The Golden Age of Sculpture in Sri Lanka

Masterpieces of Buddhist Bronzes.


Late Anuradhapura Period, 8th-9th century

Gilt bronze; solid cast; Height 49.8 cm

Discovered in 1968 at Veragala Sirisangabo Vihara, Allavava (Anuradhapura district, Sri Lanka)

The most magnificent bronze Bodhisattva ever found in Lanka is this gilt image seated in a combination of lalitasana and rajalisana ( attitude of royal ease ). The eyes are inlaid with rock-crystals and the elaborately plaited jatamakuta is inset with precious stones. The large empty space in the centre of the hairdress was probably inset with a cameo figure of a Buddha; a reasonable assumption since, with the exception of a very worn statue, all other images seated in the same position hear an effigy of the Tathagata Amitabha in the head-dress. It is interesting to point out that all images seated in a combination of lalitasana and rajalilasana display the kataka mudra with the right hand, a gesture intended to hold an attribute. Without knowing the kind of attribute that was once placed there, all that can be said is that these images are emanations of the Tathagata Amitabha, who presides over the padma-kula or "Lotus Family," consisting only of peaceful emanations. In the Citrakamasastra and the Indian tradition, an Amitabha in the crown would point to a form of Avalokitesvara. The presence of Amitabha would not agree with an identification as Samantabhadra, who is regarded, according to the Northern Buddhist tradition, as an emanation of Vairocana, and according to the Citrakarmasastra bears the five Tathagatas in the headdress. The attributes thus are not sufficient to allow a more precise identification of this Bodhisattva, other than as possibly a form of Avalokitelvara.

Avalokitesvara Bronze

National Museum, Colombo; V.O3

Select bibliography

1971 - Paranavitana, S. Art of the Ancient Sinhalese, p 139, fig 94 Bodhnattva seated in pose similar to Sirshanada Lokesvara, circa 6th century.

1973 - Gunasioghe, S. Buddhist Sculpture of Ceylon," Arts of Asia, Vol 3 No 1 p 29, fig 8 Bodhisattva, 9th or 10th century.

1980 - Dr Silva, R. H. Archaeological Survey of Ceylon: Annual Reports 1968-69, pp. 81-2, pl. 23: Bodhisattva [not dated].

1981 - Van Lohuizen-de Leeuw, J.E. Sri Lanka:Ancient Arts, p.24, no 16: Bodhisattva Samantabhadra, 8th-10th century.

1985 - Mudiyanse, N. "Icons of Avalokitesvara from Natha Devale in Kandy," Kalyani, Vols, III & IV, p. 106, fig. 3: Bodhisattva (believed so be Atalokitevsara), 9th or 10th century.

1990 - von Schroeder, U. Buddhist Sculptures of Sri lanka, pp. 286-7 pl. 78B-C: Avalokitesvara, Late Anuradhapura Period, 8th-9th century.