National Museum of Colombo

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National Museum of Colombo
SL Colombo asv2020-01 img10 National Museum.jpg
National Museum of Colombo is located in Greater Colombo
National Museum of Colombo
Location in greater Colombo
EstablishedJanuary 1, 1877 (1877-01-01)
LocationSir Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Coordinates6°54′36″N 79°51′39″E / 6.91000°N 79.86083°E / 6.91000; 79.86083Coordinates: 6°54′36″N 79°51′39″E / 6.91000°N 79.86083°E / 6.91000; 79.86083
FounderSir William Henry Gregory (British Governor of Ceylon 1872–1877)

National Museum of Colombo, also known as the Sri Lanka National Museum is one of two museums in Colombo. It is the largest museum in Sri Lanka. It is maintained by the Department of National Museum of the central government. The museum holds contains a collections of much importance to Sri Lanka such as the regalia of the country, including the throne and crown of the Kandyan monarchs as well as many other exhibits telling the story of ancient Sri Lanka.[1][2]


Museum in 1896

The Colombo Museum, as it was called at the beginning, was established on 1 January 1877. Its founder was Sir William Henry Gregory the British Governor of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) at the time.[3] The Royal Asiatic Society (CB) was instrumental in bringing to the notice of Gregory on his appointment as governor in 1872 the need for a public Museum with much difficulty the approval of the legislative council was obtained within a year. The Architect of the Public Works Department, James George Smither (1833–1910)[3] was able to prepare the plans for new structure on Italian Architectural style. The construction was completed in 1876 and the museum commenced it functions in the following year.

The construction of the museum was carried out by Arasi Marikar Wapchie Marikar[3] (1829–1925, aka Wapchi Marikar, who was descended from the Sheiq Fareed family who arrived in Ceylon in 1060), paternal grandfather of Sir Razik Fareed. Wapchi Marikar was the builder of the General Post Office in Colombo, Colombo Customs, Old Town Hall in Pettah, Galle Face Hotel, Victoria Arcade, Finlay Moir building, the Clock Tower, Batternburg Battery and many other buildings that are still standing today (2011). The Old Town Hall in Pettah, which is now a busy market, was built on a contract for the sum of 689 Sterling Pounds.

In January 1877, the completed building of the Colombo Museum was declared open by Governor Gregory, in the presence of a large crowd, amongst which there were many Muslims present. At the end of the ceremony, the governor asked Wapchi Marikar what honour he wished to have for his dedication. He asked the same question of the carpenter S.M. Perera who was responsible for the woodwork of the museum, who requested and was awarded a local rank. Marikar requested that the museum be closed on Fridays, the Muslim sabbath; this request was granted and maintained, although the museum later much opened on all days except public holidays[4]

When the throne of the last Kandyan King was to be exhibited at the museum, the then prime minister, Mr. D.S. Senanayake, obtained the consent of Sir Razik Fareed, Wapchi Marikar’s grandson, to keep the museum open on the intervening Fridays only.[1]

Sculpture of the Buddha located at the entrance of the museum.
Heiyantuduwa Raja (elephant) Skeleton at
National Museum of Colombo, Sri Lanka

During the period between 1877 and 1999, the authorities of the museum took various steps to display the cultural and natural heritage of the country for this purpose. Several other wings were added from time to time under the direction of Dr. Arthur Willey and Dr. Joseph Pearson new structures were built during the period of Dr. P.E.P. Deraniyagala, Dr. P.H.D.H. de Silva and Sirinimal Lakdusinghe. One of the natural history museum, and yet another consists of the auditorium. These buildings would facilitate the extension of the library ethnological and Anthropological studies, etc.

Developments after 1940[edit]

The museum was given the status of a national museum during the period of P. E. P. Deraniyagala. He opened branch museums in Jaffna, Kandy, and Ratnapura and a fully-fledged department of national museum was established in 1942 under the act No. 31. Nine branch museums were ultimately opened, and a school science programme and a mobile museum service are also in operation.

The museum has a copy of the Statue of Tara, a three-quarter life size statue of Tara currently held in the British Museum.[5] The crown jewels and the throne of the last King of Kandy, which were returned to Sri Lanka by the British Government, were added to the museum collection. Ground floor galleries are arranged in historical sequence, and upper galleries thematically.

A library was also established on 1 January 1877. The government Oriental library (1870) was incorporated into Colombo National Museum library, and served as the nucleus of the library collection by collecting the local publications of the past 129 years; the library has been functioning as an unofficial national library in Sri Lanka, and became the first legal deposit library in the island. From its inception, special attention was given to building up of a collection related to Sri Lanka, Orientation and Natural Science.

In 1982 Dr. Thelma Gunawardena became the first woman director of the National Museum of Colombo.[6] She served from 1982 through 1994.[7]

National Museum Library[edit]

The Colombo National Museum Library was also established on 1 January 1877 incorporating the Government Oriental Library that had been established in 1870. Since 1885, by law, a copy of every document printed in the country is required to be lodged with the museum library.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "ICTA & National Museum launch Sri Lanka museums mobile app". Lanka Business Online. 15 March 2017. Retrieved 12 October 2017.
  2. ^ Silva, Dhananjani (22 March 2009). "Swords and fire power add to new-look museum". Sunday Times. Retrieved 12 October 2017.
  3. ^ a b c Jayawardane, Ishara (12 October 2017). "Magnificent historical haven". Daily News. Retrieved 12 October 2017.
  4. ^ Museum opening hours
  5. ^ The female as Cult Object in Buddhism, Digital Library, retrieved 10 December 2013
  6. ^ Perera, Janaka. "National museum: looking back 130 years". Observer Online. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  7. ^ Salie, Ryhanna. "National Museum: Window into the past". Sunday Observer. Retrieved 27 June 2018.

External links[edit]