Kataluwa Purvaramaya Temple: tragic deterioration of a country treasure

The decaying painting is supposed to depict Mahadana Sitano and wife in western dress enjoying music. The integration of western modes of dress to eastern Buddhist visual story telling of the Jataka stories is a notable feature of the Kataluwa paintings. Kataluwa Sri Lanka, September 2011. Photograph © Chulie de Silva.

To get to Kataluwa we turned left near the 83rd mile post on the Southern coat road, crossed a railway line on to a village road and lumbered into a deserted temple grounds. Monkeys roamed on the roof tops, a pack of stray dogs followed the chief priest, playfully tearing his robes.

Greeting us right at the entrance was a British court of arms and a date which said 1886.

The fading court of arms at the entrance to the Kataluwa Temple main shrine room. Photograph © Chulie de Silva

Kataluwa temple paintings represents the Southern school and belong to the 19th century although the temple is said to have existed from the 13th century. There are several interesting points in the temple paintings that one needs to do a serious study of it and not a flying visit as I did. For instance the four walls of the temple are creations of artists of four different schools. The British Royal court of arms, Queen Victoria, and Queen Mother are given prominence among the Eastern gods.

A portrait of the lovers in the Sandakinduru Jatakaya at the entrance to the main shrine room. In this story Buddha is killed by his chief adversary Devdutta, but restored to life by Sakra who was moved by the lamnetations of his wife. Jataka stories are episodes from the Buddha’s previous lives. Note cameo of Queen Victoria above both doors. Photograph © Chulie de Silva.

Kataluwa temple frescoe of wedding party with white horses showing the western influence Kataulwa, Sri Lanka. September, 2011.

Kataluwa temple frescoes showing damage due to leaky roofs and rain water seeping in. Kataulwa, Sri Lanka. September, 2011. Photograph © Chulie de Silva

Part of the Vessantara Jatakaya temple frescoe Kataluwa Temple. Kataluwa, Sri Lanka. September, 2011. Photograph © Chulie de Silva

Reclining Buddha Statue Kataluw Reclining Buddha Statue Kataluwa Temple. Kataluwa, Sri Lanka. September, 2011. Photograph © Chulie de Silva.

The Buddha watches mutely the decay around him. But there were no flowers at the altar, no villagers worshipping at his feet. Two men clearing the over-grown garden said the villagers are in conflict with the chief priest and do not patronize the temple. Whatever the reason the days when the paintings were claimed as the finest examples of the Southern painting tradition are gone. If the roofs are not repaired, the damp walls restored we will soon lose these works of art.