Sri Lanka Archaeology

According to, the artistic production of the Sri Lanka, mostly concentrated in the central-northern part of the island, is essentially Buddhist and reaches its peak in two great periods: Anurādhapura (in two phases: 3rd century BC-5th century AD; 5th -10th century AD) and Polonnaruwa (11th century-1270 AD), named after the ancient capitals. Until the Polonnaruva period many buildings, built in perishable materials, were destroyed and others were renovated over the centuries.

As for religious architecture, at Anuradhapura, among stupa (Sinhalese Dagoba) oldest are numbered and the Thuparama Mahāthūpa ruvanvälisäya (according to legend, built in the 3rd century BC and expanded in later centuries), the Abhayagiri (before mid 1st century BC) and the Jetavana (3rd century AD), renovated in the 12th and 13th centuries. The construction of some monumental stūpas whose diameter could exceed 100 m (Abhayagiri) dates back to the first phase of the Anurādhapura period (1st century BC-4th century AD).

The stūpas of the Sri Lanka generally consist of a base with a circular plan – with three terraces sloping upwards – which rests on a platform with a square or circular plan which is accessed via a series of steps and sometimes surrounded by a boundary wall with the function of seekā (sacred enclosure). On the base stands the aṇḍa (dome) surmounted by harmikā (balustrade) and chattrāvalī (umbrellas). Starting from the second half of the 2nd century AD to the cardinal points of the base can be found of the projecting newsagents (vāhalkaḍa), equivalent to Ayaka of STUPA Indians of Andhradeśa (Amarāvatī, Nāgārjunakoṇḍa), to which they have been approached (Mahāthūpa). Starting from the 3rd-4th century AD, at the base of the steps leading to the stūpa, ” moon stones ” appear between two steles, and whose shape, initially semicircular, will tend to lengthen from the 13th century. The decoration, originally floral or made up of rows of animals symbolizing the zenith and the four cardinal points sculpted on concentric bands arranged around a stylized lotus, will tend to become uniquely floral from the 13th century onwards.

As for the bodhigara, buildings for the bodhi tree (illumination), the most famous is the bodhigara of the Nillakgama of Anurādhapura (8th-9th century), where a boundary wall delimited a square-plan terrace with, in the center, the sacred tree. On the outside of the wall there were four thrones corresponding to the cardinal points.

The vatadage (cetiyagara, thūpagara) is a circular building enclosing one STUPA small. Built on a high platform, it has a roof supported by stone pillars that can extend into a lower sima roof supported by concentric pillars (Thūpārāma, Laṅkārāma), with entrances to the four cardinal points. Inspired by Indian prototypes, it spreads from the 7th-8th centuries.

The paṭimāgharas are buildings intended to house the image of the Buddha. The most famous is the Vijayārāma of Anurādhapura, a square chapel preceded, to the south, by a vestibule with three doors, one at the entrance, the second at the entrance to the chapel, and the third on the eastern side. The building rests on a terrace surrounded by a brick wall incorporating the stone pillars supporting the superstructure, which has now disappeared. Inside the chapel the sanctum, with a square plan, is delimited by pillars later incorporated into a wall to create the garbhagṛha and the corridor intended for circumambulation, on three sides (the fourth is blocked).

The geḍige, similar to the previous ones in the plan and intended to house the (mostly colossal) images of the Buddha, differ from the former for the almost exclusive use of brick (geḍige and “ Building A ” of Anurādhapura – respectively of 7 10th-10th and 8th-9th centuries – the second with a vestibule and stone steps that probably led to the upper floors). The geḍige reach their maximum development in the Polonnaruva period. Similar to the previous ones and intended to house colossal Buddhas, they are brick buildings built close to rock walls (Avukana, 8th-9th century, with a sanctum).

Finally, we should mention the pāsāda (buildings, residential or of worship, with a rectangular plan with a single entrance on one of the long sides), the bhojanasālā (refectories, alms rooms, with a square or rectangular plan, with three entrances on the same side), and the janthāghara (bathrooms or kitchens?).

The monasteries reach full development in the 7th -10th centuries. They are of four types: ” organic ” monasteries; pabbata vihāra ; pañcāyatana pariveṇa ; padhānaghara pariveṇa.

As for civil architecture, the best known building is the Sigiriya palace-fortress (5th century), inside the enclosed city built on the top of a rock, which is accessed via a tunnel dug along the rocky wall and a stairway. On the western side of the Sigiriya rock, very high quality tempera paintings have been found, depicting apsaras (flying female figures) half-length and emerging from the clouds, and which, stylistically, are similar to the contemporary Indian painting of Ajanta. Until the 13th century the sculpture of the Sri Lanka, Buddhist from the beginning, is influenced by the contemporary Indian one. If, stylistically, in the ” lunate ” stones we wanted to see a reminiscence of Maurya, the most ancient local production, whose beginnings date back to a period not prior to the 1st-3rd century and which is represented by a series of reliefs on stele or pillars, this sculpture is close to the Andhra production, and, starting from the 5th century, to that of the Deccan and southern India (Cāḷukya Occidentale, Pallava and Coḷa). Sinhalese sculpture reaches its full development in the 3rd-4th century, a time to which the first great standing Buddhas date,

Devoid of halo, these Buddhas have hair with spiral curls, the right shoulder uncovered and with the left they hold a hem of the garment, the drapery of which forms a heavy fold with single or double incised lines, quite spaced apart. Stylistically, the later Buddhas, which are affected by the late Andhra and Gupta influence, differ from the previous ones in the treatment of the garments which now become “ wet ”, with the folds in parallel lines more close and regular, while the bodies are they thin and lose the austere and massive monumentality of the previous schools (Buddha of Avukana, 8th-9th century). The oldest Buddhas seated in meditative pose, of Pallava imprint (Buddha of the Outer Circular Road of Anurādhapura, from the 8th century). The depictions of the Buddha in parinirvāṇa are frequent starting from the 8th-9th century. Among the most famous, the reclining Buddha of the Galvihāra of Polonnaruva (13th century), which, together with the standing one of Avukana, testifies to the phenomenon of gigantism, present in Sri Lanka since the 7th century. The bodhisattva depictions fall into two categories: Avalokiteśvara, often represented with a lion’s skin around the hips, evidence of its fusion with Śiva (Avalokiteśvara of Stiltupāvuva, attributed to the 8th century), and Kuṣṭarāja (“ leper king ”), in dress princely. The bronze, Buddhist (seated Buddha of Badulla, from the 5th century, preserved in the Columbus museum; standing image of Dattinī Devī from the 7-8th century, now in the British Museum) and Hindu production, the latter flowering mostly in the 10th-11th century and of Coḷa influence. The ivory production is remarkable, the oldest surviving specimens dating back to the Kandy period.

Sri Lanka Archaeology

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