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Bellanwila murals - a sublime religious experience


A publication titled 'Bellanwila Murals' edited by Prof. Albert Dharmasiri was launched recently to felicitate the work of veteran artist Kalashuri Somabandu Vidyapathy whose paintings adorn the walls of the Bellanwila Rajamahavihara. The event marks the artist's 80th birthday which fell on March 23.

The marriage of Prince Siddhartha

Bellanwila Rajamahavihara has been one of the most sacred places in Sri Lanka. The great sanctity attached to the temple is on account of its sacred Bodhi-tree.

The long and strong belief is that a child who treads the ground under the shade of the sacred Bodhi-tree at this place would never fail in life.

It was said that this Bodhi-tree was one of the 32 saplings sprung from the fruits of the sacred Bodhi-tree at Anuradhapura, which was a branch of the most holy Bodhi-tree that provided shade to the Buddha when he attained enlightenment.

The shrine house (Budu geya) at the Bellanwila temple which comprises a number of gigantic sculptured images of the Buddha, his chief disciples and Maithree Bodhisatva, is another holy spot attracting devotees of great faith.

The murals on the inner walls and the roof are the other alluring religious features in this shrine house. These murals depict in different strokes the life of the Buddha and Buddhism.

When the very first paintings on these walls started fading away and peeling off, the necessity of restoring the holy illustrations arose. And the veteran artist, Kalashuri Somabandu Vidyapathy was assigned the task. With his self developed style, this renowned artist revived the Bellanwila shrine house, adding to the rich pictorial tradition of Buddhist temple paintings in Sri Lanka.

Dancing girls

These murals which reflect a sublime religious experience fall into three thematic categories; the life of the Buddha (Prince Siddhartha as a layman and after attaining Nibbana - enlightenment), the story of King Asoka and the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

Using the principal colours and their shades (mainly red, blue, yellow, orange, green, black and white), Somabandu finely interlocks the lines and shapes of the figures and decorative art works evoking a deep veneration in the viewer's mind.

Felicitating the splendid performance of this celebrated artist who reached the eightieth mile post in his life, a pictorial based on his paintings titled `Bellanwila Murals' was launched on his birthday on March 23 at the Bellanwila Rajamahavihara. Though he had been a renowned artist throughout his life, Bellanwila murals were Somabandu's first work of art on temple walls.

The pictorial was edited by Prof.Albert Dharmasiri. Ven. Dr. Bellanwila Wimalaratna Thera, the Deputy Head of the Temple has given a vivid description of the 'history of the Bellanwila Temple'.

Somabandu Vidyapathy

And Prof. H.T. Basnayake has written a well detailed narrative about the 'image sculptures of the shrine house'.

Prof.Dharmasiri has given an elaborate description of Somabandu Vidyapathy and his paintings - the Bellanwila murals , which should not be missed by art enthusiasts from all walks of society. A deep appreciation is due to Mr. R. Rajamahendran, hairman/Managing Director of the Maharaja Organisation for his generous patronage to publish the pictorial.

He set an example by showing a rich enthusiasm for art while ignoring religious differences.

Prof.Dharmasiri concludes his text on the 'Bellanwila Murals' saying that Somabandu Vidyapathy's paintings at Bellanwila Rajamahavihara are a brilliant page in the history of Buddhist paintings in Sri Lanka.

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