Tips to help you buy scuptures and wood carvings during your travel in Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan sculpture has historically been a cumulative art style. The tradition of sculpting began long ago and since then, every dynasty of kings has altered the art form to its liking. Earlier designs clearly show the influence of Buddhism in the country, with stupas dotting the landscape. While traditional Sinhalese sculpture suffered a decline in the 13th century, sculptors revived it using influences from Hindu architecture from India and European motifs during the colonial period. Thus, what we see today is a priceless fusion of centuries of artistic talent.
The Sri Lankan royals traditionally used sculpture as a way to embellish palaces and temples. You will see formidable serpents guarding gates and a paraphernalia of animals decorating staircases and the likes. The most expressive examples of religious sculptures are to be found in Kandy, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.
Contemporary sculpture is now made from locally available stones like black granite and hardwoods. Many of these pieces can be found in art galleries around the country and are available for purchase. Smaller sculptures can be found at any tourist destination. While these are cheaper and smaller in size, the craftsmanship can be quite exquisite.
Woodcarvings are another Sri Lanka speciality that reflect the craftsmanship of Sri Lankan artists. Abundance of timber in Sri Lanka has led to the use of wood products for houses and decorations. In the olden days, wooden statues of gods adorned temples while delicately carved doors and wall panels added beauty to palaces. Wood carving in Sri Lanka uses local wood particularly the fragrant sandalwood, dark ebony, palu and na. If you are in Kandy, you can visit the Embekke Devalaya temple to get a feel of how important woodcarvings were to ancient Sri Lankan society before buying your gifts.
The process of making a wood carving involves choosing the right piece of wood that is first roughly shaped via the baragahanawa process. Then, fine chiselling or mattangahanawa completes the sculpture. It is then smoothed and polished to give the final touches.
Tourists who visit Sri Lanka often take back wooden craft items. Although woodcarving was traditionally used to create images of Gods, Buddhas and animals, the carvers who now cater to tourists have adapted their trade to include items to suite everybody’s taste. Newer items like wooden cutlery, toys for children and filigreed gift-boxes combine functionality with traditional art.