From Kovils to Devales: Patronage and "Influence" at Buddhist and Hindu Temples in Sri Lanka
Author(s)Meegama, Sujatha Arundathi
Contributor(s)Williams, Joanna G
South Asian Studies
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AbstractAbstractFrom Kovils to Devales : Patronage and "Influence" at Buddhist and Hindu Temples in Sri LankaBy Sujatha Arundathi MeegamaDoctor of Philosophy in History of ArtUniversity of California, BerkeleyProfessor Joanna Williams, ChairThis dissertation examines two types of temples--kovils and devales--dedicated to deities associated with the two main ethnic groups in Sri Lanka: Tamil Hindus and Sinhalese Buddhists, respectively. It studies the relationships between these two temple spaces, as well as their respective histories in medieval and early-modern Sri Lanka, by examining patterns of patronage and visual dialogues between artisan workshops. The patronage of such temples by multiple patrons, such as kings, local rulers, monks, ministers, merchants, and ordinary people, suggests that people of diverse ethnic, religious, and social background were all key players in the negotiation of cultural and religious boundaries in medieval Sri Lanka. The wall ornamentation, pillars, basement moldings, and doorways of these temples indicate the presence of multiple workshops, which appropriated and transformed South Indian temple building practices; hence, this study also highlights the role of South Indian and local artisans, who negotiated cultural difference by engaging in dialogs across artistic boundaries.However, kovils and devales have long been viewed in scholarship and popular writings as dichotomous religio-ethnic spaces. Studied in isolation, they have also not been seen as part of the Sri Lankan art historical canon, which is dominated by the standard narrative on the Sinhalese Buddhist majority. My dissertation questions the oppositional binaries of South Indian and Sri Lankan, Hindu and Buddhist, Dravidian and Sinhalese, and invader and native that have heretofore framed the scholarship on Sri Lankan art. Drawing on the deeply connected art-historical approaches of patronage and appropriation, which focus on specific people and their actions, I argue for a more nuanced understanding of these religious monuments, and for a more inclusive Sri Lankan art-historical canon. The first chapter examines the Hindu temples of Polonnaruva and suggests that Sri Lankan kings, starting as early as the eleventh century, adopted a new ideal of kingship in which the patronage of temples to pan-Indic deities played a central role. The second chapter studies the incorporation of local and pan-Indic deities inside Buddhist temples in the fourteenth century by Buddhist monks and secular elites, and their appropriation of Dravida-style architecture. The third chapter investigates the patronage of a Saivite temple by a Sri Lankan king and its plunder at the hands of the Portuguese in the sixteenth century--it provides an alternative narrative in understanding the accusations of heresy against this king. Amidst the apparent hardening in early-modern Sri Lanka of the fluid religious boundaries that existed in earlier periods, the fourth chapter examines the localization of the pan-Indic deity Skanda Kumara (the son of Siva), who is known locally as Kataragama, by analyzing the patronage and ornamentation of temples to him in peripheral and non-elite contexts. In the epilogue, bringing together the four case studies I presented, I offer a narrative that attempts to map out the shifting identities of kovils and devales in medieval, early modern, and contemporary Sri Lanka.