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Photograph - Mihintale- Newly discovered ruins of a stone-built structure and other remains on the south side of the Kaludiya-pokuna.
  • Mihintale- Newly discovered ruins of a stone-built structure and other remains on the south side of the Kaludiya-pokuna.
    Lawton, Joseph
  • Enlarge image

Mihintale- Newly discovered ruins of a stone-built structure and other remains on the south side of the Kaludiya-pokuna.

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Sri Lanka (photographed)

  • Date:

    1870s (photographed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Lawton, Joseph (photographer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Albumen print

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This photograph shows the ruins near the Kaludiya pokuna, or ‘black water pool'. This is the largest of several ponds located at the foot of the western slopes in Mihintale. The ruins are of buildings used by monks as monasteries and as residential cells.

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.

Physical description

A stone structure consisting of two sets of posts and lintels as well as stone slabs is set onto a graduated carved base in the middle distance. The ground level of the structure is raised and the top is covered by stone slabs earth. It is set into a hillside and tree roots spread down over the structure. In the foreground pillars stand at an angle and two sets of steps, part of other structures, are on the left. The area is surrounded by trees and numerous remains of smaller structures and sculptural pieces are scattered about.

Place of Origin

Sri Lanka (photographed)


1870s (photographed)


Lawton, Joseph (photographer)

Materials and Techniques

Albumen print


Width: 276 mm photographic print, Height: 216 mm photographic print, Width: 330 mm mount, Height: 265 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. A label printed with title is pasted underneath the photograph. 'Mihintale' is handwritten on the bottom left hand corner of the mount. The museum number is written in the bottom right hand corner.

Historical significance: Kaludiya pokuna, or ‘black water pool’, is the largest of the ponds located at the foot of the western slopes in Mihintale. Its complex structure represents just one example of the many advanced hydraulic tanks in the area. The pond is surrounded by remains of a ‘poya ge’, the building where monks met at regular intervals to perform rituals, ‘cankamana patha’, a promenade, parivena and pasada, residential cells, janta ghara, a bath house and vacca kutti, a lavatory. This photograph pictures remains of surrounding structures such as these.

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.

Descriptive line

Photograph of ruins near the Kaludiya Pokuna (Black water pool) at Mihintale, Sri Lanka, by Joseph Lawton,albumen print, 1870-1.

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.

Production Note

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.


Albumen process

Subjects depicted

Archaeological sites


Photographs; Archaeology


South & South East Asia Collection

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