Anuradhapura. The Thúpáráma Dágoba. View from the south-east. This Dágoba was built by King Déwánpiya Tissa, about 300 years before the Christian era, to enshrine the right collar-bone of Buddha. It is the oldest point of antiquity, and is always approached by the numerous pilgrims who visit the spot with the greatest possible awe and veneration. The Dágoba is constructed of stone and brick to the height of 63 feet, and has a diameter, at the base, of 59 feet. It is surrounded by 128 particularly graceful columns, arranged in three rows; those in the first row nearest the Dágoba being 52 in number and 20 feet 3 inches high from the surface of pavement, up to the capitals in the second row, 36 in number, and 19 feet 6 inches high, and in the outer row 40 in number and 17 feet 6 inches high- all the shafts being monoliths.; The Thúpáráma Dágoba at Anuradhapura: view from the south-east.
- Place of origin:
Sri Lanka (photographed)
Lawton, Joseph (photographer)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
The Thuparama Dagoba is the oldest dagoba in Sri Lanka and is said to house the right collar-bone of the Buddha. Built by King Devanampiya in the late 3rd century BC. The bell-shaped structure seen today is due to renovation work completed in 1862.
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.
The remains of the Thúpáráma Dágoba, consisting of a dome-like structure with a tall ridged spire. Steps lead up to the structure and on either side of them are stone reliefs depicting deities. Columns with ornately carved capitals surround the dagoba as do several tall palm trees. Standing at the top of the steps is a South Asian man wearing indigenous dress. The foreground is an expanse of grass and there are trees and shrubs in the background.
Place of Origin
Sri Lanka (photographed)
Lawton, Joseph (photographer)
Materials and Techniques
Marks and inscriptions
Width: 274 mm photographic print, Height: 214 mm photographic print, Width: 324 mm mount, Height: 254 mm mount
Object history note
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. In the top right hand corner is a label which reads: A.in.ANURADHAPURA. 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. '36 cms fcap 4th' is written on the label in pencil and 'style' is written in ink. The top of the mount is embossed with the National Art Library seal, with the words 'LIBRARY/ VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM'.
Historical significance: The Thuparama Dagoba is the oldest dagoba in Sri Lanka and is said to house the right collar-bone of the Buddha. Built by King Devanampiya in the late 3rd century BC, the 19m high structure was originally in the shape of a ‘paddy heap’. The bell shaped structure seen today dates to renovation work completed in 1862. It is surrounded by concentric circles of granite monolithic pillars and the remains of a vatadage (a mostly wooden construction covering a dagoba). The vatadage was added in the 7th century and may have supported an over-arching thatched cover. It continues to be a centre of active pilgrimage.
Anuradhapura was one of the first centres of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and is the home of some of the most sacred Buddhist sites in the world. It is situated in the North West province, about 200km from Colombo. Anuradhapura was established as Sri Lanka’s first capital in 377 BC by King Pandukhabhaya (437-367 BC), who named it after the constellation Anuradha. He started the complex irrigation works on which it depended and King Devanampiya Tissa, who reigned 250-10 BC, began the first stage of religious building. This building project included the Thuparama Dagoba, Issurumuniyagala, the Maha Vihara, the Sri Maha Bodhi and the Brazen Palace. A branch of the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha was believed to have gained Enlightenment was brought from Bodhgaya in India and successfully transplanted.
Anuradhapura remained the capital city until the 9th century when repeated invasions from south India resulted in the deterioration of its architectural structures and the virtual disuse of its irrigation works. After the 13th century, its political functions were taken over first by Polonnaruwa and then by capitals to the south. In the 1820s Ralph Backhaus, a young British civil servant, mounted a private expedition to search for the remains of the city. Despite widespread public interest in his findings, archaeological research, excavation and restoration were not begun until 1872. The New Town was started in the 1950s and is now the most important Sinhalese city of the north. It currently houses the headquarters of the Sri Lanka Archaeological Survey. In 1988, it was designated a World Heritage Site.
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 the Thuparama Dagoba at Anuradhapura, 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.
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; Sri Lanka; Archaeological sites