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Buddhist priests (boys), Colombo.

Buddhist priests (boys), Colombo.

Photographer: Fiebig, Frederick

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1852

Shelfmark: Photo 249/(23)

Item number: 24923

Genre: Photograph

Photograph by Frederick Fiebig from an album of 70 handcoloured salt prints, of Buddhist monks (bhikkus) at Colombo in Sri Lanka (Ceylon). Fiebig, of German origin, was active in Calcutta as an artist and lithographer in the 1840s. Little is known about his life, but turning to photography in the late 1840s he produced hundreds of photographs by the calotype process, frequently handcolouring them. His photographs of Ceylon, probably taken in 1852, are considered the earliest surviving photographic record of the island. Colombo, the capital and chief port of Sri Lanka, located on its west coast, evolved during the four and a half centuries of European colonial expansion under the Portuguese (1505-1656), the Dutch (1656-1796) and the British (1796-1948). It was transformed into a modern metropolis under British rule. Sri Lanka is the oldest continually Buddhist country in the world, the religion having been introduced in the 3rd century BC. Monks from Sri Lanka have played a key role in the spread of Buddhism in south-east Asia. One of Sri Lanka's most important contributions to Buddhism occurred when monks wrote down the Buddha's teachings (previously an oral tradition) in the 1st century BC, resulting in the sacred canon of the Tipitaka scriptures. European colonists successively persecuted Buddhism on the island, starting with the Portuguese in the 16th century, followed by the Dutch and then the British in the 19th century. However, around 1860 there was a major Buddhist revival initiated by the monastic and lay community, a movement which was paralleled by growing nationalism.

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