Solius Mendis from Mahawewa (between Negombo and Chilaw) was from a normal family background, but later on studied Pali and Sanskrit. His parents’ ambition was that he would become an Ayurvedic doctor. But it turned out, that the young Mendis id not pay enough attention to studying ancient languages. But he showed an extraordinary talent in drawing and painting. This was quite contrary to his parents' wishes, of course.
Subsequently he left the temple school on his own accord to become a pupil of the artist Monis Silva. Mendis soon did mural paintings in Buddhist Temples in Polonnaruwa and Attanagalla and many other village.
In the year 1930 restoration works at the famous Kelaniya temple had been was already in progress, when Mendis was invited to contribute to the decoration of this temple. That time, Mendis was already a renowned mural painter for Buddhist temples. In preparation for the works at the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya, Mendis was sent on a study tour to India, in order to be inspired by the classical Buddhist paintings in Ajanta and Ellora.
After his return to Sri Lankas, Solius Mendis commenced painting the walls of Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya at the age of 30. It was 20 years later that he completed this enormous task. His Kelaniya paintings turned out to be unique and of their own style, though integrating many influences from classical works of Buddhist painting. For his achievements, that still can be seen in Kelaniya today, Mendis was celebrated as the best Buddhist painter in Sri Lanka since the Polonnaruwa and Gampola periods, this means, surpassing even the traditional Kandy paintings of the 18th century. Mendis used his own techniques and prepared his own paints with pigments made out of earth or botanical substances.
Buddhist mural paintings previously depicted only scenes from the life of the last life or the previous lives of the Buddha, told in the canonical Jatakas. But Solius Mendis introduced significant events from the island’s Buddhist hstory in his panels, which became a favourite subject of temple paintings later on.
Solius Mendis himself was a devout Buddhist firmly believing in sanctity of life, he lived as as vegetarian and eschewed a craving for tobacco and liquorm too.
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