If you are looking for ancient art in Polonnaruwa I suggest you take a drive to the Tivanka Pilimage the Tivanka Image House. or the Northern Temple of H.C.P.Bell.
It is the sole surviving example of an ancient building that retains considerable traces of wall paintings in their original form. Even though they are faded and looking somewhat forlorn in their present crumbling atmosphere. they will not disappoint you.
What I like is that there is enough art left on the walls to provide you with an idea of what a painted interior of an ancient image house looked like. This is the reason I would always start my sightseeing in Polonnaruwa at the Tivanka Pilimage.
Art scholars say that here we are able not only to distinguish the subject matter and distribution of the murals but we are able to observe some excellent examples of the late classic style, as well as other stylistic trends of the 12th and 13th centuries.
There is some debate about the dating of these paintings. Some believe that although the Tivanka Pilimage was built by King Parakramabahu I it is possible that King Parakramabahu II in his attempts at renovations painted fresh murals over the existing old ones.
This theory is supported by archeologists who have discovered evidence of two layers of plaster containing paintings belonging to two periods.
As we enter the shrine, and proceed inwards are jataka stories including Asankha, Sasa, Vidhura, Cullapaduma and Maitribala, Temiya, Maha Susassana. Here also included scenes from Mahamaya’s dream and the Kalagola story from the Ummagga Jatakaya. Just below Mahamaya’s dream appears a group of females in a garden. The sanctum includes a painting of the Buddha seated on a jeweled padmasana in the teaching attitude. Another scene pictures how the Buddha descended at Sankissa from the Tavatimasa heaven after preaching to the gods.
Art scholars have recognized that there is a distinct difference in quality, style, and even the subjects of the murals found in the outer chambers and the inner chambers of the Tivanka image house. The murals at the entrance are sketchier and illustrative.
The inner paintings in contrast are carefully painted. Again the paintings in the outer chambers show the Bodhisattva in his previous births, living in the world of men while the themes pictured in the inner chambers in large panels portray the Buddha in the milieu of the gods.
Art scholars have concluded that elegance, elaboration, and grandeur are the dominant qualities of the murals of the inner chambers. It has been said that the baroque exuberance pervading these murals and the monumental proportions of the divine personages depicted there are perfectly in keeping with the grand dimensions and the ostentatious embellishments one encounters in the art and sculpture of Polonnaruwa.
The art of Polonnaruwa is an art of the elite, classic in its tenor and dignified in its form. The graceful expressions on the faces of the gods the dramatic poses in which their bodies have been cast and the delicate fingers held in equally dramatic mudras are all elements of this idiom which speaks clearly of a sophisticated social milieu.
Jolly Dwarfs, Spirited Lions, and Grandiose Vimanas
The figures of dwarf sculptures will never fail to catch the eye of the lover of ancient buildings. And there is no better place to enjoy them than at the Tivanka Pilimage or Tivanka image house of Polonnaruwa.
H.C.P. Bell perhaps the first to study them wrote that so crowded together are these merry little persons in their pradakshina circumambulation of a building from left to right that as many as two hundred and fifty upwards once joined the gay throng that goes laughing along the foot of the temple.
For it would be hard to find a more jovial band, male and female, jostling one another jesting and sporting the while, with all the exuberant good-natured conviviality which makes crowds on pleasure bent.
Professor Paranavitana says that the ever-varied attitudes of these Ganas are worthy of attentive study; they forcibly illustrate the breadth, power, and wondrous skill of the potter’s hand which could fashion this engrossing procession of life-like figurines – these jolly figurines bursting with full joy of life.
Martin Wickramasinghe enjoying their presence was of the opinion that the sculptor’s humor and joy of life had to be inhibited in making of statues of the Buddha and of other gods in austere moods but in carving the dwarf figures they availed themselves of an outlet and seized an opportunity to express their suppressed feelings even boisterous and sometimes riotously spiriting the gana figures with the joy of life and the exuberant conviviality of pleasure-loving men and women.
As I examined these delightful little fellows with such comments ringing in my ears, I could have found no other naughtier parade doing their best to distract you and demanding your undiluted attention. Their merriment. their passion. sensuality and sexuality were overwhelming.
And yet this is not all that the sculptors of the Tivank pilimage have to offer you. At the base of the edifice is a frieze of spirited lions and in-between a series of vimans or miniature presentments of shrines all of which are well worthy of equal attention.
Tivanka Pilimage is identified as the image house of the Jetavanama and can be reached by traveling on the road north from near the Gal Vihara. Built by King Parakramabahu its main image is a standing Buddha in the tivanka or thrice bent position. hence its name.
Daily Mirror, September 26, 2005
Driving Directions to Polonnaruwa Sacred City