Art & Culture

Your essential guide to Sri Lanka's art, culture and history

Art and Music
Art

Art and Music

When in Colombo, do not miss to visit the art galleries which feature some of the best exhibition of paintings, jewellery and photographs.

Time Out theatre guide: what's on this month
Art

Time Out theatre guide: what's on this month

Visiting Sri Lanka this month? Here's our hand-picked selection of this month's best stage plays. Save the date and join in with the fun.

The Silver screen calls you
Things to do

The Silver screen calls you

Advice: Check the movie time before going to the cinema.

Recommended art galleries in Colombo
Art

Recommended art galleries in Colombo

Colombo’s galleries aren’t just a platform for art in the traditional sense – you’ll find musical theatre productions, private dinners, fashion concept stores and all manner of other expressions of creativity. The National Art Gallery is the most well-known space and is home to a number of permanent exhibitions, whereas Paradise Road Galleries has a much more contemporary feel as well as housing collections from international artists. To see local artists live in action, take a walk on the nearby Boardwalk, or for more refined pieces check out the Saskia Fernando Art Gallery. Whichever you choose to visit, you’ll enter a world of colour and learn more about Sri Lanka’s creative culture.   

Art and History

Embekke Temple
Attractions

Embekke Temple

Tucked away in the peripheries of Kandy is one of the most beautiful medieval monuments in the island, and most possibly in the world. The Embekke Temple was built in 1371 by King Wickrama Bahu III and is dedicated to god Kataragama. A shroud of myths and legends cover the temple. It is associated with Princess Hena Kanda Biso Bandara, who was born of a beli fruit and later became consort to Wickrama Bahu. She was an ardent devotee of Kataragama, and it is said in legend that that god made her his consort in the afterlife. The temple is made up of the Wedasitina Maligawa where the deity resides, the Digge (called the ‘dancing hall’) and Hewisi Mandapaya (‘drummers’ hall’). The rectangular digge is the most impressive feature of Embekke. The hall is made up entirely out of wood, down to the very nails. The majority of woodcarvings that essentially make up Embekke’s great glory are to be found on the wooden capital pillars, but they blossom out of the wood on beams, rafters, doorways, and doors as well. Altogether, there are 514 exquisite carvings covering the digge. A great mix of day to day figures, mythical beings and plants as well as elegantly chiseled animals abound. There is the carving of the sneezing face (Kimbihi Moona), the double headed eagle, dancing women, mother with child, wrestlers and soldiers. The stylised images, deftly carved, capture amazingly intricate detail, and are full of life. A huge wooden pin, called ‘Madol Kurupawa’, holds all the 26 rafters a

Colombo National Museum
Museums

Colombo National Museum

Established as the Colombo Museum in 1877, the Colombo National Museum is the main museum in the country that exhibits a plethora of artefacts representing Sri Lanka's rich history and ancient heritage. The architecture and design of the premises are dominated by features of Italian architecture and the museum spans across two floors with multiple viewing galleries on each floor. The ground floor displays artefacts belonging to the Pre and Proto Historic, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Kandy and Transitional periods with stone antiquities gallery. And on the upper floor, you will find paintings, ancient textiles, pottery and ceramics, coins and currency, art and crafts, arms and armaments, presentations of traditional agricultural methods and traditional rituals and the D S Senanayake Memorial Gallery. The atmosphere is usually quiet and calming, and you can explore and wander around the premises at your own pace. If you are in the city, even for a short visit, we recommend that you pay a visit, because there is so much to learn and discover.

Dambulla: historical charm
Attractions

Dambulla: historical charm

Close to five hours away from Colombo, in the Matale District, Dambulla is a large town surrounded by remote landscapes, mountainous backdrops and historical sites. Accessed via the Kandy-Jaffna highway (A9) or via Ambepussa and Kurunegala (A6) the region is best known for its historic temple, the Dambulla Cave Temple, more recently named the Golden Temple. There is still more to discover in the rugged surroundings and even the bustling town of Dambulla, whether you are on a tour of the cultural triangle of the island or making a pit stop. 

Gangaramaya Temple
Art

Gangaramaya Temple

Established in the 19th century, the Gangaramaya Temple has become a landmark and a place of vibrancy in its relatively short history. The temple was administered by illustrious monks like the Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala, founder of the Vidyodaya University for monks and Venerable Devundera Sri Jinarathana. What was once a simple structure on swampy land has evolved to lay claim to a fusion of architecture and decor from Buddhist countries in the region. It has a library, a museum and an extraordinary collection of ornamented and gilded gifts presented by devotees to the temple on display. The Temple’s main event takes place in February during the full-moon day of Navam Poya. The annual procession is a show of culture and tradition displayed in colour and pageantry with bejewelled elephants and dancers parading the streets of Colombo. 

Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil
Attractions

Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil

Built in 15th century CE, the Nallur Kovil in Jaffna is sacred to the Hindu believers of Sri Lanka. Incidentally, it was built by the adopted son of a Sinhala King, Parakramabahu VI of the Kotte Kingdom, who built it for the benefit of the Hindu populace of Jaffna after defeating the invading forces of the Vijayanagar Empire of South India. The original Nallur Kovil was razed to the ground by the Portuguese and later rebuilt in an adjacent location by the Dutch in 1734. The Nallur Kovil, set amidst the scorched terrain of the North, still has a sacredness that is radiated in the front courtyard, the Dravidian architecture and the majestic and ornately carved gopuram or tower at the entrance. There are many festivals at Nallur Kovil that attract Hindu devotees from around the world, in addition to the many spectators who take pleasure in the pomp and pageantry of the celebrations.

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St. Xavier’s Church
Attractions

St. Xavier’s Church

Initiated in 1838 the St Xavier’s Church was built to its current structure in a span of 10 years. The towering walls of the church are light brown in colour following the same pattern of colonial houses.  With its pews that continue all the way to the altar and grand interior, the church is pervaded with the spiritual essence that seems to attract many who seek the blessings of the lord.