Not currently on display at the V&A

Mihintale. The Nága Pokuna, the five-headed Cobra, carved on the face of the Rock. It measures 6 feet across the Hood, and stands nearly 7 feet out of the water.

Photograph
1870s (photographed)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Naga pokuna, literarily translated ‘cobra pond’ takes its name from the five hooded cobra cut in low relief on the rock surface above the pool. It is one of the main sources of natural water at Mihintale and is situated on an elevated plateau on the side of a hill.

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.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Additional TitleThe Five-headed Cobra of the Naga pokuna (pond) at Mihintale. (generic title)
Materials and Techniques
Albumen print
Brief Description
Photograph of the Five-headed Cobra of the Naga pokuna (pond) at Mihintale, Sri Lanka, by Joseph Lawton, albumen print, 1870-1.
Physical Description
A relief sculpture of a five-headed cobra is carved into a rock face. The tail of the cobra is cut of half way by a pool of water with plant matter on the surface.
Dimensions
  • Photographic print width: 140mm
  • Photographic print height: 200mm
  • Mount width: 260mm
  • Mount height: 325mm
Marks and Inscriptions
LAWTON/ No. 210 (Written on negative and appears in bottom left corner of print)
Object history
This photograph was one of a set given to the museum by Mrs Moberley. Her late husband George Moberley, had collected them while in India and Ceylon during the1860-70s. See Registry file MA/1/M2393



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 the title is pasted on the back of the mount and the museum number is handwritten in the bottom right hand corner. The top of the mount is embossed with the National Art Library seal, with the words 'LIBRARY/ VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM'.



Historical significance: Naga pokuna, literarily translated ‘cobra pond’ takes its name from the five hooded cobra cut in low relief on the rock surface above the 40m pool. It is one of the main sources of natural water at Mihintale and is situated on an elevated plateau on the side of a hill. Naga pokuna provided the water required for bathing at the Sinha pokuna, an open air bath which was probably used by the monks who were living in nearby caves. At one end is a small tank (now empty) which stored water for the monastery.



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
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.
Production
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.
Subject depicted
Place Depicted
Summary
Naga pokuna, literarily translated ‘cobra pond’ takes its name from the five hooded cobra cut in low relief on the rock surface above the pool. It is one of the main sources of natural water at Mihintale and is situated on an elevated plateau on the side of a hill.



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.
Bibliographic References
  • 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.
Other Number
210 - Negative number
Collection
Accession Number
2290-1912

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record createdMarch 12, 2008
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