Indian dance influence on Polonnaruwa period sculptures | Sunday Observer

Indian dance influence on Polonnaruwa period sculptures

2 October, 2022

Dance historians focus on the study of evolution and development of dances. The historical approach emphasizes the process of change and transformation of dances following the social and cultural changes. Dance is a human activity which is deeply involved with numerous other aspects and factors of culture.

The influence of dance could also be traced on various other visual cultural aspects including literature, poetry, rock inscriptions and paintings. According to the historical approach, dance originated before any other art forms. Dance sculptures are embodied in the form of living human bodies. In other words, it could be explained that the impact of dance is embodied in the sculptural assemblages. Dance became a sculpture and also a form of the visual image.

Two forms

For dance sculptural research, the body becomes an objective and sculpture becomes subjective. The dance was differentiated by scholars in two forms or angles. One is a secular dance and the other is a religious dance. The art of dance permeated many aspects of life in ancient India.

A variety of different Hindu bronze and stone sculptures are found in numerous Hindu temple vicinity and archaeological sites of Polonnaruwa.

Most of the sculptures belong to the Polonnaruwa period.

Different varieties of bronze sculptures could be analyzed with Indian Aesthetic Theory and Indian Visual Art Theory. Instrumental and costume decorations of Polonnaruwa sculptures are systematically analyzed with the above mentioned theories of India. The Hindu bronze sculptures and decorative bronze sculptures of the Polonnaruwa period are directly or indirectly connected to Indian Aesthetic Theory and Indian Visual Art Theory.

The Hindu bronze sculptures of the Polonnaruwa period could be divided into different categories. Ancient chain lamp dancing figures, ancient chain lamp male cymbal players and ancient chain lamp dancing drummers are some of the foremost sculptures of Polonnaruwa that reveal the Indian dance influence of that era. Meanwhile the nature, structure and style of the Polonnaruwa period Hindu icons and decorative sculptures also deeply reflect the Indian aesthetic essence.

Many of them provided valuable information about how the beauty of dance guided and impressed the sculptors in their productive sculptural creations.

The information produced by numerous researches on ancient oriental sculptures provided a considerable amount of supporting evidence for one to carry out the dance-related sculptural research in Sri Lanka.

Dance iconography, Karana dance sculptures of India, Indonesia and Bangladesh and the scholarly views and interpretations expressed by the scholars on dance and dance-related sculptural studies further enable a researcher to proceed with this kind of research in Sri Lanka.


South Indian Hindu decorative dance sculptures and Hindu temple icons were strongly influenced by the traits of dance, especially by the Tamil classical dance form of Bharata Natyam. This study deals with the written historical evidence expressed by numerous scholars, researchers and archaeologists about the nature and style of the sculptures produced during the Polonnaruwa period.

It deals with the earlier documentary and textual evidence expressed by various scholars. All the historical evidence helps researchers to understand how the aesthetic essence of dance and its nuances influenced the minds and creations of the sculptors. For the need of this research study, the researcher of the selective study has to focus on two varieties only.

One is in the form of Hindu icons and the other is in the form of decorative sculptures. Both these sculptures reflect the influence of Indian dance traditions. Yet it should be noted that the decorative dance sculptures of oriental tradition were created based on the guidelines given in the Natya Sastra and Silpa Sastra. The Silpa Sastra could be considered as an aspect of visual arts. Meanwhile, the creation of the Hindu icons is more or less based on Hindu Agama Sastra, Natya Sastra and Silpa Sastra principles.