast, no attempt has been made to evolve a

suitable or acceptable periodisation or classification and this continues to be based on

dynastic history and political demarcations. Although this dynastic appellation is retained

by some scholars as a convenient denomination, it is to be noted that there is now visible a

shift from classification based on dynasty to one based on region.Z62For instance, although

Ajanta in its later phase is referred to as a Vakataka or Vakataka Gupta site, these terms

certainly tend to confuse rather than clarify the historical and religious position of Ajanta

vis-a-vis the development ofBuddhism in India. 263 This issue can easily be understood

when considering the fact that the V akataka kings were not Buddhists as discussed in the

seventh chapter in detail. Besides, the limitations of dynastic appellations to art styles are

also apparent and there i~ an increa.Sing realisation that the. ruler& influenced not so Qluch

the form as the extent of the art styles. This is further evident by the fact that the few

stylistic variations at Ajanta, particularly of the later period, cannot be categqrised

according to the periodisation of political history of the region, since it is evident t.ltat the

Vakataka traditions at Ajanta are derived from the earlier Satavahana traditions.Z64No

doubt this approach, which hun~ for dynastic location, reflects the historian's mind and

definitely not the art historian's mind. 265

Unquestionably, this applies equally to the ancient Buddhist mural paintings of Sri

Lanka too. For example, although the murals at various sites of Anuradhapura region and

262
Pramod Chandra, "The study of Indian temple architecture,'' Studies in Indian temple architecture,
American Institute of Indian Studies, 1975, pp.35-36; See also Devangana Desai, "Social dimensions of art
in early India," Presidential Address, Proceedings of the Indian Historical Congress Golden Jubilee
Sessions, Gorakpur University, Gorakpur, 1989-90, p.22.
263
See Sheila L Weiner, Ajanta: Its place in Buddhist !!!1, University of California Press, London, 1977, p.7.
264
C Sivaramamurti, Sources ofhistoty illustrated by literature. Kanak Publications, New Delhi, 1979,
pp.140-141.
54

Polonnaruva area were apparently executed during two distinct periods according to the

political history of the country, from their appearance, composition, techniques and other

aspects they belong to one particular tradition or a style of painting rather than separate

traditions. But it is noteworthy that most of the critics have based their discussions on

periodisation of political history or dynastic history and have categorised them as

belonging to two distinct styles266as those of Anuradhapura era or Polonnaruva periods.

Hence, as discussed earlier, the periodisation of the painting traditions of Sri Lanka and

India should not be limited only to changes of the administrative centre or changes of the

royal dynasty, but attention should also be paid to the different styles, techniques,

dissimilarities of the traditions of lines, differences in use and the mixture of colours,

variety of themes and othervisibledifferences ofthe.paintings.Thisclearly shows that the

painting traditions of -any country will run beyond the ancient and modem political

demarcations of that particular country too.

Since one of the neglected fields of research is the narrative style or narrative

mode of paintings of both countries, initially it is necessary to examine these styles of

Buddhist mural paintings of the two countries in detail with emphasis on their special

characteristics. In this analysis, similarities and dissimilarities ofthenarrativemodes of

the paintings, the division ofspace, the method of displaying objects or the sketches of

the paintings, the main and conspicuous features or the qualities of the paintings i.e.

chiaroscuro (light and shade effects in nature: treatment of the light and dark parts in the

265
Ratan Parimoo, "Some problems ofEllora from the point of view of Buddhist caves," Ellora caves
sculpture and architecture, ed. Ratan Parimoo and others, Books and Books, New Delhi, 1988, p.l83.
266
In fact, this condition is applicable not only to the artistic works but to the other aspects of the history as
well. For instance, though scholars tend to divide Sri Lankan history into specific periods according to the
destinies of royalty, yet it is difficult to trace the history of the Buddhist order within such a limited scope.
55

painting), three dimensional appearances and perspective (the art of drawing solid

objects on a flat surface so as to give the right impression of their relative position, size,

solidity: the apparent relationship between visible objects as to position, distance) etc

have been considered.

In this context, the technique of painting is also an important aspect. In contrast,

the technique of Buddhist mural paintings of peninsular India and Sri Lanka has been

studied separately both by scientific examinations of specimens of wall paintings267and a

consideration of literary evidence available in the Silpa texts?68 According to all these

essays, it is evident that in most cases different and contradictory opinions have been

expressed on the techniques of these mural_paintiqgs of both countries. For instance.

although there is very little information on the cannons of paintings of the Buddhist

mural painters of India and Sri Lanka during the ancient period, some critics have

wrongly concluded that the most famous Sadanga rules given in the Commenta.Iy of

Vincent Panditha, "Buddhism during the Plonnaruva period," The Ceylon Historical Journal, ed. SD
Saparamadu, Special number on the Polonnaruva period, Vol.IV, Nos. 1-4, 1954-1955, p.ll3.
267
S. Paramasivan, Archaeological Rt;port, H.E Nizam's Dominions for 1936-37, 1939; Journal of Indian
Society of Oriental Art, Voi.:XVITI; R. H. de Silva, "The technique of ancient Sinhalese wall painting-
Sigiri", Paranavitana felicitation volume, ed. N.A. Jayawickrama, Gunasena & co, Colombo, 1965; R.H de
Silva, "Rock painting in Sri Lanka," Conservation in archaeology and the applied arts, Stockhohn congress,
June, I 97 5; Nimal de Silva, "Studies in the techniques of ancient paintings in Sri Lanka," Perspectives in
archaeology: Leelananda Prematillaka festsc!mfi, ed. Sudharshan Senavira1na and others, Department of
Archaeology, University ofPeradeniya, 1990.
268
Ananda Coomaraswamy, "The technique and theory oflndian painting," Technical Studies, Vol. Ill No.
2, Fogg Art Museum, HatVard University, 1934; Siri Gunasinghe, T echnigue de Ia peinture Indienne
d'apres les textes du silp!!, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 1957; Abanindranath Tagore, "Sadanga
or the six limbs of paintings: Some notes on Indian aesthetic anatomy and sadanga or the six limbs of
painting, Indian society of oriental art, Calcutta, 1%8; Asok k Bhattacharya, Technique of Indian painting:
A study chiefly made on the basis of the silpa texts, Saraswat Library, Calcutta, 1976; Jayanta Chakrabarti,
Techniques in Indian mural painting, K.P. Bagchi & co, Calcutta, 1980; Stella Kramrisch, "Introduction to
the Visnudhannottara," Exploring India's sacred art: Selected writings of Stella Kramrisch, ed. Barbara
Stoler Miller, Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, New Delhi. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, New
Delhi, 1983.
56

Yasodhara on Kamasutra269and the other rules given in the subsequent cannons, which

were all not Buddhist texts have been used by both the painters of Ajanta and Sri
270
Lanka. Accordingly in this study, it is necessary to focus attention on available

non-Buddhist ancient Indian cannons of paintings and to compare this with accessible

information on the ancient period of Sri Lanka on the subject.

Besides these, according to the results of the laboratory researches, it is

noteworthy that Paramasivan claims to have found two distinct techniques of Indian

paintings, as northern and southern techniques, out of which the former was exemplified

by Ajanta and Bagh. 271 It is interesting to note at this point that it has been found that

Indian and Sri Lankan wall paintings, dating from the earliest times till about 14th century

A.D are similar as regards the technique of laying the ground and the pigments
272
employed. Another factor in common is the use of a tempera technique in both

countries. 273 Thus, although a close relationship between the techniques of the Buddhist

mural painting traditions of the two countries can be noted, it is evident that almost all the

critics have paid attention to only the techniques of paintings of individual countries,

instead of making comparative studies. Therefore, one of the main objectives of this

269
Ananda Coomaraswamy, Histozy of Indian and Indonesian art, Munslriram Manohar1al, New Delhi,
(Reprinted) 1972, p.88; Jyotsna Saxena, Early Indian paintings in Sanskrit literature, Bharatiya Kala
Prakashan, Delhi, 1998, pp. 24 & 70; Asok K. Bhattacharya, Technique of Indian painting: A study chief)y
made on the basis of the silpa texts, Saraswat Library, Calcutta, 1976, p.14; Percy Brown, Indian painting,
Heritage of India Series, London. 1918, pp.21-22; S. Sivaramamurti, Indian painting, National Book Trust,
India, 1970, p.3i; Karl Khandalavala, The development of Indian paintings, Macmillan, Madras, 1974,

f.fo·~~~; Brown, Indian painting, Heritage of India Series, London, 1918, pp.21-22; S. Sivaramamurti,
Indian painting, National Book Trust, India, I 970, p.37; Nanda Wickramasinghe, "Mural paintings 800 AD
and I 200 AD," Archaeological Department centenazy (1890-1990) commemorative series, Volume five
-~ainting, ed. Nandadeva Wijesekara, State Printing Corporation, Colombo, 1990, p.65.
2 1
S Paramasivan, Archaeological R~ort, HE Nizam's Dominions for 1936-37, 1939; Journal of Indian
Society of Oriental Art, VolXVIII.
zn RH. de Silva, "The evolution of the techniques of Sinhalese wall painting and comparison with Indian
painting methods," Ancient Ceylon, Journal of the Archaeological Survey of Ceylon, No.I, I 97 I, p.l 03.
57

study is a comparative examination of the techniques of paintings of both countries

during the ancient period to comprehend the then existing relationship and interaction

between the two mural traditions.

Themes are also one of the most important aspects of the paintings. Although

some scholars have briefly discussed these themes of murals of India and Sri Lanka

during the ancient period separately, none of them have focused attention on a

comparative study and on the usefulness of documenting these themes. In this context, it

is to be noted that although Sri Lanka has a long history of Buddhist mural painting

tradition, the series ofJataka paintings or life stories of the Buddha are no longer extant,

except those found at Tivamka image house at Polonnaruva belonging to the twelfth

century A.D. But, it is apparent that in Ajanta, the main themes of the painters were the

Jataka stories in addition to the major events of the life· story of the Buddha. Hence,

although a time gap is noticeable between these two sites, for a comparative study, it is

necessary to include the paintings of these two places in order to understand the

development and changes of the themes used in the context of the Buddhist artistic

tradition. In contrast, it is evident that some of the Jataka stories are common and have

been used in both the places though the percentage of the commonality is very low.

Besides, it is noteworthy that in cave no 17 and Cave no1 at Ajanta the Jataka stories of

Mahakapi and Mahajanaka were painted twice respectively, while the Chaddanta Jataka

has been painted in cave nos 10 and 16 at the site. Accordingly, it is obvious that these

paintings of the Jataka stories raise a few que_stions: Why have these Jataka stories been

selected out of almost 550 Jataka collections for the paintings? Who made the choice and

273
1bid, p.103.
58

the selection of the themes? Why have the same Jataka stories been repeatedly chosen

for the same place or even sometime for the same cave instead of using another Jataka

story? Was the choice intended to convey a message to the visiting monastics and laity to

the site? Were the Jataka stories linked to an unitary theme? etc. In these inquiries, it is

necessary to focus attention on the Buddhist literary texts that the ancient painters may

have used.

According to all these observations, it is clear that the social context of the

paintings is an equally important aspect, which would be investigated in an attempt to

present an inter-disciplinary study combining art history and social history. In this

context, first, it is to be realised that art activity is a social process in which the artist, the

work of art and the art public are interfacing elements?740f such artistic works, when

considering only the Buddhist mural paintings, it is evident that they are the co-operative

effort of a large number of people, painters, monks, kings, elite and the laity who

patronised the Buddhist monasteries and helped execute the paintings. It is to be noted at

this point that in general, the social history of art explores the dynamics of the

relationship between the patron, public, the artist and the work of art in the context of the

social information of a given period ofhistory. 2751n this context, the important aspect is

the concept of "patronage" of the paintings of the period. It is noteworthy that the

historical and structural complexity of patronage in India generates more questions than

answers. Perhaps the first and the most fundamental question that guides the inquiry is

274
James H. Barnett, "The sociology of art," The sociology of art and literature, ed. Milton C. Albrecht and
others London, 1970, p.629.
215
Devangana Desai, "Social dimensions of art in early India," Presidential Address, Proceedings of the
Indian Historical Congress Golden Jubilee Sessions, Gorakpur University, Gorakpur, 1989-90, p.21.
59

the nature of bonds between patrons and their artistic clients. 276 Undoubtedly this

statement is directly pertinent to the nature of patronage of Sri Lankan paintings too.

Hence, other issues that would receive attention in this study include: what are the visible

effects of shifting political and religious patronage? By what means does the patron share

in the selection of subjects and influence the way he represented these in paintings? To

what extent do chief incumbents of the Buddhist temple act as intermediaries between

donors and artists? How do the patrons and artists perceive themselves? What are the

benefits of patronage for the patron or what is the artists' or Buddhist monks' gift for

such patrons? etc. Although it is difficult to find answers to all these questions, it may be

possible to suggest some alternatives based on evidence relating to the painting tradition

of the medieval period of Sri Lanka.

Apart from the above-mentioned concerns on "painting in society," another

important aspect is "society in paintings." Evidently, the ancient l;lrtists have presented

their creations mainly based on impressions they have derived from the society.

Consequently, the art of every country is the unconscious record of its

history. 277Therefore, deep and probing analysis of such artistic creations can reflect the

personal impressions of the relevant artist and sometimes the information about the
I

background in which the artists lived. Although this does not mean that one can write a

chronologically coherent and detailed history of any country with the help of painting

traditions alone, one can gather a lot of information by carefully observing such paintings,

not only about the aesthetic feelings of the ancient people, but also their costumes,

276
Barbara Stoler Miller and Richard Eaton, The powers of Art: Patronal!.e in Indian culture, Oxford
University Press, Delhi, 1992, Introduction, p.l.
277
The cyclopaedia of Indi!!. Cyclopaedia Publishing co, Calcutta, Vol. I, 1907, p.87.
60

manners, ornaments, household life, home utensils, mode of transport, technical

knowledge and much other information. For instance, prince Siddhartha is shown among

the scenes of the life story of the Buddha at Ajanta: Being the son of a Raja he wears a rich

crown set with jewels and also other ornaments worthy of the son of a king. He has no

upper garment and it may be observed that in the paintings of Ajanta the Rajas are

generally shown naked down to their waist, although the courtiers and attendants are fully

dressed, some of them wearing a kind of long coat with tight sleeves, like the 'angrakha'

of medieval times. The ladies of high birth have been shown wearing tight bodices of a

thin gossamer-like material, almost transparent, while women of middle class are clad in

'cholis' of thicker material. 278

In this context, it is to be noted that unlike the present times, instead of a tenc ency

to an "Idealistic" or "Creative" art, the artists of the ancient period executed their

paintings according to the then accepted tradition. Consequently, although these

paintings of the ancient period were predominantly Buddhist, a good number of mundane

matters have also indirectly entered into this tradition according to the contents of the

story. The basic aim of the art of Ajanta and elsewhere of the two countries however, was

to edify Buddhism. It is also obvious that there is nothing spiritual particularly in the

stories depicting the previous lives of the Buddha. The characters are essentially human,

untroubled by the mysteries of life and metaphysical speculations. Certainly, the social

conditions depicted in these Jataka stories could be true to any period of Indian or Sri

Lankan history and therefore the artists of Ajanta and elsewhere of the two countries

while pursuing the plots of the stories did not hesitate to change the necessary details to

278
G. Yazdani, The wall paintings of Ajanta (Address delivered on the 7th of March 1941), (reprinted from
61

suite contemporary social conditions, thus imparting a social significance to their work in
79
which man is the centre of interest and not the gods? This condition applies directly to

home utensils, carriages, costumes, ornaments and such other descriptive features also.

Thus, in contrast, the aspects, which have not received much attention of previous

scholars, include styles, techniques, the themes of the paintings, perspectives of the

painters, viewer response, society in paintings and painting in society. These will be

discussed in the following chapters in detail. Of these, particularly in the second chapter,

attention has been given to the cultural and religious interaction between India and Sri

Lanka during the ancient period to comprehend the actual relationship between the mural

painting traditions of the two countries. The third chapter focuses on the historical

settings of the paintings comprising the following themes: origin of the Buddhist mural

painting traditions of the two countries, purpose of the paintings, locations of the extant

paintings, the historicity of the sites and the chronology of the paintings with the

information of present status of preservation of the paintings etc.

In the fourth chapter, attention has been given to the narrative styles and the

special characteristics of the paintings, similarities and dissimilarities of the narrative

modes, the method of displaying objects or the sketches of the paintings, the

methodology of the lining and its conspicuous characteristics etc. The fifth chapter

focuses on the techniques of the paintings and includes an inquiry about the cannons of

paintings, different methods of the preparation of backgrounds or the preparation ofthe

surface for the execution of paintings, i.e. fresco (on fresh or wet ground), fresco secco

the) Journal of the Bihar and Orissa Research Society, Vol.:XXVII, Part I, Hyderabad, 1941, pp.ll-12.
279
Moti Chandra, Studies in early Indian painting, Asia Publishing House, London, 1970, pp.12-13.
62

(process of painting on dry plaster) and tempera (painting with pigments mixed with

chalk or clay and diluted with weak glue or size) etc and the raw materials used for the

preparation of the backgrounds, the pigments, preparation of paints, the brushes of the

artists and the methods of preparation, the palettes of the painters and other minor

instruments of the artists.

The sixth chapter discusses the themes of the paintings. This analysis includes: the

problem of identification of the themes; identified main Buddhist themes; the method of

selection of themes from various subjects; the favourite themes of the contemporary

artists; the differences and the similarities of the themes of paintings from place to place

and time to time; the selecting authority or the authorities of the themes and the message

conveyed by the themes of the paintings if any. The seventh chapter of the thesis deals

with the sociological background of the paintings. In this chapter, the painters and their

social position, the concept of patronage and patrons of the Buddhist paintings, their

participation in the painters' works, active involvement of the Buddhist monks and their

influences on the painters, the independence and the limitations of the painters, social

perspectives of the painters and material culture as reflected by these murals and

consequently painting as a source of history of ancient period of the two countries have

been discussed.

In contrast, though it had been a common assumption among the art critics that the

Buddhist mural paintings of Sri Lanka during the ancient period are very closely related

to, if not directly derived from those of peninsular India, this comparative study of the

two painting traditions, particularly in the context of style, technique, thematic, social

context and material culture etc will clearly show that these two are distinct or separate
63

traditions to a large extent, despite some minute similarities. Nevertheless, although

these belong to two distinct traditions it has to be admitted that both these traditions not

only offer some of the most important masterpieces of Indian and Sri Lankan art of the

ancient period, but also give a comprehensive picture of both countries' rich history.

Hence, the authentic value of these mural paintings rests not only in the beauty and the

attractiveness of the Buddhist themes, but also as a historical record or as an important

archaeological source, which cannot be reproduced according to modem conditions.

According to all these reasons, a deep and detailed comparative study of the Buddhist

mural painting tradition of the two countries would necessarily be useful to any student

or researcher into the field of history and art history of the South Asian region.