Cinnamon Gardens

Colombo National Museum

Colombo National Museum houses collections of artifacts that are important for telling the story of Sri Lanka. A good example is the royal regalia that once belonged to the Kandyan Kings who once ruled the Sri Lankan highlands. This includes the jewels, crown and royal throne. There are exhibits that explain what life was like during the ancient historic era of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa and the more recent colonial periods of Portuguese, Dutch and British origin. The ground floor galleries are in historical sequence and try to portray the history of Sri Lanka. The upper galleries are on a more thematic basis.

This museum was established on 01st January 1877 and was the first public museum to be established in the Sri Lanka. The Royal Asiatic Society approached the British Governor of Ceylon, Sir William Henry Gregory, with a request that a public Museum, to house and display various artefacts that had been collected over the years, be built. Legislation was passed and finance found to enable a Neo-classical grand house to start being built in 1876. It opened the following year.

The aim of the National Museum is to create a collection of exhibits for purposes of conversation, research and exhibition. These include artifacts, specimens, books and manuscripts along with other documents of natural and cultural heritage. The Museum also conducts periodic lectures, seminars and film shows to inform the public about the history, culture and national heritage of Sri Lanka.

When it first opened in 1877 the Museum had a collection of about 800 artifacts. However, in 1986, because of the enormity of the exhibits relating to the natural history of the country a new wing was built which housed the Natural History Museum.

The National Museum is located just south of Viharamahadevi Park and Colombo Town Hall. It is housed in an elegant white colonial period building that projects power and wealth. One of the outstanding memories of the Colombo Museum complex, apart from the attractive colonial architecture, is the amazing giant trees planted in the grounds with long tendrils that touch the grass lawns.

The building is shared with the National Art Gallery. Don’t expect the same high quality of displays you would find in Museums in Washington, London or Paris. It is like visiting a museum back in the 1960s.

 

What to expect at the Colombo National Museum

The ground floor galleries in the Main building are in historical sequence and try to portray the history of Sri Lanka. The upper galleries are on a more thematic basis.

EXHIBIT CATEGORIES
1 Evolution of the Buddha Image
2 Pre-History & Proto-History (proposed)
3 Anuradhapura Period
4 Polonnaruwa and Mediaeval Period
5 Kandyan Period
6 Stone Antiquities
7 Coins & Currency
8 Crafts of Sri Lanka
9 Ceramic ware
10 Regalia & Jewelry
11 Masks Traditional Packing Materials
12 Veddha Culture
13 Agriculture & Farming
14 Ancient Lamps
15 Paintings – Anuradhapura period
16 Paintings – Polonnanawa and post-Polonnaruwa period
17 Paintings – Andre Nicholl’s water paintings
18 Furniture
19 Instruments connected with musical and traditional pastimes
20 Devala costumes and indigenous medical objects
21 Puppetry
22 Agricultural Implements

 

  • A section of the first floor of the National Museum has a library with a collection of about 500,000 books – including very valuable, rare ones – along with more than 4,000 ancient palm leaf manuscripts. The range of artefacts on display at the Museum include Buddhist and Hindu bronzes, stone statues, paintings, frescoes, ceramics, antique furniture, masks, and royal objects from the Kings of Kandy.
  • The Reference Library at the Museum has the entire range of documents from the first works of 1737 to the latest publications. It has over 1 million titles now including a large number of rare books and periodicals. It has the largest collection of palm-leaf manuscripts in the country including the oldest discovered to date, which is the Chullavagga Ola leaf manuscript of the thirteenth century. Along with the Sinhalese manuscripts are also found palm leaf manuscripts in the languages of Pali, Sanskrit, Burmese and Cambodian.
  • The Museum also functions as a research institute engaged in contributions in explorations on subjects like Pre-history, Ethnology, Anthropology, Culture, and Ancient Crafts. Books based on such studies are published both at the national and international level. Spolia Zeylanika is one of the publications of the Museum that carries information regarding these researches to various countries. Along with this the Museum also offers a lot of educational programmes, services and resources. Among the services offered at the Museum are workshops, seminars, audio-visual programmes, guided tours, and lectures for visitors of all ages.
  • The Museum has a number of exquisite sculptures both in stone and bronze. Among the collection of bronzes at the Museum are the seated Buddha image from Badulla, and Bodhisattwa images form Veheragala, Thuparama, Giridara, Buduruwagala, and Badulla. An exhibition set up in 1995 – the ‘Heritage of the Bronze Sculpture in Sri Lanka’ is still on display. The Hindu icons in bronze are the statues of the Goddess Tara, and of Siva Nataraja and Ardhanari Nateshwara. The large seated Buddha image found at Toluwila near Anuradhapura dating back to the third to the fifth centuries A.D is an important piece
  • Rock inscriptions preserved at the Museum highlight the evolution of the Sinhala language script from the Brahmi script. Sorne other artefacts displayed are guard-stones„ moon-stones, carved stone plaques.. and stone pillars.
  • The collection of ivory carvings found in the Museum are reported to be the finest seen in any museum anywhere in the world.
  • The collection of coins dating from the 3rd century B.C. to the contemporary times exceeds over a hundred thousand.
  • Among the valuable paintings on display representing the traditional art of the country are those belonging to the traditional style of the Sigiriya, Hindagala, Polonnaruwa, and Kandy. The paintings trace the development of the art from the Anuradhapura period (roughly spans the period between 161 B.0 to about the eighth century A.D.) to the Kandyan period (period between the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries).
  • There is a wide collection of fork arts and crafts on display at the Museum highlighting the daily life of the Sri Lankans over centuries where the masks relating to rituals and kolam dancing are seen along with a large number of musical instruments.Rock inscriptions preserved at the Museum highlight the evolution of the Sinhala language script from the Brahmi script. Some other artefacts displayed are guard-stones, moon-stones, carved stone plaques, and stone pillars.
  • The collection of ivory carvings found in the Museum are reported to be the finest seen in any museum anywhere in the world.
  • The collection of coins dating from the 3rd century B.C. to the contemporary times exceeds over a hundred thousand.
  • Among the valuable paintings on display representing the traditional art of the country are those belonging to the traditional style of the Sigiriyar Hindagala, Polonnaruwa, and Kandy. The paintings trace the development of the art from the Anuradhapura period (roughly spans the period between 161 B.0 to about the eighth century A.D.) to the Kandyan period (period between the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries).
  • There is a wide collection of folk arts and crafts on display at the Museum highlighting the daily life of the Sri Lankans over centuries where the masks relating to rituals and ‘<dam dancing are seen along with a large number of musical instruments.
  • Popular exhibits at the Museum include the gold throne of the last king of Kandy, the crown, sword and sceptre, and footstool of King Wickrama Rajasinghe, and the jacket of the King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe’s queen.
  • A section of the first floor of the National Museum houses the Puppetry and the Children’s Museum.
  • National Museum of Natural History which reflects the Natural heritage was established on 23rd of September 1986. This museum is situated same premises of Colombo National Museum Even though there is considerable number of museums in Sri Lanka, this is the only one representing solely the Natural Heritage. The special feature is that plants and Animal specimens which are endemic to Sri Lanka, rare and threatened with extinction are displayed in this museum. There is a large collection of specimens such as Mammals, Birds, Reptiles, Insects, Fish, Amphibians of various kinds of Plants and Geological Rocks. Leopard of Punani can be introduced as a special specimens displayed in the Natural Science Museum. This leopard which was caught at Punani in Batticaloa District on 16 th August 1924 had killed about 13 people. The Skull of Megacerus giganteus (elk) which huge horns which is displayed at the Geological section of the museum is a specimen that creates curiosity among the visitors. This skull which belonged to an extinct species of stag was gifted by Lord Eniskilen in 1950.

 

You can still find things of interest. Ideal if it is wet and you are travelling with children or teenagers. You will find lots of stuffed birds and animals set in their natural habitat. Many need dusting. There are exhibits on the geology and gems of Sri Lanka. The climate and plant life is explained. There is a huge skeleton of an elephant. There are explanatory panels covering the Sri Lanka’s Irrigation and hydro-electric projects.

It houses collections of artifacts that are important for telling the story of Sri Lanka. A good example is the royal regalia that once belonged to the Kandyan Kings who once ruled the Sri Lankan highlands. This includes the jewels, crown and royal throne. There are exhibits that explain what life was like during the Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial period. The ground floor galleries are in historical sequence and try to portray the history of Sri Lanka. The upper galleries are on a more thematic basis.

The Royal Asiatic Society approached the British Governor of Ceylon, Sir William Henry Gregory, with a request that a public Museum, to house and display various artefacts that had been collected over the years, be built. Legislation was passed and finance found to enable a Neo-classical grand house to start being built in 1876. It opened the following year.

There are branches of the National Museums in Jaffna, Kandy, and Rathnapura. Other smaller local museums have been set up, all overseen by the Sri Lankan Department of National Museums. The British added the contents of the Ceylon Oriental Library to the Colombo National Museum in 1877 and it has been collecting documents, publications and valuable books that relate to the Island ever since. There are over 500,000 books available to historians, genealogists and members of the public to study.

Another particularly interesting feature of the museum is the collection of thousands of palm leaf manuscripts. They were created by etching letters into the fibrous leaf surface. There is a small art gallery of Victorian paintings and etchings that depict colonial Ceylon during that period. It is fascinating to study the period dress worn at that time. They must have been so hot. Oh yes talking about heat. The museum can get quite hot at times and its best one dresses casually with light clothes.

Something unique to the Colombo National Museum is its collection of Buddhist demons and deities grotesque masks. The Puppetry and Children’s Museum explains how important puppetry is to Sri Lanka’s heritage. If you visit at the weekend you may be lucky to catch a performance. The Museum ticket is not cheap compared with other Sri Lankan tourist attractions. As normal the local population are charge a lot less. The Museum is split between two locations. Each needs a separate ticket. You can pay for a joint ticket.