Buddhist visual arts are an outstanding cultural heritage in Sri Lanka that continues to this day


The creative hinterland of Buddhism in Sri Lanka has produced a vibrant heritage of visual arts and culture, with ancient masterpieces vying with modern interpretations for our attention.

Renowned Buddhist scholar Dr Daya Hewapathirane recounts on Lankaweb how “the exceptionally rich heritage of visual arts of Sri Lanka extends to a period that exceeds 2200 years, from the 3rd century BCE to the 21st CE”.

“Buddhist paintings form a spectacular component of this heritage. An incredible collection of ancient sculpture and architecture further adorns the conspicuous elements of the Sinhala Buddhist culture, the national culture of Sri Lanka.”

He notes that most Buddhist of the artworks are found in Buddhist shrines and monasteries, the best known being the ancient cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla, Sigiriya, and Kandy.

All have been designated UNESCO as World Heritage Sites, he says, “owing to their artistic treasures, considered as masterpieces of human creative genius”.

“This enchanting national cultural heritage reflects vividly the richness of imagination, creativity, aesthetic sense, and inspiration of the island’s Sinhala Buddhist artists.”


Differences traditions produced four major creative periods: Classical (Anuradhapura Era, 3rd century BCE to 10th century CE, and Polonnaruwa Era, 11th to 13th century CE); Period of Changing Capitals (13th to 17th century CE); Mahanuwara Period (18th to 19th century CE); and Modern Period (20th Century onwards).

But whatever the period, he says “paintings reveal the great adoration the artists had towards the Buddha and the strong inspiration drawn from the Buddha’s life and teachings.

“Buddhist paintings have a strong impact on one’s inner spirit, transforming your mind to a state of innocence and overflowing compassion, joy, and peacefulness.”

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