Veteran artist Prasanna Weerakkody was consciously drawn to the history on wars in Sri Lanka many years ago. Since then he has been dedicating much time doing research on the wars fought in this island.
His efforts put into finding information culminate in unique paintings. Why these works of art stand out is because they have the potential to change the general perception that our warriors were sarong-clad and brandished swords of substandard quality to that of sophisticated fighters.
Prasanna’s interests in wars date back to the period before 1810. He speaks fondly of King Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe’s era where elephants were used in battle.
“At present the elephant population in Sri Lanka is about 3000. During the times of kings about 2000 elephants were used in a single war. This shows the unique relationship between man and elephant in the subject of conflict,” said Prasanna in interview with Nation.
He is happy that the conflict between Tiger rebels and government security forces concluded with victory for the latter. When the war concluded in 2009, there was a request made to him to show in art form the ‘The path of the warrior’. This drawing still hangs at the entrance to the Ministry of Defence.
Prasanna is an expert in drawing the elephant in a war situation. There is a series of unfinished paintings which depict the battle between King Elara and King Dutugemunu where the elephant is painted carrying a sword in its trunk.
“Elephants were also warriors during wars. When you consider the Sri Lankan elephant, it is one of the fiercest among all elephants from a war point of view. Sri Lanka has a long history when it comes to wars. There has been a war culture in this island and I as an artist have been fascinated to tell this story to the public through art,” he said.
When he turns the pages of time, Prasanna said he is convinced that Sri Lanka as a nation has fought wars mainly to protect territory, not conquer other lands or kill human beings. “This is not to the case with other wars, be it animal or human. I can remember as a child I used to witness with interest battles between two armies of ants. One set of ants kills the other and takes their eggs. These baby ants are then used in slavery. The British conquered us to steal our pressured assets. Our security forces fought in battles giving more importance to protecting something that has more value than human lives, which is land”, he said. “Some kind of intelligence is displayed when man or animal goes to war”.
In the year 2002, he had an exhibition on wildlife paintings. He also included in his display some paintings about Sri Lanka history at the occasion. The result was fabulous! There was a much bigger interest shown by the audience to study his drawings on Sri Lankan history. Prasanna read this message very clearly and has stuck religiously to drawing art on Sri Lanka history which revolves around wars, kings, romances and the Sri Lankan woman.
What’s amazing about this accomplished artist is that he didn’t graduate from a university. He took great pride in saying that he is self-made.
This artist takes great pains to give details of the uniforms worn by the Sri Lankan warrior. According to Prasanna, our warriors have worn head guards, chain mail (chest guard), head gear (which were decorated with horse fur) and even carried falcons during wars. He related a story where King Rajasinghe I was engaged in a war. The king had a falcon in his hand. His army was demoralized at that time and the opponents were the Portuguese, famous for their ability to win wars.
The King had seen a stalk (a much larger bird than what he had in his hand) in the sky and released the bird in his hand. The result was devastating! The falcon sent the stalk into smithereens with one mighty peck.
“This incident would have certainly boosted the confidence of the king’s army,” said Prasanna who showed this writer a painting of the king with falcon in hand and trampling a shield, a sign which depicts that he (the king) refused to budge an inch in the face of the advancing opponents.
He studies every little detail in drawings by artists which reflects the times of the kings.
“There is a chain mail in the flag of Puran Appu. This is a sign that the metal industry in the country was developed to the state of making special war uniforms. Every little detail like this relates to something. Sometimes people see these details, but their minds don’t start probing and go deep in this thing called fact-finding. It’s the duty of artists to takeover this role,” he said.
Prasanna spoke with concern when he said that people ‘steal’ his paintings for commercial work. He shares his paintings on social media sites like Facebook (FB).
“I reduce resolution of the pictures of my paintings and share them on FB. I know people use them without permission, but then I have to use social media to make posts about my arts and continue telling the story about the history of Sri Lanka” he said.