Sri Lanka, then known as Lankadipa was one of first countries to embrace Buddhism in its original form (Theravada) from the Mahinda, the envoy of King Asoka in 3rd century BC. The earliest images of Buddha in the form of sculpture were of Greco-Buddhist origin in the regions of Taxila presently in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The earliest extant Buddhist sculptures of Buddha in Sri Lanka were in the 5th century AD. Before this time Buddha was not represented by his image as was his wish, only through reliquary such as his feet, footwear and dagobas. Later from 5th century onwards during the Anuradhapura period Buddha’s images were started to be produced in gold, bronze copper and other materials including ivory and stone from the 5th century AD on wards to the Kandyan and modern periods.
The early portable images of Buddha are made very scarce due to the fact that invasions mainly from South India may have interfered with the preservation of . Most of the oldest extant Buddha images across Sri Lanka are mainly of stone and are huge enough not to be transported or destroyed by usurpers, invaders or rogues.
The birth of colonial era in the 16th century saw the pilfering and destruction of many Buddhist elements and images. Today off and on we see Buddhist images of antiquity emerging from countries that once ruled Ceylon. It is not entirely unexpected to come across an old sculpture in a flea market in France, England or Germany as a colonial vestige.
Quite rightly and at last Sri Lanka has brought its laws to prevent the outflow of these valuable heritage that complements its history. However the value of this heritage is seen by the rarity of Buddha sculptures hence its extraordinary high prices in the international markets.
Standing Kandyan Buddha with his right hand in Vitaka mudra and left arm in lolahasta, carved from wood and magnificently painted on colours. The statue bears all the traditional features of Buddhist sculpture from Sri Lanka (former Ceylon). Ca 18th century. Standing on circular base wearing monastic robes (utterasangha) the shawl (sanghatta) in red, torso in yellow, and curly black hair crowned by sirispata or the flame ornament this religious art object represents an ultimate piece in Sri Lankan Buddhist art.