ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 43

A collector’s passion

By Dhananjani Silva

He is a Roman Catholic, yet acknowledges the power of Lord Buddha. He tells us that he believes in Buddhism and that he has immense reverence towards the Buddha.

Ashley Gunawardena is in possession of a portrait of Lord Buddha which he claims is quite ‘unusual’ as it radiates a white light and shines at nights. The rays spread out brightening the leaves of the sacred Bo tree and the image of the Buddha, reflecting much light in the background.

The picture of the Buddha

On hearing about this unique work of art, his friends, relatives and those in and around his neighbourhood flocked to his Dehiwela home to see the painting.

“They were quite surprised by this unusual portrait and most of them asked if I could sell it to them. But I don’t want to sell a religious painting. This was even shown to a Buddhist monk in a nearby temple who said, ‘Mahaththaya mata meka eka dawasakata hari denna!’, he says.

According to Ashley, his great grandfather G.E.C. Pullennayagam who was in possession of King Rajasinghe’s prestigious ‘kastan’ sword donated it to the Museum in 1959. “When I went to the museum recently, the sword was not to be seen. I inquired from the curator and was told that it had been kept in the stores. But something like King Rajasinghe’s sword should not be kept in the stores like that,” he says.

He wants to ensure that this image of Lord Buddha is donated in a proper way so that it will be kept in a safer place.

‘St. Veronica’s handkerchief’

“Ours is a Buddhist country. Something like this which is very unusual should be exhibited in a place where all Buddhists can have access to it. My idea is to hand this over to the Museum through the President because if kept in the Museum it’ll last for generations,” he says.

Working for a tea exporting company, Ashley has a passion for antiques, souvenirs and paintings. “My pastime is searching for them. This portrait of Lord Buddha is something which I got from a book collector ten years back while I was looking for ancient paintings. He told me about the unique quality of this picture and presented it to me free of charge,” Ashley says.

Ashley Gunawardena:In search of past glories

Among his collection of paintings is a copy of a celebrated painting by Austrian artist Gabriel Max, of St. Veronica’s handkerchief which has the face of Christ with a crown of thorns. “A remarkable feature of this portrait is that the eyes of Jesus Christ open when you look at it for some time,” he says.

With his passion for antiques and memorabilia, Ashley has in his collection, paintings of George Keyt, Donald Ranasinghe and sketches by Laki Senanayake, a souvenir t-shirt of Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar given to him when Tendulkar came to Sri Lanka in 1993 and the souvenir which was authenticated by all the members of the first West Indies cricket team to arrive in Sri Lanka.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.