The wood carving industry in Sri Lanka is a vibrant tapestry of ancient artistry and modern creativity. Skillful artisans intricately carve timber into exquisite sculptures, furniture, and decorative pieces that embody the island’s cultural heritage. Rooted in history and spirituality, these carvings depict religious narratives and ornate designs. Despite challenges, the industry persists, with workshops and initiatives ensuring its preservation. Wood carvings grace temples, homes, and global markets, exemplifying Sri Lanka’s craftsmanship and commitment to its traditions. This industry stands as a living tribute to the nation’s ingenuity and enduring dedication to the art of wood carving.

History of wood carvings in Sri Lanka

The history of wood carvings in Sri Lanka dates back to ancient times, tracing its origins to the introduction of Buddhism by Reverend Mahinda. As he arrived on the island, accompanied by a group of 18, among them was a skilled wood craftsman. Since then, timber carving has become an integral part of Sri Lankan culture and Buddhist customs. Across generations, intricately carved sculptures, furniture, and decorative pieces have adorned temples, reflecting spiritual narratives and cultural heritage. This tradition stands as a testament to the enduring fusion of craftsmanship, devotion, and the island’s artistic spirit, connecting the past with the present in a symphony of wood and culture.


What are the tools used for wood carving?

Wood carving is a delicate and intricate craft that requires the use of specialized tools to shape and create detailed designs from timber. The tools used in wood carving can vary based on the complexity of the project and the artisan’s preferences. Here are some of the essential tools commonly used in wood carving.

01. Goloya (Chisels)

Goloyas are versatile chisels with various shapes and sizes, including straight, skew, and curved edges. They are used for carving, shaping, and detailing the wood.

02. Vee Chisels

These tools have a V-shaped edge, perfect for creating fine lines, delicate patterns, and decorative elements in wood carvings.

03. Gouges

Gouges with curved blades are instrumental for hollowing out areas, adding depth, and creating rounded shapes in the wood.

04. Mallet (Mala)

The mallet is used to strike the chisels and gouges, providing controlled force for effective carving.

05. Drawknife

This tool resembles a small axe and is used for removing larger areas of wood quickly, helping to shape the rough form.

06. Detail Knife

Similar to a small carving knife, the detail knife l is employed for intricate detailing and delicate carving work.

07. Hammer and Chisel

This traditional method involves using a hammer and chisel, reflecting the deep-rooted heritage of wood carving in Sri Lanka.

08. Sanding Tools

Sandpaper and sanding blocks are used to smoothen and refine the carved surfaces, ensuring a polished finish.

09. Sharpening Stones

Keeping tools sharp is crucial, and sharpening stones help maintain the edges of the tools for precise carving.

10. Clamps and Vices

These aids secure the workpiece, allowing carvers to focus on their craft with stability and accuracy.

What is the wood carving process?

The wood carving process in Sri Lanka involves several key steps, each contributing to the creation of intricately carved masterpieces:

  1. Design-Artisans conceptualize the design, considering cultural motifs, religious themes, or contemporary aesthetics.
  2. Wood Selection-Durable hardwoods like ebony, mahogany, and teak are chosen for their fine grain and longevity.
  3. Rough Shaping- Basic outlines are carved using chisels, establishing the general form of the piece.
  4. Detail Carving-Intricate patterns and motifs are meticulously carved using gouges, chisels, and knives.
  5. Smoothing-Surfaces are sanded to perfection, ensuring a polished finish.
  6. Finishing-Staining or polishing may be applied to enhance the wood’s natural beauty.
  7. Inspection-The completed carving undergoes a quality check to ensure accuracy and craftsmanship.
  8. Preservation-Techniques are employed to protect the carving from environmental factors.

Sri Lankan wood carvers infuse tradition, skill, and artistry into each step, creating pieces that embody the island’s rich cultural heritage.

What to buy ?

During your travels in the island, a plethora of exquisite handcrafted treasures awaits. From charming wall hangings and educational toys to alluring ornaments, you’ll find attractive deals while souvenir shopping. Cutlery, crockery, fashion accessories, figurines, and gift boxes also grace the shops, offering a diverse array of options to capture the essence of your journey.

Sri Lanka, with its predominantly Buddhist population, crafts exquisite wooden Buddha statues. These revered sculptures, a common sight, grace homes across the nation, symbolizing devotion and spirituality. Hand-carved with intricate beauty, they stand as cherished symbols of faith, connecting devotees to their religious heritage.

Sri Lankan gift shops feature captivating wooden elephant carvings, vibrant and reminiscent of temple procession participants. Held in reverence, the elephant holds significant cultural importance in the country. During the Kandy Esala Perahara, the sacred tooth relic of Buddha graces the streets on an elephant’s back, adding spiritual significance to this annual event.


Lets explore about Embekka Devalaya’s Wood Carvings a Masterpiece of Sri Lankan Craftsmanship

Embekka Devalaya stands as a remarkable architectural marvel with its intricate wood carvings. Dating back to the Gampola period, this revered site in Kandy District, Sri Lanka, is dedicated to Kataragama deity. Initially established by King Wickramabahu III, it underwent modifications by King Rajadhi Rajasinghe. While originally a three-story structure, only remnants and wooden pillars remain today. Renowned woodwork, attributed to craftsman Delmada Devendra Mulachari, adds to its historical significance and allure.

Wood carvings of Embekke Devalaya

The standout feature of Embekke Devalaya is its intricate wood carvings adorning the pillars. These carvings, a true marvel, display diverse images, each distinct from the other. Within the complex, you’ll find approximately 125 decorative series, 256 festoon designs, 64 lotus motifs, 30 ornamental patterns, and various roof designs, totaling an astonishing 514 unique and captivating designs.

Among the renowned wood carvings at Embekke Devalaya, the entwined Swans, known as Hansa Puttuwa, stands prominently. Additional designs encompass entwined rope (Lanu Gataya), sneezing face (Kisimbi Muna), festoon work (Liyawala), Deities’ images (Deva Ruwa), hawk (Gijulihiniya), double-headed Eagles, dancing females, breastfeeding mother, wrestlers, horseback fighters, birds with human figures, and more. Notably, a distinctive carving features an entwined elephant and bull, where covering one reveals the other. This masterpiece showcases the remarkable artistry of Sri Lankan ancestors, exemplifying their creative brilliance and intricate craftsmanship.

Embekke Devalaya, an epitome of ancient Sri Lankan architecture and art, enjoys global recognition. Its intricate wood carvings have captivated scholars worldwide, gaining admiration from both national and international experts. UNESCO’s acknowledgment of these carvings as an exceptional collection of wooden pillar art underscores their significance. With sophisticated examples of ancient Sinhalese art, these enduring carvings stand as an iconic representation of Sri Lankan wood craftsmanship, a testament to its timeless allure.