Kandyan art embraces a variety of crafts and paintings that capture the many Sinhalese traditions and their distinctive characteristics. Encompassing paintings, wood carvings, stone carvings, metal work, jewellery, furniture and architecture, Kandyan art is culturally inspired and symbolic. Arts and crafts form part of the rich cultural fabric of Kandyan society and dancers, weavers, carvers, painters and musicians are revered. The knowledge and techniques were passed down from generation to generation and craft secrets were carefully protected; even marriages were arranged within the same castes so that craft and style were closely guarded.
The best artists and craftsmen were permanently employed by the royal dynasty and were given money, land and protection in return for their services. The kingdom always had a steady requirement for jewellery, utensils, household ornaments and all of these essentials were produced by them. Gifts given to other Heads of State and nobility were also designed by them and were unique and distinctive.
Kandyan paintings convey complex religious concepts in simple and narrative style. Paintings usually depict religious and secular themes that are a part of everyday life and can generally be associated with the life of the Buddha and his teachings. Kandyan paintings date from the 17th to the 19th centuries and this art form, associated with religious revival, is described as the Kandyan style due to its prevalence in the Kandyan provinces during this period. Kandyan painters used a tempera medium with a limited range of colours made from earth or vegetable substances and used line and colour to produce volume and and solidity of figures or forms. They usually depict a classical tale illustrating moral values in a pictorial narrative. The human figures and animals from various themes in Kandyan art are idealised.
Kandyan dancing is symbolic of the culture of the Kandyan people and different styles of dance represent varying themes such as the origin of the dancers and what they express. Dancers perform in temples, religious festivals, weddings and pageants. Different types of dance performed by artists can be viewed during a perahera.
Kandyan wood carvings are a combination of culture and tradition. Wood carvers make inert pieces of wood come to life with fine designs, creating treasured handicrafts. Wood carving is closely related to Kandyan architecture since many of the carvings are designed for door frames, windows and pillars. Handicrafts, ornaments, instruments and fine wooden jewellery all contribute to the rich tradition of Kandyan wood carving.
Closely associated with Buddhist temples, these art forms express the views, beliefs, traditions and culture of the Kandyan people.