Why I decided to paint the Opening Ceremony of the Paththirippuwa, Octagon of the Dalada Maligawa (1802)
Posted on September 25th, 2017

by Avanti  Sri Nissanka – Karunaratna

I believe I am a truly renaissance woman.  In my life I have believed everything is possible, if not it has never stopped me from trying. It was never always about winning, but the fun of trying, for the shear experience of the challenge!

My grandfather H. Sri Nissanka, my mother Yamuna Devi Manel Sri Nissanka, my father Dr. Gemunu Karunaratna, were all painters. I always painted… At Yamuna Mandir , the famous home of my grand father, there was a 20  foot extraordinary painting which hung under the great dome to the sky, painted by Karl Kassman, of the Lord Buddha,  wearing a wonderful red orange robe, descending from the heavens of thusitha to mount meru in the Himalayas, after he had preached to his mother, Queen Maya. This was an image, which was intrinsic with my very being. A grand painting which I grew up with. In Yamuna there were many oil paintings, art was always around my grand father.  My father always painted snow capped mountains and the sea scapes with palm trees, a sense of nostalgia hung in the air.  Mummy painted beautiful landscapes. Therefore it was inevitable that I should develop a love to paint…The paint brush and I became virtually one…It came very naturally.

All my life I have painted, it may not be formally. I painted while in school at Mahamaya College, Kandy. Yet, I never won that school prize for art!

Ms. Avanti Sri Nissanka -Karunaratna displaying the work in progress painting at the Malwatta Temple on March 4, 2017

I studied art for my university entrance examination while, I was in school in New Zealand. Later I found the time to paint with various teachers while living in Sydney.  In many different styles and mediums while I was bringing up a family and while I was working in our business, Germani Jewellery. In 2002, I decided to take time out and have a formal training in art studies in Florence, at the world renowned Michael Angelo Academy.  This was the most exciting and invigorating time of my life. The time I felt I was most alive, to be passionate with a medium and subject I was enjoying most. Training in the Renaissance art. To learn to draw and paint portraits and figures. A unique period of my life. Later I was to paint at the famous Art Students League, New York, and participate in a Collaborative Art with the Tunisian artist Hechmi Ghachem”  introduced  to New York by David Black.

Return to Sri Lanka

I was living in NY, a publisher. One day I was sitting in central park in Manhattan, and suddenly there was a calling, time to go home!  Home to Kandy. On my return to live back in my lovely home up in the udarata; Kandy after 42 years, where I had spent my young life with my loving family, with uncles and loving grand parents, Dr. Willy Karunaratna and my grand mother Florence (Flori), daddy Dr. Gemunu Karunaratna and mummy Yamuna Devi Manel Sri Nissanka, and many aunts and uncles, Dr. Nihal, and Chula, my many cousins, where time had stood still. Now I was older and wiser I hope! What was I going to do after a very exciting and adventurous life on a global platform?

One day a friend came by and asked me what I was doing. I said that I had just started to paint again and set up my studio at home in Kandy, He had just opened a hotel, Sandriana, on the very hill where I lived. He decided to commission me to paint for his hotel. This was a wonderful challenge.

There were paintings of Kandyan dancers, Sri Wickrama Rajasingha, and Elephants, plenty of them! My painting skills and training in art school in Florence, Italy was about to be tested, on very large canvases! It was so stimulating to be covered in paint. It was so far from the world I had left in fine jewellery for the rich and the famous in the world, to the world of publishing in New York, NY.

Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka

While I was still working on this painting assignment, my brother, Prof. Amal Randhir Karunaratna, invited me to attend a Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka sponsored lecture by H.L.D. Mahindapala in Colombo, on ‘the last king of Jaffna’.  While we were on the way to the lecture at the Mahaweli Centre, we found ourselves sharing a lift with another gentleman who got into the lift with my brother and I.  This was a chance happening. After the meeting, we got chatting about the lecture with a few people and this gentleman joined us. His name was Senaka Weeraratna. He asked me what I did, and I said I was a historical artist. Where upon he said, would I be interested in doing a painting  of Devendra Mulachari, the architect of the most iconic building of Sri Lanka, the Paththirippuwa, Octagon of the Dalada Maligawa, in Kandy?

I did not hesitate, and said Yes” I can do it! Even though to me like for many others, I had no idea who this amazing architect was. What I did know was that it was the building I had looked at all my life in Kandy. I walk past it every morning when I went for my walk, and had driven past it every day when I went to school in my childhood days. Now, I can see it from my studio across the Kiri Muhuda – Kandy lake.  I was to discover that not only had Devendra Mulachari,  the architect of the paththrippuwa, but also the creator of the walakulu bamma, diayarally bamma, the kiri muhuda, the ulpange, the island, Kundasala, and the magul maduwa. All very intrinsic to the Kandy history, and further these remarkable designs have been copied and displayed all around our hallowed land.

New Book

In the course of the conversation, Senaka  Weeraratna added that D.D.M. Waidyasekera, the former Tax Commissioner, had written a book entitled ‘Great Royal Artificer of the Kandy Kingdom, Devendra Mulachari’, which he was presenting to the Mahanayake of the Malwatta Chapter, in Kandy on March 4th,  2017. Could I have some painting ready by then to give colour to the occasion? I was so excited and thrilled to take on a challenge of this nature. Three weeks and no image to go by.  Only a small description from D.D.M. Waidayasekera about Devendra Mulachari’s appearance and bearing.

I must say that Senaka Weeraratna, was very much instrumental in guiding me on how I should attend to this task and present the painting. We discussed it a lot. What purpose should a painting that will showcase the most valuable piece of Architecture of the Kandy period, and the last King of Kandy in his youth, and the brilliant designer and great architect of several Kandyan icons, serve?  My excitement about the subject, my interest in the history of Lanka, appealed to him. He said that the painting must take the form of a celebration through art of a landmark event in the history of the country, namely the opening  of  the Paththirippuwa (Octagon)in 1802.  Australia has the Opera house, we have the Paththirippuwa. We must take pride and admire the high achievements and sense of aesthetics of our Kings and forefathers, and moreover our unique Buddhist civilization. These ideas were swirling in my mind. I cannot allow this opportunity to lapse, I thought.

Nevertheless I was now a bit panicked. I paint in oil, and I know it takes time to paint small details, not just the portrait as I thought I was first going to paint. As I come from a tradition of designing and painting jewellery for 40 years, I am very meticulous in my work particularly, my attention to details.

Meeting with the Mahanayake of the Malwatta Chapter

So I worked and beavered on this painting, day in and day out. March 4, 2017 came. I joined the learned author D.D.M. Waidyasekera, the former Commissioner of the Inland Revenue Department, the eminent Historian Prof. K.D. Paranavitana at the Malwatta temple to  meet with the Mahanayake,  Most Ven. Thibbatuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Thero of the Malwatta Chapter at 9 am. The Venerable monk seemed very pleased with my artwork, though it was not yet complete. The painting was still in a work in progress state. He suggested I paint another historical figure. The last Queen of Kandy.

I was particularly excited at this opportunity, as my uncle, Dr. Nihal Karunaratna had written three books, of Kandy Past and Present, Governors Palace and Udawatta Kale, and my uncle Jeevaka De Soysa, was the architect of the golden roof of the Maligawa as we see it today. It will be wonderful to be part of bequeathing a legacy of our amazing long and unbroken history of 2300 years of this beautiful island – my home land.

Avanti  Sri Nissanka – Karunaratna

Sept. 25, 2017


Most Ven. Thibbatuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Thero of the Malwatta Chapter meeting a delegation of Buddhists comprising the learned author D.D.M. Waidyasekera, the former Commissioner of the Inland Revenue Department, and the eminent Historian Prof. K.D. Paranavitana, among others, on March 04, 2017

One Response to “Why I decided to paint the Opening Ceremony of the Paththirippuwa, Octagon of the Dalada Maligawa (1802)”

  1. Nimal Says:

    Hello Avanthi,
    I was a good friend of your uncle Dr Nihal Karunaratna and I own the commercial building in front of his former dispensary named Peoples dispensary.
    When ever I went for a check up he never charged me and I had to leave the money with the staff and run out of the building.
    He wrote a couple of books about Kandy and I have a copy somewhere in UK.He wrote that Polonaruwa was discovered decades after the convention.This indicates how the recent rulers,Dravidan rulers in origin had neglected our true Sinhalese history.
    Most Rev Thibbatuwawe was in Redhigala temple and I visted him several times in late 80s complaining about the problems I had in the coconut estate I owned at Dodangaslanda bought from my mum’s relative Sir John.
    The way I dealt with the problems so forcefully by coming to SL about 5 times in ’89 reminded him the local legend Sir John where I was very generous to the locals but very strict at the same time and the elderly that survived the years met me to thank me and said that I was the reincarnation of that great man and I was really flattered by those comments.
    Coming back to your uncle where I met him at his home at Rajaphilla mawata named GUNFIRE,asked his advise as to how to build my commercial building in front of his dispensary and he advised me strongly,to attract the elite of the business establishments to have a big car park in the front and have a massive sewage pit at the bottom of the building where it could be emptied twice a year.It was a prize winning advise where it was the time of the sewage buckets,etc and we were ahead of times that is giving me great deviants now.
    I lived next to his house with my American friends and that house is now occupied by the Indian HC.
    I wish patriots read his history of Kandy and good luck to you and your family.

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