JANUARY 2021

Kandyan Temple Entertainers

One of the objects from The Jeweled Isle at LACMA, Los Angeles, was a painted tile depicting Kandyan temple entertainers. The exhibition was loosely organised around three chronological sections that examine the major capitals of Sri Lankan history: (3rd century BC through the 10th century), Polonaruwa (11th–13th century), and (15th–19th century).

Together, these sections addressed themes such as the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka, Buddhism’s accommodation of indigenous deities and beliefs, the interaction between Hinduism and Buddhism, and the connection of Sri Lankan kingship to the possession of Shakyamuni Buddha’s Tooth Relic, which remains the most venerated object in Sri Lanka. Various sub-sections of the exhibition addressed multiple, often interrelated, facets of Sri Lankan art including the relationship between Indian and Sri Lankan culture and visual forms; Portuguese and Dutch mercantile expansion on the island; the establishment of British colonial power; the development of Sri Lankan decorative traditions; the richness of Sri Lankan courtly arts; and the legacy of Sri Lanka in the modern day.
This tile shows a group of entertainers, probably illustrating participants when the Tooth Relic, moving through the streets of Kandy in the annual procession of the Kandy Esala Perahera. The relic (represented by the relic casket, as the tooth itself is kept inside the temple) is carried on an elaborately caparisoned elephant in a slow and solemn parade that is punctuated by numerous groups of musicians playing drums and blowing horns, resulting in a cacophony of sound that reverberates through the hills surrounding Kandy during the many hours of the evening parade.