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 Post subject: The Tivanka Pilimage at Polonnaruwa
 Post Posted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 1:09 am 
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The Tivanka Pilimage at Polonnaruwa

by Dr. P. H. D. H. de Silva
Retired Director of National Museums


@ The Island

A few months ago I visited the ancient city of Polonnaruwa and my general impression was that there existed a lack of caring by the authorities for the well-being and the proper maintenance of both site and monuments. Name boards were sparse, one here and one there, and much damage is caused by allowing visitors, hundreds of them, to trample the ancient brick work. It looked funny and incongruous to see a team of masons and labourers at the site of King Parakramabahu’s Palace replacing the damaged ancient bricks with new ones.

Numerous school children were seen to depend on a vendor of printed leaflets for information about the monuments while the teachers hung around. I was happy that he was knowledgeable. It should have been the duty of the teachers to have visited the site and studied the monuments, as is the common practice in foreign lands, prior to undertaking such school tours. In this country most things are done the easy way.

Once again I was overjoyed to bask in the aesthetic beauty of the colossal rock cut images of Lord Buddha at Uttararama or northern shrine built by King Parakramabahu I, especially the standing image. To me this image is unique in that it expresses eloquently Lord Buddha’s boundless Maitri and Karuna to all beings. Generally this image is referred to as that of Ananda Maha Thera but Dr. S. Paranavitana identifies it as that of Lord Buddha in the attitude described as Para dukkha dukkhita "He who sorrows for the sorrows of others."

The visiting crowd to see this shrine do it take the trouble to move northwards to view the three monuments — Demala Mahaseya so named because it was built by prisoners-of-war from Parakramabahu’s Indian campaigns (Archaeological Guide, p. 41), the Lotus Pond and the Tivankaghara or the Tivanka Pilimage. Of these the Tivanka-ghara is of special interest.

This edifice is so named because it shelters a tall image of Sakyamuni in tribhanga (thrice bent) posture. At the time of my visit the entire building was surrounded by a scaffolding reaching to the top and supporting a roof of galvanized sheets. The whole thing looked so cheap and temporary that it obstructed a visitor from obtaining a clear view of the outer architecture of the edifice

Why is this ancient monument of special significance?

Firstly this brick built Image-House with vaulted roof was built by King Parakramabahu I (1153-1186 A.D.) in the latter part of the 12th Century. It is smaller than the Lankatilaka Image-House built also by this great King in this ancient city complex.

Secondly its architecture. It has evoked several contrasting views. Some think that the Tivanka Pilimage is similar in its architecture to some Hindu shrines in India. Mr. H. C. P. Bell held the view that it resembled the Vaikunta Perumal kovil at Kanchipura. Dr. Nanda Wickramasinghe recently writing on Sri Lankan murals of the period 800—1200 A.D. states that both the Pilimage building as well as its murals had been influenced by Pallava art and architecture. She calls this tradition the Pallava-Sri Lankan tradition. Dr. S. Paranavitana holds an entirely different view pointing out that it is erroneous to believe that the architecture of this building as Dravidian in its features. According to him ("Art and Architecture," PP. 24-25) —

"But if we analyse the characteristics of those edifices built at Polonnaruva," (especially Thuparama, Lankatilaka and Tivanka Image house), "by the Sinhalese rulers, it becomes obvious that their architectural style is a natural development from, if not, a continuation of that of the Anuradhapura Period. Compare, for example, the details of the base mouldings of the Thuparama, Lankatilaka and the Tivanka-ghara with similar details from Shiva shrines. The architects who designed these Buddhist shrines... have continued the forms which are found in many edifices at the earlier capital," ie. Anuradhapura.

"Vaulted brick buildings of the type of Lankatilaka and Thuparama do not have prototypes among Dravidian buildings."

Thirdly the Tivanka Image-House provides the largest series of wall paintings of this period. These murals are all tempera. The colours used are brick red, yellow and green.

Dr. Siri Gunasinghe observes two main groups of murals on the inner walls of this shrine. These are

a. The more classical looking murals in the inner sanctum and

b. the jataka paintings of the entrance vestibule.

Dr. Siri Gunasinghe in his book, "An Album of Buddhist Paintings of Sri Lanka" published by the Department of National Museums in 1978 describes the main features of these two groups of paintings as follows: "The murals of the Sanctum are clearly the work of more spohisticated artists and have been executed with greater technical competence. The compositions are of a more ambitious scale as evidenced by the human figures which are larger than life-size, the better educated pictorial sense displayed by the balanced disposition of groups of figures on large wall areas, line work which is more delicate, controlled and masterly, the colours which are calculated and subdued showing a virtuous refinement, and, above all, the characters that express clearly stated through subtle feelings."

"The ‘jataka’ paintings of the entrance vestibule are stylistically speaking a resurgence of the Oldest Buddhist art tradition exemplified by the bas-reliefs of Bharhut and Sanchi. In their total effect, as well as in many details, the ‘jataka’ murals of the Tivanka shrine appear sufficiently similar to the reliefs of Bharhut thus indicating a spiritual kinship."

The knowledgeable reader is well aware of the importance of this 12th century edifice in terms of both its ancient architecture and art. I have digressed describing the above quoting relevant authorities solely for the benefit of the less knowledgeable readers. Any how, there is no doubt that the Tivanka Pilimage is a very significant archaeological monument.

When I visited this shrine at mid-day inside it was dark inside and we could hardly observe the murals. The officers working there told me that inside the building the relative humidity was very high and that as a result it has affected the murals so much so that the paint was flaking in certain spots.

What really baffles me is the tin (takaran) roof supported by a scaffolding all round the building. Surely the Department of Archaeology could have thought of something more in keeping with stature of this monument. At this time and age to stick to a tin roof is hardly the answer. I have heard also of a suggestion to construct another massive building to enclose the shrine.

During a visit to Kew Gardens in London I had taken a photograph of the "Hot-House" for tropical plants and to my mind the roof design of the "Hot House" could give us an idea how an appropriate ‘roof’ over the Pilimage could be constructed with suitable modification.

This roof could extend several metres outside the building and could dip downwards for about a third of its height. The vertical supports should be the optimum and have to be of non-rust metal. They could be encased in brick and plaster simulating ancient pillars of this period. The roof should be of acryllic thick sheets of plexiglass which absorb the ultraviolet rays of the sun. These should be of a darkish tint and fitted well into a frame work of non-rust metal. The entire construction should be designed in the typical architectural tradition of the period and made harmonious with the surroundings.

A rather diffused lighting system should be adopted for the inside of the building by using minimum fluorescent tubes encased in ultra-violet absorbent filters placed at suitable points so as to throw the light upwads, never direct on the paintings. The Tivanka Buddha image could be highlighted by two spot lights of low intensity. This soft lighting, I am sure, will help the visitors to conveniently view, study and enjoy these unique paintings of this 12 Century shrine.


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