Kelaniya Rāja Mahā Vihāra

high-definition creative commons photographs from the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, showing the temple, statues and murals, together with some further information.

Play Moving Slideshow (122)


The Kelaniya Rāja Mahā Vihāra is a Buddhist temple in Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, seven miles from Colombo. Buddhists believe the temple to have been hallowed during the third and final visit of the Buddha to Sri Lanka, eight years after gaining enlightenment. The history of the site would thus go back to before 500 BCE.

The temple flourished during the Kotte era (15th-16th c.) but much of its land was confiscated during the Portuguese empire (16th-17th c.) Under the Dutch empire (17th-18th c.), however, there were new gifts of land and under the patronage of King Kirthi Sri Rajasingha the temple was rebuilt. It was refurbished in the first half of the 20th century with the help of Mahā Upāsikā Helena Wijewardana.

The temple is famous for its image of the reclining Buddha and paintings by the local artist Solias Mendis which depict important events in the life of the Buddha, in the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, and also incidents from the Jātaka tales.

Text based on Wikipedia (retrieved, July 14th 2015)

use j/k or left/right arrow
to navigate through the photos below

Temple and Grounds


Statutory and Relief Work on outside of Temple



Kandy Period Murals and Statutory



Solias Mendis

Solias Mendis

Walimuni Solias Mendis (June 17, 1897 - September 1, 1975) was a renowned Sri Lankan artist primarily known for his temple paintings, accomplished in a neo-classical style.

A native of Mahawewa, Madampe, Halawatha in Sri Lanka, second of seven boys in the family, Mendis was intended by his parents to become an Ayurveda Physician, but he was drawn to art.

In his early years, he worked and trained alongside his uncle Memonis Silva, himself a master painter, and once accomplished himself, he began painting murals in Buddhist temples.

The monks and devotees who saw mhis agnificent style decided to call him in to paint the Kelaniya Vihāra. In order to increase his skills Mendis first visited India to study the works of Ajanta Caves, Ellora Caves, Bagh Caves and Sarnath.

This inspired him to mingle the techniques of Indian Buddhist art with the traditions of Sinhalese classical art, eschewing the then prevalent European traditions. At around the age of 30, he undertook a twenty-year project to complete the Kelaniya Vihāra murals.

Text based on Wikipedia (retrieved, July 14th 2015)



use j/k or left/right arrow
to navigate through the photos below

Solias Mendis Murals in Side Room


Main Buddha Statue
(backdrop painting by Karl Kassman)



Solias Mendis Murals in Back Rooms



Solias Mendis Pattern Work on Ceilings


Mural Magic by Upali Salgado (from Vesak Lipi)

He looked a simple villager from Madampe, like just another Appuhamy or Heen Banda with traditional hair knot (Konde). When Dr. Marianze, the world famous Art Conservator sent to Ceylon by UNESCO (to help preserve the Sigiri Frescoes that had been damaged by vandals in 1968) was introduced to Walimuni Solias Mendis by Dr. Raja de Silva, (our one time Archaeological Commissioner) Mendis and Dr. Marianze just gazed at each other in wonderment. There was stoic silence and the two, the simple villager and the world renowned Art Conservator smiled. No doubt that moment recorded a rare greeting.

It was a communication gap that separated the two, because Solias Mendis knew no English nor Italian. He spoke only an age old Aryan dialect Sinhala. Dr. Marianze was amazed at the simplicity the maestro displayed, but he knew they both had one thing in common - Temple Murals. And talking of Temple Murals, undoubtedly Solias Mendis was acknowledged to be in modern times the “Painter of Painters, the maestro incomparable.” It is said that, he was a genius inspired by the Hindu Goddess Saraswathie, the venerated icon of Art.

When the Venerable Madampe Sugatissa Mahā Thera of the Wherahena Temple, Nattandiya took under his devoted care his nephew Solias Mendis, little did he realize that the playful lad, who displayed no keenness to learn the age old Pali language and Buddhist suttas to be considered fit for Ordination as a Buddhist monk, would some day be a renowned master of mural painting. At the age of fourteen he showed extraordinary prowess as an artist. His liking for the subject made him abandon his parents’ desire that he be ordained a Bhikku (Buddhist monk).

At the Sumera Kusumaramaya Temple, Nattandiya, the young lad’s imagination ran riot, when he painted (still to be seen) alongside Gotama Buddha, a large Railway locomotive, steaming away with a train of coaches or carriages. Perhaps, in accordance with his imagination, it was a journey to Nirvana (the bliss of heaven). The Railway was unknown during the Buddha’s time! Obviously, the boy was fascinated with the Railway system - the “Yakada Yaka” (“the iron Devīl”) as it was first known to the unsophisticated Ceylonese villager. When Solias Mendis was a little older, he worked as a junior artist under his Uncle Monis Silva, himself a “Master” in the field of that time.

At the time a new Vihārage was being built at the Kelaniya Raja Mahā Vihāra. The great benefactress who was herself a devout Buddhist, Helena Wijewardene of the Sedawatte Walauwe, sought the assistance of Solias Mendis who had earned a name as a talented artist of untainted character, to execute the required wall paintings.

He began his work, determined to abandon the vivid shades that had been in vogue, used by M. Sarlis. He introduced to Kelaniya the style of Ravi Varma, which is associated with the Bengali renaissance of art, and much attention was given to detail of facial expression. Even the wrinkles seen on the forehead made the faces look real.

These inspired creations were clothed in a mixture of soft shades, giving flashes of a little orange with a tinge of lemon and red where necessary, to provide life and contrast as well. The paint he made himself from boiling an unorthodox concoction of herbs and roots and bark of trees found in certain parts of the island, had for its base a white clay, often moistened. He also added certain unknown ingredients to act as preservatives of colour.

When painting, the Architecture of buildings, costumes and furniture, appear to be authentic and indigenous. He stood on scaffoldings for nineteen long years to paint all that we see, but one day he left the Kelaniya Temple never to return there, a heart broken man without completing the painting in the main Buduge. The Gods had decreed that it had to be so, and differences of opinion were aired.

It was left to the Russian born, Karl Kassman to complete the paintings in the Centre room with a backdrop of the Himalayas, to give an impression that the Buddha was looking down with compassion, on humanity from a great height.

Having lived in a Buddhist temple atmosphere, Solias knew of the teachings of the Great Blessed One, the Master of all, and when in the evening of his life, he was inspired by the Sivi Jātaka. With such a stimulation, he donated to Dr. G.P. Malalasekera, President of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress, all his meagre savings and two acres of land with the request that the ACBC build and maintain a Home for the Blind at Ihala Mahawewa. A question often posed is why did he want to set up a Home for the Blind? The Buddhist Jātaka story states that the Buddha as a Bodhisatva, took the form of a blind beggar and appeared before King Siviraja, who then with great joy, plucked off his eyes and donated them to the blind beggar. Solias Mendis knew that his own beautiful paintings at Kelaniya, would never be enjoyed by the blind. So to make amends he gave to the blind all the wealth that he possessed. The Siviraja Home for the Blind was founded and what greater joy would he have had than on that occasion.

The saga of this simple villager ended on September 1, 1975, uncelebrated as he was. He received no National Honours, no funeral orations. At his simple funeral, there were the muzzled drums and a Pansakula, with a vast gathering of Buddhists of the area in attendance. Ceylon had lost in him a national treasure.


Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

About this Website

Creative Commons License
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License