concludes series on Buddhist temple paintingsNew
look murals at Gotami Vihara
While Soliyas Mendis painted the murals at Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara
between the years 1932-1946, another distinguished painter started
relating the life of the Buddha in his own style in a temple in
Borella. The painter was George Keyt and the temple was Gotami Vihara.
After the paintings were done in 1939-1940, Gotami Vihara became
a famous temple in the capital of Colombo.
has been acknowledged as Sri Lanka’s most renowned and celebrated
modern painter. Born in Kandy on 17 April,1902, he developed an
interest in art, literature and music while schooling at Trinity
College. Living close to the Malwatte Vihara, he got interested
in Buddhism when he was in his twenties and embraced Buddhism. His
earliest paintings done in the late 1920s, were close observations
of nature. These included Udawattakele, the lush forest reserve
in Kandy and Sangharaja Pirivena, a prominent temple in Kandy.
murals at Gotami Vihara were a landmark in his career. He was guided
in the task by scholar monk Telwatte Amarawansa Nayaka Thera. It
was not a difficult task for Keyt to work with him because of his
close association with monks of the Malwatte Vihara. An architect
by the name of Andrew Boyd had done the walls for the murals to
It is said
that Keyt did not do any sketches before doing the murals. He had
outlined the walls with burnt sienna (a fine orange-red pigment
used in oil and water colour painting) and later added colours to
the line drawings at the request of the Nayaka Thera. The lines
had also been thickened.
The murals trace
the entire life of the Buddha from the time the Bodhisatva was invited
by the gods to be born in the human world right up to the passing
away, in a unique style typical of artist Keyt. These depict the
invitation by the gods, the dream of Queen Mahamaya showing a white
elephant hovering round her, the birth of Prince Siddhartha, the
‘vap magul’ (ploughing) ceremony, his skills in archery,
marriage ceremony, married life with Princess Yasodara, pleasures
in the palace with girls dancing, his disgust with worldly life,
the four omens which prompted the Prince to leave the palace, the
great renunciation, crossing the river Anoma with Channa on Kanthaka’s
back, donning the robes, Enlightenment and incidents in Buddha’s
Each mural is
six feet three inches high and they cover the walls of the simple
‘budu-ge’. Each episode merges with the other just as
the mass composition of the grand old masters of the famous Ajanta
caves in India or Polonnaruwa. Three years after completing the
Gotami Vihara murals, Keyt was one of the founder members of the
newly formed ’43 Group, a band of reputed young artists.
to live in Kandy in between going to India, which he considered
as his spiritual home. Beginning in the 1920s, Keyt held over thirty
exhibitions before his death on 31 July 1993. He was honoured with
the release of a stamp on 24 April 2001 to mark his birth centenary.
It depicted the Keyt painting-Hansa Jataka, done in 1952 and now
hanging in the Presidential Secretariat.