Unmistakeable Signature on Buddhist Sculpture

By Chandana Ranaweera | Published: 2:00 AM Nov 12 2021
Look Unmistakeable Signature on Buddhist Sculpture

By Chandana Ranaweera 

The second death anniversary of Tissa Ranasinghe was marked on 31 October – the sculptor who left an indelible mark in the world art-sphere as a unique, talented artist. Born in 1925, he was 94 years old when he passed away but despite being old and his physical strength slowly leaving his arms, Tissa continued to sculpt well into the twilight years of his life courtesy the passion and determination he had for the art. Out of all the artwork he has given birth to, in this article we will focus on one niche Tissa had – Buddhist sculpture. 

Tissa created a lot of statues – bronze and otherwise – titled, 'Self-Mortification'. In 1965, one such sculpture was selected as one of the relics to be kept inside the Somawathi Stupa. Once, eight of Tissa's sculptures were selected to be exhibited at the 'Expo' international exhibition held in Montreal, Canada. Lots of relief and half-relief sculptures are kept for permanent display at the Buddhist Temple in Washington DC.  Another self-mortification statue sized 92 cm x 62 cm can also be found at the Buddhist Temple in London. He made a unique bronze statue of Buddha attaining Buddhahood and gifted it to the King of Thailand on his 60th birthday. 

A special half-relief sculpture depicting the story of Chulodara and Mahodara which comes in the epic chronicle Mahawamsa was gifted by the Sri Lankan Government to the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands. This unique 4 ft x 2 ft sculpture was also created by Tissa. 

Another magnificent work of art by Tissa is the 90cm gold Buddha statue depicting Dhyana Mudra. This full-body statue is a 'hidden beauty' as far as the best of Tissa's works are concerned since it is kept at the Sri Lankan section of the Royal Art Gallery, London. 

Another special Buddha statue created by Tissa is the 38cm tall statue depicting Bhumisparsha Mudra. Titled, 'Buddha Triumphs,' this statue is a special one in Tissa's long list of creations since it bears a special note from the creator underneath it. The message goes thus: "Gautama is immersed in his own thoughts - the struggle is in his mind. He takes a grip of himself and emerges triumphant." 

Among the half-relief Buddha statues Tissa created is the creation titled, 'The Sixth Week'. During the sixth week after Gautama attained Buddhahood it started raining heavily. The meditating Buddha under a tree was provided shelter by Muchalinda Naga Raja. Tissa's half-relief sculpture masterfully depicts the three-headed cobra and the Buddha in a blissful trance. Instead of giving prominence to the cobra like how many contemporary artists do, Tissa opted to just depict the core meaning of the gesture of the cobra without making it exceptionally large. This change adds simplicity to the sculpture.

Another stand-out relief sculpture by Tissa is the 1956 - 22 cm x 12 cm sculpture titled, 'The Birth'. This work depicts the birth of Prince Siddhartha at Lumbini. Baby Siddhartha can be seen standing on the last and the largest lotus of a row of seven lotuses. On one side a row of gods who have gathered to witness the birth of the special one can be seen while on the other side, Queen Mahamaya can be seen. Tissa had used brass colour for Prince Siddhartha and the lotuses, and he had used old nuts and bolts in creating the lotuses. The creation that also encompasses scrap metal art invites you to enjoy it going beyond the obvious religious connotation. 

In 2011 Tissa created 'Suwisi Wiwarana' as two 38 cm x 11 cm x 12 cm plaques. This work depicts how the Bodhisattva received blessings from the previous 24 Buddhas for his eventual Buddhahood and the 24 Buddhas are carved on the two plaques; 12 Buddhas each. 

A few lotuses can be seen here and there and no special prominence is given to any figure or an object in particular. Towards the front of the plaque where the stand of the plaque is, is a seated figure. The identity of the figure is not clearly known. All the human figures in this artwork show the influence of Japanese, Thai, Indian, and Sri Lankan art traditions. One of the statues is painted in gold. 

Tissa was an artist who saw beyond the contemporary. His works were well ahead of his time and sometimes a bit too advanced for society and art critics. Because of this, many were reluctant to accept Tissa yet not international art enthusiasts. Living in England with his wife, Tissa served England with his expertise, an invaluable service Sri Lanka could have had. Tissa may no longer be with us but it’s high time we start a discussion about this one-of-a-kind artiste at least two years after his demise.  

(Translated by Sanuj Hathurusinghe)


By Chandana Ranaweera | Published: 2:00 AM Nov 12 2021

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