Owing to its long, rich history, Sri Lanka endows exquisite arts evolving through the course of time which has refined its culture to be unique and precious heritage of the nation. Sri Lanka. Its pivotal position on the ancient Silk Route made Sri Lanka a crossroad of cultural and trade exchange of the West and the East. India and China’s record ha proved the cultural, political and trade exuberance of this island.
In many ways Sri Lankan arts is an inspiration of its long and lasting Buddhist tradition which in turn absorbed and adopted countless regional and local tradition for thousand of years, evolving to be a unique variant of Sri Lankan arts. Unsurprising, most of Sri Lankan arts originated religious beliefs, represented in many artistic forms such as painting, sculpture, architecture, and so on.
Indian culture has also given dominant and deep mark in Sri Lankan arts. Indian culture here means the Indian Buddhist culture introduced along with Buddhism into Sri Lanka in the 3rd century B.C and becoming the core of Sri Lankan culture ever since. Nonetheless, Indian culture has not restrained the formation of a distinctively Sri Lankan tradition to express in its own ways. Sri Lankan artistic style varied from kingdom to kingdom along its historic lines, each of which has successively added some characteristic elements to Sri Lankan arts, becoming the completely priceless inheritance we can see today.
Dance of Sri Lanka
Concept of dancing in Sri Lanka originated in fear of natural power which people regarded as the supernatural building. Dance was then initiated in Sri Lanka during the 4th century B.C for the purpose of expelling natural disasters, sickness and so on. At the end of Polonnaruwa period (15th century A.D.), South Indian influence came into Sri Lanka and was adopted in Sri Lanka folk dancing. In the course of time, a dancing form was developed and varied from each other according to regional and local traditions. Nowadays, there are three principal dancing forms that can be seen in Sri Lanka: Kandyan Dancing: This form of dance has developed from the period of Kandyan kings and today is regarded as the national dance of Sri Lanka. The dance imitates movements of animals as there are dancing of elephant and peacock, for example, and also depicts scenes of Ramayana epic or stories of kings and heroes. The costumes of Kandyan dancers are striking; male dancers wear a skirt-like garment with their bare chests decorated with exquisitely silver regalia and spectacular headgear; silver bangles are also worn on the arms and ankles. The performance is companied with hectic rhythms of drums called gata beraya.
Low country dance: Dances in low country is highly ritualistic. This form of dance is performed to appease evil spirits which cause sickness. The dancers wear masks depicting many characters varied in forms of bird, demons, reptiles, etc.
Sabaragamuwa dances: The dances are usually performed in Ratnapura, relating to the worshipping of God Saman much revered by local people.
Handicrafts of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has an extensive variety of handicrafts which represent the richly craftsmanship tradition tracing back as long as the nation’s existence. Tourists can find the excellent collection of Sri Lankan handicrafts in shops and stores throughout the country.
Mask: Mask is a facial decorative wear used in Sri Lankan dancing. In early times, the masks were used in rituals, dramas, and curing sickness. It is believed that mask provide curative power for physiological problems. Most masks are made forma light wood called kaduru and craved into various characters.
Pottery: Pottery is one of the oldest crafts in Sri Lanka and is still a daily utensil of a particular social group of 70% which retain using clay pot and fans for cooking. In addition to pots, the more intricate products likes terracotta figures, carved vases, etc are made as well for souvenirs.
Batiks: Batik making is in fact the Indonesian art, but has developed in Sri Lanka into its unique style. Tourists can find a wide variety of batiks sold throughout the island. Some of the best and most original are the batik pictures made in Kandy and Fresco Batiks on the Peradeniya road outside Kandy.
Jewelry: Sri Lanka produces excellent jewelry which considerably benefits its own economy. There are two traditions of jewelry making: Galle tradition and Kandyan tradition. The Galle tradition is characterized by its precious stones while the Kandyan tradition is featured by its intricate metal work, especially silver work.
Architecture of Sri Lanka
Architecture in Sri Lanka is closely based on religious beliefs like most other forms of Sri Lankan arts, and undoubtedly, Buddhism is one of the most influential elements, making Sri Lankan architecture is unique. Not only Buddhism, Hinduism is another important influence on Sri Lankan architecture represented as the Hindu temples and shrines of the Hindu Tamils. Since Sri Lanka has been occupied by three generations of colonization, beginning with the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch and finally the British, the architecture in Sri Lanka has been developed and influenced by those three culture though the course of time. The colonial legacy as seen in ancient colonial buildings in the country even enhances the charm of Sri Lanka. So to say that, Sri Lanka is a place where different cultures have intertwined together, creating harmony and at the same time the uniqueness of Sri Lanka.
One of the most dominant characters of Buddhist architecture is the dagoba (stupa) dotting everywhere on the Island. In a shape of dome, often painted in white, the dagoba enshrines the Buddha’s relics such as hair and tooth; it is usually constructed with bricks which are covered with plaster. This form of structure is firstly introduced into Sri Lanka at the same period of Buddhism’s introduction into the island. The tradition of building the stupas to enshrine the Buddha’s relics originated during the reign of Emperor Asoka of India who sent Buddhist missionary, Mahinda, his son to Sri Lanka; it then spread out, there emerged numerous dagobas on the island. The early simple shape of the dagoba developed to six significant shapes that can be seen nowadays: bubble shape, bell shape, pot shape, the heap of paddy shape, and amalaka shape.
The vatadage is also predominant architectural heritage of Buddhism in Sri Lanka; it is a circular relic house enclosing a small dagoba with wooden roof and Buddha images on the four cardinal directions. Traces of this structure can be seen in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa today, but the wooden parts disappeared long ago.
Hindu temples are called kovils in Sri Lanka; most of them are dedicated to God Shiva. Hindu temple basically consists of a prayer hall and shrine room. The central edifice of the Hindu temple is sikhara, usually in dome or pyramid shape which is elaborately decorated with sculptures and brightly colored. In the temple’s grounds, there is space for worshippers to take a ritual walk clockwise around the prayer hall and the shrine room.
Sri Lanka’s architectural styles were obviously influenced by the European architecture during the alternative occupations of the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British. The legacy form the Portuguese is the tiled-roof building with its verandah, the Catholic churches as well as the forts. Under the Dutch rule, the Portuguese forts were changed into Dutch style; the historic fort in Galle is excellent one of the Dutch legacy. The British followed the tradition by changing also the Dutch forts into their clerical and secular architectural styles. The building in the hill stations such as Nuwara Eliya is one of the dominant British legacies.
Sculpture and painting of Sri Lanka
It is Buddhism again which profoundly rooted in arts of sculpting and painting in Sri Lanka. For sculpture, most of works are dominated by the Buddha images. In early times, the statues of Buddha were often carved from the living rock of limestone cliffs. Over the centuries, other kind of materials have also been adopted for sculpting the statutes of Buddha such as jade, rock, crystal, marble, emerald, ivory, coral, wood, and metal. The Buddha is represented in three main poses: standing, meditating, and reclining. The ornamental sculptures on the staircases of Buddhist shrines and palaces reveal exquisite skill of Sri Lankan sculptors and also symbolize religious belief among the Sinhalese Buddhists.
Similar to sculptures, Sri Lankan painting closely attaches to Buddhist belief. Themes in Sri Lankan painting are all related to Buddha: Buddha’s life and tales of former lives of the Buddha, for example. The excellent painting works can be seen on walls in several Buddhist monasteries and shrines. There are two different styles of painting in Sri Lanka: classical style and Kandyan style. The Classical style is vigorous, complex and expressive whereas the Kandyan style holds it simplicity and continuity of expression.