A Sri Lanka Temple Moonstone (Sandakada pahana) Sri Lanka, Late Anuradhapura Period, 10th/ early 11th Century
Lot 278W
A Sri Lanka Temple Moonstone (Sandakada pahana)
Sri Lanka, Late Anuradhapura Period, 10th/ early 11th Century
Sold for £ 553,250 (US$ 730,616) inc. premium

Lot Details
A Sri Lanka Temple Moonstone (Sandakada pahana) Sri Lanka, Late Anuradhapura Period, 10th/ early 11th Century
A Sri Lanka Temple Moonstone (Sandakada pahana)
Sri Lanka, Late Anuradhapura Period, 10th/ early 11th Century
of semi-circular form, depicting a series of carved bands containing from outer edge, a band of forked tongues representing fire, a repeating band of animals representing the four corners of the earth - the elephant, the horse, the lion and the bull, a band containing a raised and delicately carved wavy vine on a dense bed of curling leafs, a band of swans plucking vegetation, the far left swan with head turned away and facing a three-tiered votive or vase and the far right swan with its head raised, a band of water lily petals their ends curled upwards and to centre a half lotus flower
246cm x 123cm; 14cm thick at widest point


  • Property of a Lady

    The temple stone was removed from 'Brackenhill', an early 20th Century Tudor Revival house in Crowborough, East Sussex. From 1935, Brackenhill was the home of William Murdoch Thyne (1878-1949), a Scottish civil engineer working in Ceylon between 1915 and 1937, and later in Jamaica. Thyne was responsible for the design and execution of many large reservoir projects including the raising of the Labugama Dam in Sri Lanka and the filtration works for Colombo. He was a Vice-President of the Ceylon Engineering Association and is recorded as having used elephants for the lifting of heavy masonry at Labugama. Thyne and his wife, Lilian, returned to Brackenhill in 1937 prior to departure for Jamaica where he was appointed chief engineer and member of the water commission at Kingston. During the Thynes absence from home in 1938-39 it would appear Brackenhill was let to Oscar Mackrill, a solicitor, and his family. Mr. Thyne continued living at Brackenhill after his wife's death in 1949 and died in Crowborough in 1952, whence the house and temple stone passed into the possession of the current vendor's family.

    The Thynes' connection with Ceylon continued through the marriage of their son William Lindsay Thyne to Dawn Ames at Kandy, Ceylon in 1948. She was the daughter of a tea planter, Alfred Eric Ames (1890-1948) and Mrs Ames of Wewelmadde, Kaikawala, Ceylon. Wewelmadde is a plantation estate in central Sri Lanka. Mrs Dawn Thyne was possibly the granddaughter of Alfred Ames (born 1853) whose career as a planter may have extended back to the earliest days of tea production in Ceylon and prior to the first archaeological survey of the island by H.C.P. Bell (1851-1937).

    Sandakada pahana, also known as Moonstone, is a feature unique to the Sinhalese architecture of ancient Sri Lanka and according to historians, symbolises the cycle of Samsara in Buddhism. It is an elaborately carved semi-circular stone slab, usually placed at the bottom of staircases and entrances and is first known in the latter part of the Anuradhapura period. The sandakada pahana evolved through the Polonnaruwa, Gampola and Kandy periods with varied decorative repertoires.

    During the late Andurhadpura period, carving on every sandakada pahana of this period is uniform. A half lotus is carved in the centre, which is enclosed by several concentric bands. The first band from the half lotus is decorated with a procession of swans, followed by a band with an intricate foliage design known as liyavel. The third band contains carvings of four animals; elephants, lions, horses, and bulls which follow each other in a procession. The fourth and outermost band contains a band of flames (W.I. Siriweera, History of Sri Lanka, Dayawansa Jayakodi & Company, 2004, p. 288).

    The design of the sandakada pahana of the later Polonnaruwa period differs largely from that of the Anuradhapura period. The single band that was used to depict the four animals is removed, and processions of the elephant, lion and horse are depicted in separate bands. The most significant change is the removal of the bull from the sandakada pahana.The Anuradhapura tradition of placing sandakada pahanas only at entrances to Buddhist temples also changed, and they are found at the entrances of other buildings belonging to the Polonnaruwa period as well.

    Our moonstone compares favourably in decoration, and in breadth and width with moonstones nos. 8-11 listed in C.E Godakumbura's work (Moonstones, Archaeological Department, Ceylon, 1967, pp. 35-37) attributed to the Anuradhapura period.

    The history of the city of Anuradhapura offers an insight as to how this monumental piece may have come out of Sri Lanka. Situated on the banks of the stream Malwatu oya, Anuradhapura is conveniently linked with raw material resource areas and the northwest and northeast seaports. The site was continuously occupied for thousands of years from the 4th Century BC until the early 11th Century AD. The city of Anuradhapura gradually declined in 10th Century. Political unrest, invasions compounded by changes in trading patterns and environmental instability, at least in some areas, ultimately resulted in the gradual shift of the political centre away from this region. The jungle took over the monumental structures at Anuradhapura until the late 19th century, when from 1890-1900 archaeologist H.C.P. Bell was made Archaeological Commissioner by the Sri Lankan governement and was charged with the task of restoring, clearing and rebuilding the ancient site. For a complete list of the ruins and dates of excavation, see B. Bell and H. Bell, H.C.P. Bell. Archaeologist of Ceylon and the Maldives, 1993, Archetype Publications, p. 61).

    During the 1920s and 1930s when William Murdock Thyne was working in Ceylon, the political infrastructure of colonial Ceylon began to break down. Macro level planning at Anuradhapura commenced in 1942 with the establishment of the Anuradhapura Preservation Board. According to this research, money was granted by the Parliament to invite a town planner from England to plan out the Sacred City. In 1949 the construction work on the new town of Anuradhapura commenced, where the population was relocated from the Sacred City.

    New areas of Anuradhapura were cleared and more ruins uncovered. In his chapter on Anuradhapura in a monograph on Ceylon written in 1950, local inhabitant Harry Williams writes: "despite the wealth of ruins disclosed, cleaned and restored by the devoted labours of the archaeological department, the surrounding jungle for miles in all directions teems with the undisclosed secrets... it is possible to wander many miles in any direction and stumble upon fallen monoliths, broken masonry, soil still red from brickdust and granite slabs half buried in soil..." (H. Williams, Ceylon Pearl of the East, London, 1950, p. 141).

    Photographs of the moonstone in situ in Brackenhill and Bristol kindly supplied by the current vendors.
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  1. Oliver White
    Specialist - Islamic and Indian Art
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