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Updated by Joanna James on Jun 23, 2019
Headline for Frescos in Buddhist temples in Colombo- Historic works of art
Joanna James Joanna James
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Frescos in Buddhist temples in Colombo- Historic works of art

The tradition of Buddhist art began when Mahinda Thero first travelled to the island of Sri Lanka. Since then, art has evolved into various forms, depicted clearly in each temple and place of worship.



Whether you're looking at the beautiful frescoes in Sigiriya or intricate carvings at Embekke devalaya or the architectural marvels of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka has a diverse range of beautiful artworks that stem from different eras and time periods depicting the island's rich culture and history. Some of these ancient artworks display the teachings and history of Buddhism and can be seen in almost any temple you visit.


Kelani Raja Maha Viharaya

Kelani Raja Maha Viharaya is located in the Kelaniya temple, near the commercial city of Colombo. The murals displayed here tell the stories of Buddha, taken from the various Jataka stories as well as historical events that were related to the religion. The ancient frescoes are situated in the image houses of the temple, known as, Oth Pilimage and Raja Pilimage. These artworks are categorized into 6 various themes. The frescoes also depict significant scenes from the life of Lord Buddha such as the 16 places that he visited on the island, the sermon he performed in Kelaniya. The images and artwork found in Oth Pilimage are unique and can only be found in this temple. A few of the artworks found here was said to have been painted by Solias Mendis, a 20th-century painter. His work displayed Buddha's life and significant moments of Buddhism in the island, such as King Pathis 2nd accepting a sapling from the sacred Bo tree, an image of Prince Danthu and Prince Hemamala delivering Buddha's tooth relic amongst others.


Bellanwila Temple

One of the things to do in Colombo is to visit the Bellanwila Temple, located in Boralasgamuwa. The murals painted here, by Somabandu Vidyapathi, an artist inspired by local and Indian art, modelled the work from those found in the image house at the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. You'll be able to find these paintings on the walls of the Budu Madura, the shrine hall of the temple, depicting important events in Buddha's life, events that unfolded during that the reign of King Asoka, various significant events of Buddhist history such as the planting of the Sri Maha Bodhi seedling in Anuradhapura and Bellanwila temple.


Gothami Temple

Gothami temple is located in Borella and displays a collection of frescoes painted by a 20th-century artist known as George Keyt. His artwork highlights various styles of Sri Lankan art combining modern forms and traditional ideas to display the different Buddhist themes and its history.


Things to remember

Before visiting these temples, it's imperative that your dress code is modest and respectful of the religion. Visitors are requested to cover their shoulders and ankles and preferably wear white when possible. If you're staying in the city, hotels such as Residence by Uga Escapes will be able to direct you to the nearest temple where you can sight these beautiful, ancient paintings.