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Journal of Arts & Humanities Volume 06, Issue 03, 2017, 52-58 Article Received: 28-02-2017 Accepted: 14-03-2017 Available Online: 19-03-2017 ISSN: 216...

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Journal of Arts & Humanities Volume 06, Issue 03, 2017, 52-58 Article Received: 28-02-2017 Accepted: 14-03-2017 Available Online: 19-03-2017 ISSN: 2167-9045 (Print), 2167-9053 (Online)

An Introduction to Concept and Evolution of the Guardstone and Its Architectural Visualization of the Contemporary Religious and Cultural Diversities Sasni Amarasekara1 ABSTRACT This specific study deals with a unique piece of Buddhist architecture, the Guardstone found almost in every part of ancient kingdoms in Sri Lanka spanning from Anuradhapura to Kandy period significantly. The Guardstone is an excellent piece of structure placed on either side of the first step of the flight of stairs at the entrance of ancient religious buildings or palaces in Sri Lanka. The origin of this architectural masterpiece is still to determine. Nevertheless, it is widely accepted in an evolutionary point of view that the guardstone has passed through several developmental stages from a simple slab to a highly sophisticated artifact in its dimensions, complexity and artistry. The numerous inclusions as well as exclusions from time to time to this artifact still remain uncertain as to whether they were due to secular or ecclesiastical reasons or simply due to the creators own culture influenced imagination. This study will peruse all the possible evidence that are available architecturally and to develop a logical reasoning for any identifiable characteristic and to elucidate with reasonable legitimacy as to how and why such a character is present or absent in a particular guardstone. This study in no way has any intention of rejecting or amending any proposition available at present but will pursue its best to shed light only on the attributes of a guardstone and to concentrate on the diversities of this beautiful monastic artifact that deserves serious academic study and meticulous aesthetic evaluation. Keywords: Ancient Sri Lankan Architecture, Buddhist Architecture, Building Entrance, Stone Sculpture. This is an open access article under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



The task of a researcher on any historical site, process, incident or on an artifact is to place an evidence based record of the historicity of the ruler and his governing principles, intentions and the characteristic features of the cultural and religious environment that prevailed and influenced at large during that era. 1

Head of the Department, Department of Archaeology, Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka. Eamil: [email protected] Journal of Arts and Humanities (JAH)


An introduction to concept and evolution of the Guardstone …

A historical artifact predominantly does not provide concrete evidence about the rationale or the perceptions of the sculptor or the creator's insights, awareness and smartness which has gone into the artifact at the time of engraving it. This is where the descriptive equation of historical architecture becomes challenging and arduous. Nevertheless, with meticulous observation corroborated by contemporary socio-cultural and eclectic evidence a reasonable interpretation could be presented on a historical artifact. The study of religious architecture is comparatively an ancient discipline which has its roots scattered all over the Asian sub-continent. In fact, the existence of a word called 'Ecclesiology' which means the study of religious architecture itself provides the uniqueness and the importance of the discipline even today. According to the chronicles it is an undisputed fact that the ancient architecture in whatever form started to flourish with the advent of Buddhism to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC. Therefore it is widely accepted that ancient architectural remains are mostly of religious or monastic nature. They explicitly display Buddhist civilization in one or more forms not only for admiration but also to experience some of the tangible aspects of Buddhist philosophy. Although no monument has been clearly discovered which belongs to the period before Arahath Mahinda’s visit to the island in 3rd century BC, the chronicles record that the earliest form of Buddhist Architecture in Sri Lanka was the Mahiyanganaya and Girihadu Dagabas which are believed to have been built well before the Parinibbana of Lord Buddha circa 543 BC. The most historical architectural remains found here; provide reasonable evidence to conceptualize the origin and the initial stage features of the carvings of the guardstone. The Patimaghara (Image house) is the simplest living example to observe a guardstone in some form or the other. Having an image of the Blessed one a higher platform with a stairway supported by balustrades and standing guardstones in front of each balustrade is the most basic form of monument that is visible even today. Basically this paper attempts to classify and demarcate the evolutionary process of the guardstone paying attention to the different stages it has passed through. It will also attempt to define the carvings embraced by the guardstones whether or not they bear any religious or cultural significance to that particular era or simply creative visuals conceived in the aesthetic mind of the sculptor. It is noteworthy to mention that the guardstone has few synonyms such as ‘Doorstone’, ‘Guardianstone’ and ‘Keerthimukha’. From a simplest form to a sophisticated artifact it has gone through several development stages. However all the scholars do not agree to a uniform development process and therefore the stages differ in number from four to six according to the explanations of the individual scholar. Some of the characteristic features of the guardstone are yet to establish their exact resemblance as to what they early represent. The plain slab is the earliest form accepted by all without any reservation. At a later stage the top of this slab was made slightly curved, followed up by a carving of the pot of plenty on it. Sometime later the dwarf images were introduced and finally they were substituted by "Nagakings". At this stage in addition to the Naga Raja (King of Nagas -Cobras) image a ‘Makara –Pandol’ (image Capricorn) was added into the curved top position producing a majestic appearance to the artifact. The guardstone which is one of the most striking architectural monuments in Sri-Lanka has not so far been given the in – depth attention it deserves. Many scholars have analyzed and explained the guardstone along with the physical development process based on the readily observed motifs and trimmings. Less attention was given to the variety of the numerous carvings it contain and logical reasoning for a particular set of carvings to be present or absent from time to time. This paper will peruse the historicity and the existence of the guardstone through the passage of time and will make every effort to appraise the intricacies of sculpture and to explain whether they were engraved on the basis of religious and cultural attributes or simply as aesthetic artistry.


The concept and the origin of the Guardstone

Journal of Arts and Humanities (JAH)


Amarasekara, JAH (2017), Vol. 06, No. 03: 52-58

The guardstone, as the semantic value of the word itself suggests, would have been a structure erected as a guarding unit to a place which requires a such protection. However the placement of its base suggests that it is a structure erected as a supporting unit to another structure called the balustrade. It is obvious that an elevated terrace requires a flight of steps to reach the surface level above. A pole or a rail may have been there to hold and provide ease to the climb. Through the passage of time this rail would have Plate 1: Line diagram depicting the placement and developed into an abacus decorated with depictions of the associating structures of the Guardstone artistic stone carvings on it. However, it seems that this 1. Pot of plenty 2. Dragon structure 3. Motif of stony rail structure did not contain any structural festoon extending from the dragon mouth 4. support itself to avoid a sudden collapse or a slide Guardstone 5. Flight of steps 6. Moonstone. towards its front. A strong stony wedge deeply inserted into the ground would have solved this requirement which laid the foundation for a more advanced and a sophisticated guardstone to emerge.


The Guardstone and the tri-component assembly

The tri-component stony assembly which comprises of guardstone, balustrade and the moonstone associating the flight of steps at the entrance in most of the ancient buildings is a common sight whether or not they are religious in nature. Even in any particular location if a single independent guardstone is found devoid of other associating structures (except nāga image) it is Plate 2: The tri-component assembly of an entrance. reasonable to assume that it could probably be due to the decay or destruction or removal of the other two component structures.


Early forms of the Guardstone

The earliest form of the guardstone is identified as a simple square shaped stone slab erected just in front of each balustrade. It contained no carvings whatsoever on it and thus believed to be the earliest form of the guardstone. Out of numerous such examples the most Plate 3: Guardstone at Haththi kuchchi Vihara at striking guardstone in this category is seen at Rajangana Vatadageya in Haththikuchchi Viharaya, an enclosure for the stupa, situated about 5 km.s off Galgamuwa township on the Maho – Anuradhapura road. Apart from the architectural significance of the guardstone, the visual examples provided in this study depict ample evidence to an evolutionary process that had taken place not only of the guardstone but also in the other two aforementioned components of the collective triple structure viz. the moonstone and the balustrade. Plate 4: Entrance to the Somawathi Stupa at Polonnaruwa Journal of Arts and Humanities (JAH)


An introduction to concept and evolution of the Guardstone …


The earliest form

At the first stage of the evolutionary process of the guardstone, it was only a square shaped slab of stone, rectangular in shape and bore no carvings. (Plates 3 and 4)


Second stage

At the next stage possibly in the same century or little later, the rectangular shape became slightly curved with a small pointed hump on the upper middle of the slab. (Plate 5) This would be the beginning of the introduction of carvings to the guardstone. Other two components of the entrance vz: moonstone and balustrade are without decorations.


Plate 5: Location – Kaparamula Entrance, and Athpokuna Entrance, Anuradhapura

Stage 3

At the next stage the pot of plenty was introduced. In the Sri – Lankan cultural context the pot of plenty is considered as a symbol of prosperity and abundance, the first eye – contact a welcome omen at an entrance. These guardstones seem to have been incised very lightly and in later stages in high relief. Most of these pots are filled with coconut fronds or with lotus flowers which again characterize those as symbols of prosperity and wealth


Stage 4

The next stage of the evolutionary process introduces dwarf images typical to most of the religious buildings in any era. These dwarf images are also called as 'Bahirawas' and they are the attendants of Plate 6: Guardstones at Entrance, the God Kuwera, known as the god of wealth. Among the Bahirawas Uththaramula there are two popular figures of Sankha who holds a conch shell and Anuradhapura the other, Padma with a lotus. The conch shell and the Padma are carved mostly in the headdress. Both Indian and Sri-Lankan view of this concept is that they are custodians of wealth and Bahirawas protect wealth. As such their presence at a religious site is debatable and needs a more pensive clarification.


Stage 5

Sooner or Later the naga image was introduced to the guardstone. The naga image has its roots and prototypes in many ancient architectural and historical designs spanning several centuries in Sri – Plate 7: Guardstones at Wijayabahu Royal Palace Journal of Arts and Humanities (JAH)

Plate 8: Nāga Guardstone at Twin pond entrance, Anuradhapura


Amarasekara, JAH (2017), Vol. 06, No. 03: 52-58

Lanka as well as in India. The Naga image was depicted as multi-headed Naga in most cases. At a subsequent stage the emphatic value of the naga image was shifted to an anthropomorphic figure and was blended with a multi – headed naga headdress to be precisely called a naga – raja image. The Nāga Raja guardstone has been further explained by scholars who identify them in relation to Buddhist tradition as four guardian gods namely Dhartarashtra, Virådha, Virupaksha and Vaishravana. They are said to guard the four distinct directions East, South, West and North respectively. They were earlier placed at Vahalkada (âyaka) facing the four directions. Before the introduction of the human form to naga image they were depicted in guardstones in the same form for a long period of time. To distinguish the four directions on the guardstones, sculptures adapted four animal symbols on to them, namely elephant, bull, horse, and lion to depict the East, South, West and North respectively. The use of these animal symbols according to the directions is a concept familiar to Sri Lanka Buddhism. The Nagaraja image on most of guardstones is seen in ‘thribanga’ (thrice bent) posture, having the pot of prosperity by one hand and a stem of flowers by the other hand. The flat or slanted top surface has converted to semicircular arch in in most of the examples in this stage. This particular guardstone also needs an explanation with insights of archaeological reasoning for its existence and also for its rarity. It is noteworthy to mention that the nāga concept has originated in the Indian sub- Plate 9: Elephant symbol on a Plate 10: Lion symbol on a continent during or after the parinibbhana guardstone guardstone of Lord Buddha. Before the advent of the human form of the Buddha image the nāga symbol was used to represent The Blessed One. Therefore one can safely assume that this figure is in some way a definite symbol of religious or sacred value.


Stage 6

The most sophisticated creation in the records of the guardstone is seen at Ratnaprāsādaya, Polonnaruwa. This recognition to the guardstone at Rathnaprāsādaya is no doubt owes to the complexity of many delicate carvings that Plate 101: Bull symbol on a Plate 92: Guard stone at adorns the Nāga Raja image. Apart from the guardstone Vatadage, Polonnaruwa. 'tribanga' posture of the Naga Raja image the upper part of the guardstone is decorated with a dragon arch with three dragon heads: One in the middle and the other two at the two bases of the arch. From the two sides of the dragon mouth a lion is thrown out from each side along with a dancing couple whose destiny is to fall into the dragon mouth below. A set of seven cobra heads adorn the Nagaraja Head and an elephant head as well as a dwarf image at each foot base respectively. The above symbolic inclusions which possess meticulous

Journal of Arts and Humanities (JAH)


An introduction to concept and evolution of the Guardstone …

sculptural artistry has accorded it to become the finest outstanding and beautiful sculpt in the guardstone-sāga. This is the most artistic guard stone found in Sri Lanka. Two lovers emerge from the dragon's mouth above the cobra king, who has in his hand the pot of abundance signifying prosperity. This is said to show that fertility generates prosperity. Indulgence in worldly life is like entering the mouth of a dragon is another interpretation. It belongs to the 7-9 century AD. There are also some guardstones which depict the wife of that incumbent Nāgaraja but in a smaller scale than the nāgaraja figure. The guardstone at the Eastern part of the Mahasen palace depict an image of a woman believed to be god Dratharashtra's Queen – wife. The different dimensions of the two images can be attributed to the principle of patriarchy. A novel form of a guardstone is found with an arch containing festoons coming out of dragon mouths. Even though a discourse in morphological evolution is evidently possible, a classification of all the guardstones based on a time scale seems impossible as it is extremely difficult to demarcate the periodic timelines in relation to the inclusions or exclusions of different images and motifs found in any guardstone. The change of kingdom from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa resulted in many alterations in most of the artistic spheres. Accordingly Plate 11: Guard stone at Rathna Plate 12: Nagaraja the guardstones at Polonnaruwa also depict prasadaya, Abhayagiriya Dratharashtra and his wife these changes very lucidly. Though some scholars observe these changes as a decline in sculptural prowess this study is reluctant to accept this view axiomatically as the outcome of any sculpt in whatever form is mostly based on several background factors such as, ▪ The religion or the beliefs that prevailed in a particular era and the response of the kingship. ▪ Religion based culture ▪ Social ethics ▪ Influence of any foreign sculptural tradition/s. The guardstone's in-situ function which has been endorsed by many as providing a protection to the premises has to be given serious re-consideration. The nāga-raja image of Vahalkada (Ayaka) and nagini image of a balustrade cast reasonable doubts about the blanket acceptance of the aforementioned protective function by many. Therefore a further analytical review is needed regarding the complexity of the ornate carvings of the guardstone and the legitimacy of the popular and also its singular role as a guardian which had been in acceptance for several centuries. The guardstone, predominantly a monastic artifact that has originated as a stop – wedge to the wing stone (balustrade) was a plain stone slab in the beginning with no carvings on its surface. Sooner or later it developed into an artifact having different motifs and images carved on its surface with a variable relief from low to half. Nevertheless, it is commonly accepted that except for the morphological development the chronological development process of the guardstone carvings is not possible as different sets of motifs exist all over the island which belong to a single period. The Polonnaruwa guardstone is somewhat uniform when compared to Anuradhapura having only few ornate changes, additions or alterations. Journal of Arts and Humanities (JAH)


Amarasekara, JAH (2017), Vol. 06, No. 03: 52-58

This paper will take its course as introduction to analyze and differentiate to the maximum possible extent whatever the carvings that exist and to reach at some reasonable conclusive facts based on the archaeo-religious and cultural background that has prevailed from time to time. This paper proposes the numerous carvings observed on guardstones can be further studied under three lines of visual observations. 1)

Anthropomorphic observations a) Naga Raja image – Physical appearance b) Naga Rajini (Queen) Image – Physical appearance c) Facial expressions d) Tribangha posture e) Dress f) Jewelry and ornaments g) Items being held on the right hand left hand basis

II) Observations on auxiliary features a) Bahirava – Sanka image b) Bahirawa – Padma image c) Naga image d) Pot of plenty and its fillings e) Dragon arch and associated carvings f) Postures and placement of the images g) Dress forms and appearance h) Jewelry forms and appearance i) Animal images j) The sprig and its proportions III) Architectural observations a) Overall dimensions structural shape of the upper part. b) Location and placement. c) Nature and the variety of the stone. d) Finishing e) Possibility of any Indian sculptural influence in relation to different artistic traditions of the Indian sub-continents

References Basnayake, H.T. (1986). Sri Lankan Monastic Architecture. Sri Satguru Publications, New Delhi Balasooriya Jayasinghe (1999). The glory of Ancient Polonnaruwa. Parakum books, Polonnaruwa Basham, A (2004). The wonder that was India. Pan Macmillan Ltd., India Bandaranayaka Senake (1997). Sandakada Pahana Vardhanaya, Dinamina Vesak Kalapaya. G.H. Perera Edition, Colombo. Coomaraswamy, A.K. (1965). History of Indian and Indonesian Art, New York. Devendra, D.T. Moonstone Motifs, Journal of Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, New Series Ekanayaka Akiriyagala (2011). Hela Katayam Puranaya. Godage Sahodarayo, Colombo Godakumbure, Charles (1982). Guard Stones. Colombo. Nanayakkara, Mohan Nandana (2011). Sri Lankawe Katayam Saha Murthi Kalaawa. Wasana poth Prakashakayo, Colombo. Parker, H. (1984 Reprint), Ancient Ceylon, Delhi. Paranavitana, Senarat,The Significance of Sinhalese Moonstone Artibus Asiae Smither, J.G. (1894). Architectural Remains of Anuradhapura, London The Mahavamsa, ed. By W. Geiger (2000). (Reprint), Asian Educational Services, New Delhi, Madras. Wikramagamge, Chandra (1998). Entrances To The Ancient Buildings In Sri Lanka. Academy Of Sri Lankan Culture, Colombo.

Journal of Arts and Humanities (JAH)