Kandy Main Street 1810

Kandy Street 1810

The city of Kandy was founded in the 14th Century by King Wickramabahu (1357-1374 CE). In 1592 the city came to be considered the capital city of the last remaining independent kingdom in Ceylon following the Portuguese conquest of the coastal regions of the country.  Kandy managed to preserve its independence until 1815, when it came under British rule. Kandy is 500 meters above sea level and lies in the midst of hilly terrain.

The city is most popular as the home to the relic of the tooth of the Buddha which symbolises a 4th-century tradition that used to be linked to royalty since the protector of the relic was seen fit to rule the land.  Even after its conquest by the British, Kandy has preserved its function as the religious capital of the Sinhalese and a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists,

The city of Kandy lies at an altitude of 488.6 meters (1629 feet) above sea level in the center of the island and surrounded by the ranges of mountains. It is still very much a focal point of Sri Lankan culture. It was the capitol of last generation of Sri Lanka`s kings until it fell in to the hands of British in 1815.

Kandy was originally known as Senkadagala pura after a hermit named Senkada who lived there. Many of Sinhalese people call it “Mahanuwara” meaning the “Great City”. But the name Kandy was derived from the Word Kanda, which means mountain. Due to it’s geographical location Kandy was not an easy target for the foreign invaders who could gain the control of coastal area of the island.

Thus Kandyan culture was abler to foster and maintain its own social structure, mode of living, Art & Architecture. The kings of Kandy ensured the safety and sovereignty of the hill capitol and it’s great culture until the British finally captured the city in 1815.

The royal palace in Senkadagala was built by King Vikramabahu the 3rd of Gampola on the advice of a Brahmin who selected the site as a lucky ground for a Capital city. The first king to ascended the throne of Senkadagala was Sena Sammata Wickramabahu (1357-1374 CE)records suggest that he established the capital  near the Watapuluwa area, north of the present city, and named Senkadagalapura at the time, although some scholars suggest the name Katubulu Nuwara may also have been used. Kandy today is largely surrounded by extensive tea plantations.

The above photograph depicts a scene of the current Trincomalee Street.

Sigiriya Frescoes

written by
Sanjeewa Padmal

Sigiriya, a popular UNESCO world heritage site in Sri Lanka is known to the world as one of the greatest inventions of ancient engineers and artisans of Sri Lanka. Sigiriya holds reputation being one of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world and Sigiriya frescoes paintings is another reason for its popularity among the travellers. The mystery of World-renowned Sigiriya frescoes paintings (5th Century AD) is not solved until today and it is not clear who painted the beautiful maidens, despite the many archaeological research at the site.

Murray an Englishman was the first one to take on the arduous task of climbing the precarious rock in the late 18th century and was successful in making drawings of the frescoes. From then onward, there was no stopping the archaeologists and historians who climbed the rock to know more about the intricate designs. Even at present, the work is going on.

The ground of the Sigiriya frescoes paintings is in general laid in three layers, clay reinforced by paddy husks and other organic fibres, clay mixed with lime and sand, and a plaster richer in lime than the previous layer. A final overall coating of lime was applied and towelled smooth to receive the colours which are the three traditional earth colours of the ancient painter’s palette- red ochre, yellow ochre and green earth.

The technique of painting has been shown to be an oil emulsion tempera with gum. This is the earliest example, adequately dated, of a painting which is known to contain a drying oil in the binding medium both in the laying of the ground as well as in the paint layer.

The extreme perilous conditions under which the western face of the enormous rock was painted, the high quality of the technique adopted as such an early period, the clear and beautiful line work, the mellowness of the shading, all contribute to placing the Sigiriya paintings the foremost wall paintings of any period in any part of the world.

In the above picture, a tourist is looking at the beautiful maidens at the Sigiriya fresco pocket, these maidens owe their existence to the skilled artisans of ancient Sri Lanka, the figures are still in very good shape. However, a large number of paintings had been destroyed over the last centuries at the wrath of nature as it was fully uncovered to the rain, wind and sun.

Paranvitana, a past commissioner of archology Sri Lanka, on the other hand, propounded a theory to account for the figures painted over the plastered rock surface at Sigiriya. He showed that it is quite possible that the ladies of these paintings are personifications of clouds and phenomenon associated with clouds-lightning. 

The dark-complexioned ones were thus cloud damsels (mega latha), and fair-skinned ladies were a lightning princess (Viju Kumari), which is in accordance with the symbolic representation,  as Paranavithana was it, of Sigiriya as Alaka in the Himalayas and Kassapa as a Devaraja or Lord of Alaka, that is Kuvera, or his representative on earth. this is an ingenious theory which connects the cloud borne figures with many other structural and topographical feature at Sigiriya.

The female figures were shown as if moving in the same direction (north) and that some of the ladies were accompanied by females of a darker complexion and probably of a different race. The flowers carried by the females were suggested as indicating that they were setting forth to worship at the temple of Pidurangala built on the hills situated a mile to the north of Sigiriya.

Archaeologists opine that the fair-skinned ladies represented queens or princess who were accompanied by their ladies-in-waiting or maid-servants depicted by the dark-skinned figures.

Greatly inspired by the Sigiriya beauties many viewers had inscribed verses to them on the walls below the mirror wall and walls of the caves below. They are known as Sigiriya graffiti and are dated from 6th Century AD to the 14th century.

Nearly 700 of them have been identified and recorded. Such revealing comments of the paintings provide an insight into the cultivated sensibilities of the time and its appreciation of art and beauty. A male admirer had scratched his verse as “the ladies who wear golden chains on their breasts beckon me, now I have seen these resplendent ladies, heaven has lost its appeal for me”.

According to Bell, a British archaeologist who examined the figures during the latter part of 18s, opine that the reason for the half-figure portraits cut off by cloud formations was to economize space due to the concavity of the surface of the rock support. Alternatively, bell suggests that the clouds from which the upper portions of the figures appear to emerge may indicate that these figures are goddesses.

While Bell did not press the alternative proposal that the paintings depict divine beings, A.K Coomaraswamy, a pioneer historian lived early 19s, was a protagonist of this view and proposed to identify the subject of the paintings with such apsaras.

From these early writings, from the records left by 19th-century British visitors, and the remnants of patches plaster in protected areas on the western side of the rock, it is evident that there were in earlier times far more paintings on the Sigiriya rock that can be seen at present. In fact, the western surface of the main rock, below the drip ledge cut at a high level, was once covered with paintings.

All that remains of these paintings in a good degree of preservation is found in a pocket about halfway up the rock and extending to a length of 67 feet, cut in the steep face of the western side some 44 feet above the gallery. Nineteen figures and a fragment depicting women were to be seen in this pocket to which access is gained by a spiral staircase constructed in 1938.

In mid-October, 1967, vandals had hacked away a major part of two of these paintings and daubed paint on a total of the fourteen figures which included the hacked panels. Since then these paintings (excepting the two damaged portions) have been cleaned and restored to what is generally accepted as being in a better condition than obtained before the vandalism.

1968 Sigiriya

Sigiriya 1968

The construction and early history of the palace and fortress of Sigiriya is connected with several tragic events in the relationship of two royal brothers – Kasyapa and Moggallana. King Kasyapa (477-495 AD) illegally took the throne.

The legal heir of the throne Maggallana was forced to escape to India. Fearing an attack by his brother Kasyapa decided to move the capital from Anuradhapura to the central parts of Sri Lanka. He constructed a royal palace on a high rock to make sure it will not be invaded by the right heir of the throne Maggallana.

The palace – Sigiriya was constructed using the most advanced technologies of the time and was richly decorated with colorful frescos. After Kasyapa was killed in the battle with his brother’s army, the capital was moved back to Anuradhapura. Maggallana destroyed the palace of his brother and Sigiriya became a Buddhist monastery again. Approximately a thousand years later – in the 14th century it was abandoned also by monks.

Re Discovery
In 1831 Europeans accidentally discovered Sigiriya. Jonathan Forbes – a major of the British army discovered it on his way from Polonnaruwa – a city in central Sri Lanka.

The site immediately attracted the attention of historians and archaeologists, but only in the 1980s major excavations took place here.

Archeologists discovered the 5th century citadel, royal palace, gardens, parks and 1500 years old frescoes on the western wall of the complex, some parts of which remained amazingly unaltered.

Since 3th century BC the rocky plateau of Sigiriya served as a monastery. In the second half of the 5th century king Kasyapa decided to construct a royal residence here.

After his death Sigiriya again became a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century, when it was abandoned.

Sigiriya Lion Claws

The main entrance is located in the northern side of the rock.

It was designed in the form of a huge stone lion, whose feet have survived up to today but the upper parts of the body were destroyed.

Thanks to this lion the palace was named Sigiriya. The term Sigiriya originates from the word Siha-giri, i.e. Lion Rock

The palace and fortress complex is recognized as one of the finest examples of ancient urban planning. Considering the uniqueness of Sigiriya UNESCO declared it a World Heritage site in 1982. Sigiriya is an unmatched combination of urban planning, water engineering, horticulture and arts.

1939 – Temple of Tooth Relic

ToothTemple 1939

The temple enshrines relics of what is believed to be the actual teeth of the Buddha. After Buddha was cremated, his four canine teeth were taken from the ashes. These teeth are regarded as the holiest relics of Buddhism. The worship of Buddha’s remains has been going on throughout the centuries. It was recorded in the Mahaparinibbana-sutta (the Record of the Demise of the Buddha), and was sanctioned by the Buddha himself as he was about to die.

After the cremation, Buddha’s relics were distributed among various kingdoms that sought them. The relics were enshrined in funerary mounds called the stupa. However, Buddha’s four canine teeth were separately enshrined and worshipped. I am reporting here stuff which is a mixture of history and legend. According to what I have read, the right canine was worshipped by the king of gods, Sakra. Another tooth relic was worshipped by the king of Gandhara, which is located in modern-day Pakistan. The third tooth relic was taken away by the Nagas who worshipped it in a golden shrine room. The fourth, the left canine was given to the king of Kalinga in Eastern India.

It’s the fourth tooth, the tooth relic of the Kalinga, that is today enshrined at the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy. It had become an object of great veneration by generations of Kalinga kings until it earned the wrath of brahmanical followers. Fanatical rulers attempted many times to destroy the Relic. Yet it miraculously survived all such atrocities. For this reason, many kings tried to get hold of it for personal veneration. The last Indian ruler to possess the Tooth relic was Guhasiva of Kalinga (c.4th century AD).

When a neighboring kingdom made war with Guhasiva to get hold of the Tooth relic, for its safety, the tooth relic was taken out of India. At that time, Buddhism was already well established in Sri Lanka, and the island’s rulers maintained close relations with the Indian states that fostered Buddhism. So when the Kalinga ruler were under threat from loosing the teeth, he decided to send it to his friend, the king of Anuradhapura, the ancient Sri Lankan capital.

ToothTemple 1942A pjotograph in 1942

Pettah 1942

Petta 1938

‘Pettah’, in local parlance, refers to the Pettah Market, an expanse of shops extending from Olcott Mawatha, to Main Street and beyond. The name ‘Pettah’ is derived from the Tamil word ‘pettai’, used to indicate a suburb outside a fort. The Sinhalese word for the area, ‘pita-kotuwa’, meaning ‘outside the fort’, correlates with this.

As indicated by its name, Pettah, or Pita-Kotuwa is the area outside the fort the Portuguese built in the 16th century. The fort was besieged by the Dutch in 1656, who demolished part of the fort and rebuilt it to take advantage of the natural strength of the location.

After the British took over in 1815, they set about establishing control in Colombo, and in 1870 demolished the walls of the fort. Despite the absence of ramparts, the area continues to be known as Colombo Fort.

Old Colombo Town Hall 1885

Town Hall Colombo 1939

Located at the end of Main Street in Pettah. it is a  gothic-type Dutch building.  Town Hall was built in 1873, designed by the British architect J G Smither who also designed furniture to match, and was the first civic building to be opened in Colombo. The building was used as the municipal headquarters for over 50 years, until 1924. At the time thee was also a hall alongside it, used for the growth of the arts in the form of street plays and dramas – Edinburgh Hall. The hall was built at the same time and reflected several matching architectural features; such filigreed cast iron detailing, a slightly gothic design and etc.

In 1925, the Municipal Headquarters were moved to the current Town Hall, next to Victoria Park (currently named as Viharamahadevi Park.) With the change of premises, the Old Town Hall fell into dust and disuse; along with Edinburgh Hall, which was no longer the best location to show off the arts.

In 1980 the crumbling structure came to the notice of the president of the time, Mr. R.Premadasa, who renovated it by 1984 and turned it into one of Colombo’s historical attractions. The adjoining building was converted into a museum, and Edinburgh hall was turned into Edinburgh Market where street hawkers could ply their wares.

Within the Old Town Hall

There’s no entrance charge for visiting. So it’s basically just knock and enter. Once you enter the building, the first thing you notice are the motes of dust that glimmer in the dim light that comes in from the aged glass panes of the tall windows. A musty smell permeates the structure. The smell of time and history.

Some of the ground floor is still in use for government meetings. You may see some plainly furnished, but perfectly serviceable chairs and tables in such rooms that are in use. The lack of dust in these spaces is also a giveaway.

The sole caretaker of the large Old Town Hall will take you upstairs. Be ready for a mini freakout. Once you get to the top of the stairs, you’ll find yourself in a large open room with a conference table in the center. And here’s creepy part, there will be 15 men seated around the table in dated suits. It’s only closer inspection that will reveal them to be somewhat dusty life-sized wax figures. Each have a name card placed before them (including one W. Shakespeare?!), and some have strangely colorful neckties.

Other than this strange plateau; there are other life-sized statues of servants/butlers, paintings, and some old photographs. You can also view the city from the windows. Make sure to check the room to the side. It has some early typewriters, old radios, and the pièce de résistance – a 1785 map of Colombo. Once you come back down, make sure to visit the adjoining museum. It has a number of different artifacts; including ancient machinery, old metal street signs mounted on an equally old wooden post, antique boilers and timers, old light holders, an old mobile library vehicle, and a a giant lightbulb that lit the entire square outside the Old Town Hall.

There is much to see at the Old Town Hall; some quite interesting and unique, some not so much, and some downright strange. Whatever the case may be, this monument is definitely worth having a visit while in Colombo.



Lipton Tea – Transport 1876

The Lipton Tea Company transporting the produce from Plantation areas to Colombo by a fleet of bullock carts.
Lipton Tea Transport Carts 1902

The history of Ceylon tea ironically starts with coffee. Tea was first introduced to Sri Lanka during the British colonial era along with other crops (like coffee and sugar cane) for testing in different parts of the island.

In 1867, the first official tea plantation was created by the Scotsman James Taylor who had originally come to the island to grow coffee. It wasn’t until was two years later that the promising coffee production was undermined by a leaf fungus. It was then that tea was put on the crop pedestal and the rest is Ceylon tea history.  READ MORE

The first shipment of Ceylon tea arrived in England in 1873, paving the way for the worldwide spread of the locally grown leaf.

A few years after the Taylor estate started doing well, he was joined by Thomas Lipton, the founder of Lipton Tea. For many years to come, Lipton remained the most famous brand in the UK. Nowadays, it’s not as highly ranked as it used to be, but it sure made its mark. Lipton was the first to add brewing instructions on tea bags and lower the cost of tea so that it was attainable by everyone. In Sri Lanka, the tea brand Lipton Ceylonta is one of the favorites when making pots of sweet, strong tea to have with short eats.

Antique Lipton Tea Cans

Boat Bridge over Kelani River 1825

Kelani Bridge Afloat 1800

The trunk road between Colombo and Kandy is carried over the river Kelani by a pontoon bridge, knows as the bridge of Boats, situated at Gradpass, about 3 miles north of the port of Colombo.

Grandpass was also the main ferry across the Kelani River. It was the main Gateway to Colombo and the caretaker of the ferry had an important role to play and became an income generating source for the Dutch Company. His duties included checking the locals for arms and ammunition. Iron, gunpowder and saltpetre could not be transported into the city and duties were imposed. Arrack transported into the city was taxed at this point. A toll was charged for the use of the ferry.

In British times it continued its importance and in 1822 the river was spanned by a “bridge of boats”, a pontoon bridge which was in use till 1895. A painting of this, by the Irish artist Andrew Nicholl in 1848 is in the Colombo Museum. and a copy is reproduced here.

 The bridge of boats consisted of 21 boats anchored side by side, and a carriageway about 500 feet long ran from Grandpass to the other side of the river. For one hour each day the land traffic was stopped and two boats moved to allow river traffic. In 1895 the Victoria Bridge was built and took its place.

This was completed in 1825 and for forty two years till 1869  the whole traffic between Colombo and  the important planting districts passed over it. Until the road transportation was to a great extent superseded by the opening of Ceylon Government Railway in 1867.

boat bridge

CTB Double Deckers 1955


Several ex London transport RT&RTL type buses plus 3 TD type single deckers  were donated to Ceylon in 1953  to assist in building a capable buss transport system in the capital of Ceylon. London Busses in Colombo 1972


In the 1950s, double-decker buses of the South Western Bus Company plied on the Galle Road in Colombo, Sri Lanka. These were taken over by the Ceylon Transport Board (CTB) when all bus services were nationalised in 1958.

In the 1960s, second-hand Routemaster double decker buses were imported by the CTB from London Transport and ran in their original red livery, but with the CTB logo painted on the sides.


These buses were phased out beginning in the mid- 1970s, but a handful still run in the Greater Colombo area.  In 2005 a new batch of double decker buses were imported by the Sri Lanka Transport Board, as the reconstituted CTB is known, which run mainly on the Galle Road in Colombo


Kandyan Chieftain Family

A Family Portrait of a Kandyan Chieftain (Nilame) 1910

Nilame Attire
Nilame attire was reserved for the most upper class traditional Kandian families and was made in silk or sheik textiles with embedded jewels and embroidery work. Its colour described the wearer’s designation of work and the status in the society. The attire was completely made by the Sri Lankan helpers who captured the art from Indian Taylors who exclusively made attire for the royal family.

In the 18th century with the down fall of the Kandy Kingdom the Nilame Attire was mostly replaced by western suits due to British colonial influence. Yet, the high class Sri Lankan families occasionally wore them at special occasions such as weddings and cultural events as a symbol of family status. The attire was then reserved only for the Kandian families who kept the right of wearing nilame attire to them.