From the Jacket
Little attention has hitherto been given t the role of timber construction in Sri Lanka's ancient architecture, and its photo-coverage has not until now appeared in one place. The buildings described here are mostly close to folk architecture but they comprise an important part of the ancient building tradition of Monsoon Asia-an immense area that includes parts of India, Nepal, Burma, Bal, and Japan, as well as Sri Lanka itself. Buddhist Monastic Architecture in Sri Lanka makes a permanent contribution to South Asian studies.
The authors search out the ancient picturesque temples in the central hills. Guided by the well-known scholar, Professor Seneviratna, the book centres on colour photographs taken by architect Polk during an eight month sojourn in 1980-81. Both archaeological and architectural expertise thus combine, and added to this is the research into the writings of early travellers, researched by Emily Polk, poet and painter, who has put the threads of history of those adventurous days into a dramatic form.
This collaboration is the result of their common interest in the ancient architecture of South Asia, and is written hoping that continuities from past to future may be maintained in these troubled present times.
In Sri Lanka there are forests where modern ways have not overwhelmed tradition and where the old wood buildings tradition and where the old wood buildings still flicker in the magic of the trees. Here is the drama of the land and its people: the stream of pure notes from an invisible flautist, the first glimpse of Adam's Peak, the romantic narrative of the Sacred Tooth kept secret for 900 years before emerging in Serendib. And then Kandy, where "high on the island the winds from the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean are on a collision course and the sensation of colours, movement and light is electrifying." So, we believe, is this book.
About the Author
Anuradha Seneviratna is Professor of Sri Lankan Culture at the University of Sri Lanka, and is one of the leading writers on the subject, having about twenty publications to his credit, some of which were UNESCO sponsored. He was formerly a Fulbright Scholar at the University of California, has concluded a visiting fellowship at Oxford University under the Commonwealth Academic Staff Fellowship Organization, and is on the Board of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi. He is a resident in Kandy. His publications include Architectural History of the Temple of the Tooth, Kandy, published by the Sri Lanka Government; Historical Monuments of Kandy, published by UNESCO and the Ministry of Cultural Affairs; The Golden Rock Temple of Dambulla, UNESCO.
Benjamin Polk is an American architect and planner whose personal design practice has been largely in South Asia. Among his important works are the great Buddhist Tripitaka Library in Rangoon, the Royal Palace for His Majesty the King of Nepal, Kathmandu, and the beautiful Jallianwala Bagh Memorial in Amritsar, along with university and college groups, museums, and theatres, as well as extensive industrial, apartment, business, and residential buildings.
Publications by Mr. Polk include Architecture and the Spirit of the Place, Rupa, 1961, and, with Emily Polk, India Notebook, Michael Russell (Publishing) Ltd., Salisbury, 1985, and Two Americans in the South Asia of Nehru's Time, Arts & Architecture Press, Santa Monica, 1986. The Polks are resident in England.
Little attention has been given by most scholars to the dominant role of timber construction in Sri Lanka's ancient architecture. In doing so, this book presents a hitherto unappreciated facet of South Asian cultural achievement. At the same time our account leads on with a light touch appropriate to on-site trips in the Kandyan Hills.
We give our story of searching out of the picturesque wood buildings of the Buddhist monastic centres in the central hills of Sri Lanka. Our presentation revolves around colour photographs of village temples and other monuments taken by architect Benjamin Polk in 1980-81. it is concerned with an architecture that reflects in popular traditions the great heritage of Monsoon Asia that emanated from India, Nepal, and Southeast Asia.
The guiding hand of Anuradha Seneviratna Brings it first-hand authority and historical detail, and Benjamin Polk's twelve-year architectural experience in the countries of South Asia gives it its architectural focus.
Emily Polk, poet and painter, who has also published on Asian subjects (Delhi, Old and New, Rand McNally, and Poems and Epigrams, Rupa, Calcutta), has researched the old records and writings from early Sri Lankan history and travel, and ha put those threads of adventure into this present form, and she has given the text a dramatic flair throughout. The full flavour of daily life is evoked in her Epilogue.
For the first time colour photographs of the ancient wood buildings appear under one cover, presented comprehensively along with currents of often little-known Sri Lankan history. The buildings, as noted, are, except for the great Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, close to folk architecture, an in their structural essentials resemble village houses. They represent the dominant building type in the wide-spread area of rice-growing, bamboo-using Buddhist lands. Their form and aesthetics reflect the ceremonies appropriate to the housing of the image of the Buddha, and this function is the single key to the building program.
The book can be seen as a traveller's reference guide to the Hill Country as it was before the recent tragic strife. It displays our delight in discovering new aspects of a relatively little known area-one that is quite essentially South Asian. Architectural observation is interwoven with parallel description of the drama of the land and its people.
For further analysis of religious and architectural problems the reader is especially referred to Anagarika B. Govinda's "Some Aspects of Stupa Symbolism", Kitabistan Press, Allahabad and London, 1940, and to L. K. Karunaratne's "The Wooden Architecture of Sri Lanka", The Ceylon Historical Journal, October 1978.
The first three chapter set the stage for the subject of the book: Buddhist monastic architecture of the central hills, and the Architectural Note Briefly sketches our own direction in this survey of about thirty buildings.
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