Pandal-making in Sri Lanka | Sunday Observer

Pandal-making in Sri Lanka

The bond between Vesak and the Buddhist community is inseparable. Discerning and interpreting the ultimate truth preached by the Buddha is an immense act on this very day. When every corner of the country is dazzling with the charm of Vesak decorations, there is no doubt that pandals steals the limelight. The Sri Lankan Vesak pandal is a reflection of Buddhism and it’s culture dates to centuries back. Sadly, the true beauty of the pandal along with its history is fading away fast now. Ananda Premalal related to the Sunday Observer, the tragic story behind this fading art.

“It’s true that the Sri Lankan pandal culture is declining with the passage of time. This time there will not be any pandals on display due to the cancellation of public Vesak celebrations. Pandals are a major crowd puller . The depiction of deep religious concepts along with a moral lesson is the responsibility of a pandal maker. It is sad to say that today this culture is declining in every way. I joined in the making of pandals when I was 16 years of age. At that time, pandal-making was wholly different. It was basically a creation of unity. Our parents encouraged us to learn how elders work at pandal-making. All the villagers get together in decorating the village with pandals and lanterns. The beautiful paintings on the panels were illuminated by oil lamps. People who saw pandals centuries ago have seen and appreciated the artistic value and the creativity behind it. In contrast, today the pandal has evolved a lot and has become more digitalised.”


“Today Vesak is commercialised, and pandal making is no longer a work of unity. People do not gather to create their village pandals, instead the pandal making is now a ‘contract’ given to a particular person or a group of people. The computer generated paintings or the large scale printing has stolen the value given to paintings which were drawn by hand. Even the oil lamps are replaced by bulbs. The traditional pandal has almost disappeared with the arrival of modern technology. We often hear people complaining that pandals displayed everywhere look alike and mainly it is because of the influence of technology.

Financial barrier

The commercialised pandal is also threatened in many ways. Actually, a massive pandal needs time, patience, creativity, knowledge and man power. Due to reduced funds, lack of sponsors, man power and the rising prices of bulbs and other materials pandal-making has become difficult. At present nobody bothers to learn this culture. We lack painters and electricians. If you think that normal electricians could illuminate a pandal, it is wrong. Illuminating a pandal needs specialised knowledge as it is a very complicated structure. The artistic patterns that are set to pulse should link all the panels while highlighting each. That’s what makes a panel beautiful.

The financial barrier is one major reason behind this declining fascinating art. The expenses of massive pandals range from two lakhs of rupees to fifteen. Some cost more than this. Most of the pandal makers invest their advance money to buy materials that are needed to make pandals. Most of the time the advance money is not sufficient and the craftsmen buy goods obtaining loans. When they receive the complete payment they have to settle the loans. The people make a career out of pandal making feel threatened most of the time due to this reason. They tend to display the same pandal on both Poson and Esala poya days to cover the expenses”.

The pandals which beautified the most revered Buddhist religious festival of the country is in the process of fading away. “It is very pathetic that our younger generation is losing interest in creative art. Day by day painters, and other small scale craftsmen look for other work to survive as they lack the opportunity of earning their daily expenses. I fear for the future of the pandals which gives a true value to the most significant and revered Buddhist religious festival in the island”, said Ananda.