Mihintale- The Ambastala Dágoba. This Dágoba was erected over the ashes of the great missionary Mahindo, who came to Ceylon B.C. 307, and died in the year 267 B.C. It also marks the spot where he appeared in the form of an elk to King Déwánpiya Tissa, and converted that monarch to Buddhism. It is built of brick, plastered with chunam, and measures 23 feet in diameter at the springing of the bell. Fifty-two columns in two rows surround the Dágoba; those in the inner circle numbering twenty, and in the outer circle thirty-two. The shafts are 12 feet high from pavement, and are finished with carved capitals.
- Place of origin:
Sri Lanka (photographed)
Lawton, Joseph (photographer)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
The Ambastala stupa or dagoba was erected betweeb 150-300 AD, over the ashes of Mahinda, Emperor Asoka’s son who introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka. It marks the spot where his conversion of King Devanampiyatissa took place.
Joseph Lawton (died 1872), a British commercial photographer, was active in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) between 1866 and 1872. Though he was initially employed by the firm HC Bryde, by the mid 1860s he had established his own studio in Kandy. Lawton was commissioned by the Archaeological Committee to photograph the main archaeological sites in Sri Lanka. He created a unique series of aesthetically powerful images of Anuradhapura, Mihintale, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya.
Official photographic surveys conducted by Lawton and others documented the architecture and facilitated antiquarian scholarship. However, as a commercial photographer, Lawton made sure that his photographs were not merely documentary. His images were taken to appeal to tourists and overseas buyers seeking picturesque views of ancient ruins overgrown with creepers and gnarled trees.
A large dome-like structure (the dagoba) rests at the top of a brick platform to which steps lead. Columns, some with intricately carved capitals, encircle the dagoba and the whole of the structure is surrounded by trees. Two male figures stand in front of the dagoba at the top of the steps. Atop the carved stone table, which is positioned in front of the figure on the left, is a carved stone head of a deity.
Place of Origin
Sri Lanka (photographed)
Lawton, Joseph (photographer)
Materials and Techniques
Marks and inscriptions
Written on negative and appears in bottom right corner of print. The 'L' of LAWTON has been trimmed off.
Width: 275 mm photographic print, Height: 218 mm photographic print, Width: 266 mm mount, Height: 328 mm mount
Object history note
This photograph was one of a set purchased by the museum from Lawton and Co. in 1882. See Photograph Register 81259-86096, Modern Volume, 13.
The register entry is dated to 24.4.82, and the cost is noted as £16.43.4
The photograph was initially part of the photographic collection held in the National Art Library. The markings on the mount are an indication of the history of the object, its movement through the museum and the way in which it is categorised.
The mount is white. On the right hand side is a label which reads: A.in.MIHINTALE and beneath it is written 'Duplicate of 22' though the rest of the number appears to be cut off. It apparently refers to another photograph from this series, acquired in 1912. A label printed with title is pasted underneath the photograph. The title is handwritten on the bottom left hand corner of the mount. The museum number is written in the bottom right hand corner.
Historical significance: The Ambastala Dágoba, or ‘mango tree’ dagoba, is located in the ‘sacred centre’ of Mihintale. It is the holiest part of the site and was built on the location traditionally regarded as the meeting place of King Déwánpiya Tissa and the monk Mahinda, who brought Buddhism from India to Sri Lanka. Today, a large white statue of Buddha stands on a rock overlooking the ‘sacred centre’, erected in 1991 from the donations of pilgrims.
Only eleven miles east of Anuradhapura, Mihintale is one of the first homes of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and features some of the country’s most sacred Buddhist sites. It was in Mihintale that King Devanampiya Tissa received the Emperor Asoka’s son Mahinda, a Buddhist monk from India, who converted him and 40,000 followers to Buddhism in 243 BC. Popularly referred to as Mahinda’s Hill, Mihintale is revered as the place where the meeting between the monk and king took place. Many Buddhists make a pilgrimage to the site during June, the month of ‘Poson’ or the full moon. Large steps, surviving from ancient building programmes, were constructed to climb Mihintale and King Devanampiyatissa constructed a Buddhist vihara (a refuge monastery for wandering monks) and sixty-eight caves for them to reside in. With the exception of June, Mihintale is now a quiet town which is primarily a junction and a stop on the way to Anuradhapura.
Historical context note
This is one of a series of photographs taken by Lawton of the archaeological sites of Anuradhapura, Mihintale, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya (1870-71). This series was commissioned by the Archaeological Committee (set up by the Governor of Ceylon in 1868) and became his signature work. Photographic surveys, conducted by Lawton and competitors such as the more prolific commercial firm WLH Skeen and Co., coincided with antiquarian scholarship that emerged as a result of the deforestation necessary to lay roadways, railways and plantations in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This process was propelled by an expansion of both the export and tourist economies. A colleague of Lawton's proposed that his involvement in the physical labour of clearing the archaeological sites that he photographed contributed to his death. After Lawton's death, many prints were produced by the firm for the tourist market, however, the original negatives were sold to a variety of different clients and are now considered to be lost.
Photograph of Mihintale, Sri Lanka, by Joseph Lawton, 1870s.
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Regeneration: A Reappraisal of Photography in Ceylon, 1850-1900. London: British Council, 2000. ISBN 086355444X
Falconer, John. Pattern of photographic surveys: Joseph Lawton in Ceylon. In: Pelizzari, Maria Antonella. ed. Traces of India: Photography, Architecture, and the Politics of Representation, 1850-1900. Montréal: Canadian Centre for Architecture, 2003. 156-173p., ISBN 0920785743.
Labels and date
The Ambastala Dagoba
By Joseph Lawton (died 1872)
The Ambastala stupa or dagoba was erected over the ashes of Mahinda, Emperor Asoka’s son who introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka. It marks the spot where his conversion of King Devanampiyatissa took place. The positioning of two Buddhist monks in front of the dagoba emphasises the sacred nature of the site.
Albumen print, 1870–1
Museum no. 82,743 [28/04 - 21/06/2009]
Likely printed between 1872 and 1882
Attribution note: This is one of a series of photographs taken by Lawton of the archaeological sites of Anuradhapura, Mihintale, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya (1870-71), commissioned by the Archaeological Committee which the Governor of Ceylon set up in 1868. Two sets of these photographs were produced by Lawton: one which remained in Sri Lanka (now in such poor condition it is considered to be unusable) and a second which was sent to the Colonial Office in London (first kept in the Library of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and now in The National Archives). After Lawton's death in 1872, further images were produced by the firm under the supervision of his wife and sold largely to a tourist market. Reprints of this particular photograph appear in an album currently held in the Word and Image Department (PH.1202:85-1920) as well as in the Scott Collection (92/16/3) within the India Office Select Materials of the British Library.
Buddhism; Archaeological sites
South & South East Asia Collection