The Aesthetic wisdom of Ceylon artist -“Sandakada Pahana” (The moonstone)

Ceylon is a small island with a large number of cultural and natural heritage. Ancestors of this country have innovated breath-taking aesthetic creations in various fields. As a pioneer “Theravada” Buddhist country, most of these wonders are combined with the temples. However, these cultural heritages reflect not only the creativity but also the spiritual development of ancient artists. 

Sandakada Pahana – The moonstone

Elegant stone-craft

When you hear the name of “moonstone” you will remember a pearl color gemstone. But if you have visited a temple, you might notice an eye-catching half-circle stone-craft which is placed as the carpet of the staircase. This beautiful creation is known as “Sandakada Pahana” or “Chandra Kantha Pashana” (the moonstone) since it appears as the half of the moon. With the time, the shape of this elegant stone-craft had been changed from rectangle to half-circle to triangle. The ideal “Sandakada Pahana” in the Anuradhapura era can be seen at “Bisomaligawa” or  Queen’s palace in the Abhayagiri monastery. 

Sandakada Pahana Tells Us

The never-ending “Sansara”(the circle of rebirth)

According to Prof. Senerath Paranavithana who pioneering archeologist and epigraphist of Sri Lanka, this creation indicates the spiritually developed Buddhist. If you examine this art-piece carefully, you will see several rings with different graceful motifs.


The outermost ring composes of flames and it indicates the painful burnings of the never-ending “Sansara”(the circle of rebirth). In Buddhism, there are eleven types of fires that all the living being has to experience within their lifetime. Four fears (“Jathi”-birth, “Jara”-deteriorating or getting old, “Wyadhi” – getting sickness, “Marana”-death) that teach in Buddhism is shown by the next ring as elephant, horse, lion, and bull respectively. Third ring from the outermost ring, you will see a heavy worked floral design, “Liyawel”. That means ‘strong desire or greed to keep something with ourselves’ or “Thanha” and according to the words of Lord Buddha, it is the reason for reincarnation. 

After this ring, you will see the ring of swans as the fourth ring that indicates the wise people who can understand the reality of this world. Swans can extract milk from the milk-water mixture; therefore, in Buddhist literature, the swan is a powerful symbol to show the one who is choosing the correct thing from the other things wisely. Again there is a ring of “Liyawel” that is not much detailed. The person who truly understands the reality of this world does not have any desire to reincarnate. Hence, that person has not “Thanha” anymore and our ancient artist has creatively shown it by a simple floral design. The lotus is another popular symbol in Buddhist culture to express the purity and “Nibbana” or cut-off all the reasons (“Thanha”)  for reincarnation is the utter expectation of the Buddhist. This noble concept is shown by the sixth ring of the moon-stone by the half lotus. 

The moonstone of “Biso Maligawa” - Anuradhapura era
Figure 1: The moonstone of “Biso Maligawa” – Anuradhapura era

Moonstone at Polonnaruwa

Epoch presents at “Vatadageya”

The Anuradhapura Kingdom had moved into the Polonnaruwa, after the Indian invasion. Due to the Hindu influence, the bull and lion have removed from this master-piece as they are the most sacred animals in the Hindu religion. Hindus believe that sacred bull; “Nandi” is the vehicle of the Lord-Shiva, while the lion is the vehicle of goddess Parvathi (the wife of Lord-Shiva). In contrast to the moon-stone of the Anuradhapura era, the ring of swans can be seen after the outermost fire ring. Also, there are separate rings that consist of elephants and horses as 3rd and 4th rings respectively. There is only one large floral ring that can be observed before the lotus motif. The best moon-stone of the Polonnaruwa epoch presents at “Vatadageya”.

The moonstone of “Vatadageya”
Figure 2: The Moonstone of “Vatadageya”

Moonstone at Kandy

Moonstone of the temple of Sacred Tooth-relic

As the last kingdom of Sinhala monarchy, Kandian artists built-up a unique method to express their creativity. Therefore, you may find a triangular-shaped moon-stone without any traditional animals who present in Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa eras. But the lotus is fully bloomed, while it is covered by a large floral design that coming out of the mouth of two dragon-like heads.

The moonstone of the temple of sacred tooth-relic
Figure 3: The Moonstone of the temple of Sacred Tooth-relic at Kandy

If you are willing to visit this wonderland, you can observe breath-taking artworks, in every square foot of the heritage. Because this mesmerizing island enriches with plenty of meaningful creations and amazing art masterpieces enhances the shine of pearl of the Indian Ocean.

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