Preindustrial Silver Craft in Sri Lanka

Archaeologists have discovered conclusive evidence that ancient Sri Lanka had highly sophisticated metalsmithing, among many other preindustrial crafts. Among those metal crafts, goldsmithing and silversmithing have existed as advanced crafts since ancient times. Here, the study will be conducted on preindustrial silver craft in Sri Lanka, including both ornamental and non-ornamental productions. In the first chapter, the history of the silver craft in Sri Lanka and the geographical location of the craft sites chosen for the study will be introduced. The second chapter will introduce the tools and equipment used in the craft. The third and fourth chapters will be for studying technology and challenges, respectively.

Preindustrial Silver Craft in Sri Lanka

The silver craft is a significant preindustrial craft in Sri Lanka, where a variety of crafts were developed and existed even before the common era. The manufacturing of jewellery and chatra from gold and silver has been done by the same artisans, while embossing artworks in silver and brass sheets has been done by another artisan type. Regardless, it is evident that silver craft has continued to thrive until today, dating from ancient times, as a highly advanced craft among the preindustrial crafts in Sri Lanka.

Today, the areas where these traditional crafts are still practised are quite rare and one such area is the craft villages that were established 30 years ago by the state. Among them, the village called Kalapura in Kandy is one. The village is situated in Naththarampota, in Kundasale division, Kandy district. There, the lane named “Rana Mayura Lane” is allocated for the traditional artisans of gold and silver (click to see in google maps). It is evident that these artisans, who come from traditional artisan families, have been relocated by the state and they continue their traditional craft. 

The Brief History of Traditional Silver Craft in Sri Lanka

When studying the historical sources, it can be seen that the artisans who engaged in silver crafting have been referred to as “Badallu” in Sinhala (Kumaraswamy, 1962: 54). According to Ananda Kumaraswamy, the pioneering researcher of arts and crafts in ancient Sri Lanka, the family of traditional artisans in Sri Lanka consisted of 11 lineages, and 2 of them were related to silver craft as silversmiths who were referred to as “Badal cast” and silver sheet craftsmen. According to classical history, it is said that the gold and silver craftsmen were one of the 62 artisan castes who migrated to Sri Lanka from North India before the common era. The silver craft that came into Sri Lanka like that seemed to have been placed in a complex social body according to the other crafts and the caste system.

“The upper-class artisans, referred to as ‘Galladdo’ (architects, painters, gold and silver craftsmen, brass craftsmen, ivory and wood carving artisans), do not eat together with or marry with the lower-class artisans, referred to as ‘Waduwo’ (common carpenters, craftsmen who operate lathe tools for shaving ivory and wood, blacksmiths, silver carving craftsmen, stone carvers, lac craftsmen).”

(Kumaraswamy, 1962: 54).

Here it is obvious that there was a difference between gold-silversmiths and silver-carving artisans.

It is evident that during the Kandyan period, a department referred to as “Kottal Badda” was introduced and all the traditional crafts that were considered high-class have been included under that department (Kumaraswamy, 1962: 54). For the administration of this department, two officials referred to as “Kottal Badde Nilame” have been appointed by the king. Under the administrative model of the Kandyan kingdom, the administrative districts called “Disawe” were governed by the officials referred to as “Disawe” for the King and these officials seemed to have been appointed with the power of the role of Kottal Badde Nilame. The district governor or “Disawe,” had appointed a person who was from a traditional craft caste for the post of “Kottal Badde Vidane,” who was like a deputy administrative officer under the governor himself. The control of the artisans, management of their services, and sponsorships for the artisans for the continuation of the crafts had been systematically carried out by this model of administration. Accordingly, the artisans in the district called “Sathara Korale” were divided into 10 craftsman groups. Among them, two artisan lineages were silver craftsmen. Among them, there were 13 artisans who decorated guns, knives, and keyhole door plates with intricate carvings using gold, silver, and brass. And among them, two of them have been appointed to the service of the royal armoury. The other artisan group was made up of four artisans who worked with gold, silver, brass, and copper. Two of them also worked in the royal armoury. The best artisans from the upper caste artisan groups, such as gold-silversmiths, painters, and ivory carving artisans, belonged to the artisan grade that was considered to be the upper class and was referred to as “Pattal Hathara.” Those traditional lineages served only for the king, and anyone outside the caste lineage couldn’t enter those castes. These artisans could only serve each other with the king’s permission. Earlier, this artisan group consisted of only one type of artisans, referred to as “Abarana Pattalaya,” which meant the jewlers, and later another three types were added: “Otunu Pattala, Rankadu Pattalaya, and Sinhasana Pattalaya,” which meant artisans in charge of the crown, king’s sword, and king’s throne (Kumaraswamy, 1962: 55–56). According to literary and archaeological sources, trays, kettles, and other products for religious needs were crafted using silver. Accordingly, it is clear that the silver craft was a highly sophisticated craft among preindustrial crafts in Sri Lanka.

The Tools, Equipments and Materials and Their Utilisation and Function in Traditional Silver Craft in Sri Lanka

The tools and equipment and their utilisation and function in traditional silver craft (preindustrial) in Sri Lanka have both common and unique features. For instance, the terms of tools and equipment as well as their existence are sometimes unique to preindustrial Sri Lanka. Therefore, for some of the names, there won’t be any English terms and for some of the functions and usages, they will also be entirely or partially different.


In silver craft, the need for a furnace can be recognised in two main instances. In the first instance, a furnace that can generate heat enough to melt silver is needed for melting the silver ingot to make it into the required shape and size. Since there is no major metal melting in silver craft, the furnace does not have to be a large one. The furnace is always customised according to the craftsman’s preference. Usually, it is made as a thick square pilar, which approximately has a 40 cm by 40 cm square base and shaft, using terracotta bricks and clay mortar and it rises from the ground level up to the waist level of the artisan. At the waist level of the artisan, it reaches its maximum height and ends as a horizontal plain. On that plain, there is a circular pit that is approximately 20 cm deep. In that furnace pit, there is a small hole that is about 1 cm in diameter, located approximately 5 cm below the upper level of the furnace pit from the side, as a blowhole for the furnace and it is attached to a mechanism that pumps air in. The furnace pit is filled with rice husk and its upper middle space is filled with coconut shell charcoal. Rice husk and coconut shell charcoal provide the benefits of the continuation of fire, the continuation of an appropriate temperature, and the functioning of airflow. For the air intake to the furnace, the equipment referred to as “Hama” is utilised.

This equipment, called “Hama,” is not as large as the one that is used in blacksmithing but somewhat similar in the use of materials and function. This one is like a bag or sack that has four corners. In one corner, a hose is attached. The sack is kept on its horizontal plain; the lower plain is fixed to the supporting clay wall and the upper plain is attached to a wooden piece that functions as a handle. The air is blown into the furnace by grabbing this wooden handle, pulling the sack up and pushing it down. Here it is noteworthy that, in my inspection, though this traditional mechanism was still in place, the artisan had equipped his furnace with an electric blower that provides a persistent air flow. And the artisan mentioned that there is equipment that has the same function as the electric blower but works by hand. This way, by providing persistent air flow to the furnace, the coconut shell charcoal that is on the rice husk gives away a lot of heat. The artisan keeps a crucible, which is referred to as “Kowa” in Sinhala, filled with silver ingots, silver dust, or any silver metals he chooses to use as raw material and melt down.

The second instance in which a furnace is used in the silver craft is during the ongoing process of manufacturing the product. The metal should be preheated occasionally for hammering, turning into wires, and fusing. For that purpose, a terracotta pot filled with coconut shell charcoal is used. This is not entirely a furnace, as it does not generate heat. It rather replaces the modern-day function that crucible goldsmiths and silversmiths use to heat up the metal while in the process of crafting. Instead of placing the metal on the porcelain crucible and heating it with a blowtorch, traditional Sinhalese craftsmen place the metal on a piece of coconut shell charcoal and heat it with a special lamp that has a tiny hose that blows a flame out of it, using paraffin oil as fuel. Here, the artisan has to blow air into the lamp using a small hose to get a blasting flame. Today, LP gas torches are used as a replacement for this lamp. However, the artisan claimed that the quality of the flame that they require and attain using traditional paraffin oil lamps cannot be replaced by the LP gas torch. How this step was carried out before the discovery of fossil fuels remained unknown by the time this research was carried out. It can be guessed that a pot full of burning coconut shell charcoal or the same type of lamp used plant oil, such as coconut oil, But further investigation is required on the subject.


The crucible is one of the essential tools in metalsmithing. In the silver craft, the artisans use different sizes of crucibles made out of a mixture of graphite and kaolinite clay for melting the silver that they take as raw materials. Here, it is noteworthy that artisans may use silver ingots as well as silver products. The raw materials of the mixture from which the crucible is made are responsible for qualities such as strength and high thermotolerance. Hence, when the crucible is placed in the furnace and heated until the silver melts, no damage occurs to the crucible. Most importantly, the non-stickiness of the crucible is a necessity, and graphite provides that quality.


The hammer that is used in silver crafts has a round head and a square head. The round-shaped hammer head is used to flatten the metal and the square-shaped hammer head is used to lengthen the metal.


Alongside the hammer, the chisel is also used in silver crafts, as well as in other metal crafts. Chisel is referred to as “katuwa” in silver craft in Sinhala. The chisel used in wood carpentry is referred to as “Niyana” in Sinhala, indicating different terminologies in the Sinhala language for referring to these two items in two different crafts. In fact, there is a tool called “Katuwa” in wood carpentry too. Here, it can be seen that the pointed or flat-pointed tool that pushes metal or wood without removing any material is called “Katuwa,” while the similar tool that removes the material is called “Niyana.”.

There are two main uses of chisel in traditional silver crafts (preindustrial silver craft) in Sri Lanka. One is cutting silver into pieces. Since silver is a soft metal, replacing the traditional use of chisels, large scissors are now used. The second and most important use of the chisel in this craft is carving the metal to make decorations. Almost every product of silver is decorated with carvings and for that, the tools are the chisel and hammer. Especially in the craft of silver trays, the main tools are the chisel and hammer. The sizes of both chisels and hammers work like proportional variables.


The size of the anvil that is used in silver craft is not larger than the one used by blacksmiths but the utilisation is the same. It is referred to as “kinihiriya” in Sinhala. The anvil is a necessary tool for flattening and lengthening the silver metal by hammering it down and cutting chunks of silver into desired pieces using a chisel and hammer.

Tongs and Pilers

There are several tongs and pilers used in silver craft, which is referred to as “Anduwa” in Sinhala. A pointed tong, a circular tong, and a round tong are a few examples. A tong with a flat handle and an outwardly curled hand is used to grab products such as rings. The flat surface of the handle places it outside of the ring and from the inside of the ring, the outward-curved handle tightly grips the inside grove of the ring. This tool holds the ring in place tightly without damaging its surface or deforming its shape.


The draw plate or wire drawer, is the tool that is used for making wires out of silver. It is called “Siduru Potha” in Sinhala. The silver pieces that have been hammered down on the anvil as tiny as possible are drawn through the largest hole and then through smaller holes until they reach the thickness required by the artisan. The draw plate is a steel or iron plate that is about 15 cm by length, 5 cm by width, and 0.5 cm by thickness. On the plate, there are four rows of holes placed according to their sizes, in ascending order. On one side or one horizontal plain of this plate, each whole is slightly larger than the opposite plain. The artisan draws the silver piece through the holes as it comes from the larger side to the smaller size. So, when the metal is pulled out through the hole, it gets pushed in by the slight funnel shape each hole has. So the wire gets thinner with each draw. Artisan applies wax to the silver piece that has been hammered down to be a thin piece and pushes it through the small hole so that piece can be put in from the larger side of the hole. Then it is pulled out from the other side, which is the smaller side of the hole, using a tong. This process is repeated each time the silver piece goes through a tinner hole until it becomes a thin wire. During this process, to avoid breaking, the silver wire has to be heated and the temperature is as desired by the artisan.

Ring Mandrel

Ring mandel is an important tool for crafting silver rings. It is referred to as “Mudu Banda” in Sinhala in traditional silver crafts in Sri Lanka. This cylindrical tool made out of iron or steel has an approximate length of 25 cm and a diameter gradually decreasing from 2 cm to 1 cm from one end to another. A prepared silver piece is wrapped around this tool and hammered to make a ring. Then, after making the primary stage of the ring, the artisan measures the diameter of the shaft, which is exactly the same as the size of the finger that the ring would go in and hammers the ring until it gets the perfect size. Then, if the excess material is sawed off, later steps continue. Today, the ring sizer, which is referred to as “Mudu Kerella,” is used to measure the size of the finger of the buyer.

Bow Drill

The bow drill, which is known as “Thorapana Katta” in Sinhala, is a tool that was used by the traditional silversmiths of Sri Lanka in pre-industrial times. This equipment is crafted by the artisans. This simple piece of equipment is created using three items: a 1.5-foot-long wooden stick, a thin and long piece of cloth, and a metal rod. Today, this has been replaced by an electric power drill.

Cutting Scissors

There are several cutting scissors that are used to cut the silver metal. Different sizes of scissors are used for cutting silver pieces with different thicknesses. According to the artisans, it seems that, as a result of the industrial revolution, today those scissors are easier to obtain than in the past.


As a tool that is used in every craft related to metal work, the file, which is referred to as “peera” in Sinhala, is also used in traditional silver crafts in pre-industrial Sri Lanka. A file is a tool made out of file-resistant steel with or without a wooden hilt. In this tool, on one or three sides of the steel rod, there are small diagonal groves. These groves file off the rough edges and corners of metal. In silver craft, files in different shapes and sizes are used to make the shape, to smooth, to round up the angular corners, to turn round corners into angular corners, and to flatten. There are several types of files, such as triangular, cylindrical, half cylindrical, half flat, and flat.


The vise that is used in preindustrial silver craft in Sri Lanka is quite different from today’s replacement around the world. This tool is referred to as “Pandam Kotuwa” in Sinhala and it is a wooden tool. This tool is a wooden cylinder that has a slight cone shape; its maximum diameter is approximately 2.5 cm and its length is 15 cm. The larger side of this wooden piece is split in half along the length halfway along it. Then, on the top of the split face, a wax called “celac” is added. The silver piece that is needed to be filed off, polished, drilled, or cut is stuck into the opening of the split grove after heating the celac paste. Then, when the paste is cooled down, the silver piece stays solid in place, just like with a common vise tool. Then the other side of the wooden shaft is pushed into a hole in the working table. Tasks like adding stones to rings are done using this tool.


When it comes to silver carving art, artisans use a substance referred to as “Pandan,”  which they prepare themselves. This substance is a mixture of coconut oil, powder of crushed terracotta bricks, and gum rosin, and it is used for preparing the silver piece that is required to be carved. This substance ensures protection for the metal piece during the carving process. If the artisan needs to soften the silver piece, a mixture with a higher coconut oil concentration is used, and if the artisan needs to keep the silver piece more hardened, a mixture with a high gum rosin concentration is used.


The type of flux used in silver welding in preindustrial silver craft in Sri Lanka is referred to as “Puskara” in Sinhala. This substance is white in colour and looks like limestone at first sight. This stone is grinded on a stone and the power is mixed with water into a paste and used when welding silver.

There is a folktale about how the Sinhalese discovered this substance, as believed by the artisan who was interviewed in this inspection. According to him, the folktale is a legend. It is about the incident that took place when Vijaya and his fellow North Indian people settled in Sri Lanka. According to the legend, the people at the time knew about the flux for welding iron. At that time, the natives of the island were called Yaksha (Devils) and the northern Indian migrants were called Manushya (Humans) as tribal names. One time, a man from the native tribe went undercover to gather information about the migrant settlers. There he had seen a substance called “puskara” used to weld silver metal. While undercover, he was caught and sentenced to death. At his last breath, the man shouted loudly, saying a poetic phrase: “Yakadeta Madabore, Ridiyata Puskare.” That means “madabora for iron, puskara for silver.” His last words were heard by the crowd and spread over. The natives heard the news of the execution as well as the last words of the native man. So, they understood the last words and discovered flux for silver. Though this legend is not supported by archaeological evidence, the use of “madabora” as flux for iron welding is archaeologically evident, and surgical tools made out of silver are found in Alahana Pirivena in Polonnaruwa. Therefore, it is apparent that preindustrial silversmiths in Sri Lanka had the knowledge of flux for silver welding before the common era.

Soorana Katta

This tool is used for preparing the silver piece for polishing. This tool is an iron or steel rod with a slim and triangular end. Artisan scrapes the silver piece, which is placed steadily by the vise (pandan kotuwa) and makes the surface flat and even with a crude finish.

Opa Katta

The surface of the silver piece that is flattened by the “soorana katta” undergoes the first step of polishing with this tool. This tool is a cylindrical iron or steel rod that has a gradually vanishing point. Rubbing this tool on the silver piece makes it nice and even.

Wadi and Wadi Patiya

The polishing compound used in preindustrial silver craft in Sri Lanka is referred to as “Wadi.” There are two types of Vadi, “Mattam Wadi” and “Opa Wadi,”  used respectively in the polishing process. When a silver piece is polished with Mattam Vadi, it becomes black. Then it is washed with paraffin oil and then with water. Then only the piece is polished with Opa Wadi. This method is applied to the silver surfaces of larger items, such as trays and kettles. Except for the jewelries, silver products that are medium-large have been polished with a leaf referred to as “Boodaliya” in Sinhala. Also, polishing by rubbing off the silver surface with a wooden flake of Indian-Almond tree has been a practice in the past. Nowadays, industrial sandpapers have replaced the Boodaliya leaf.

When it comes to smaller silver products, such as jewellery, the polishing process, which started with Opa Katta, ends with rubbing with Wadi Patiya. Long strips of cloth are soaked with the polishing compound and hung on the working table. The artisan pulls a strip until it is well stretched with one hand, takes the silver piece in his other hand and rubs it on the strip of polishing compound-soaked cloth.

Techniques, Technology, and Decoration in Traditional Silver Craft in Sri Lanka as a Preindustrial Craft

It is evident that the silversmiths in preindustrial Sri Lanka utilised unique techniques and technology. A complex, laborious, technological, and traditional process is evident in obtaining raw materials to produce polished silverware, as discussed below.

Obtaining raw materials for the silver craft

Nowadays, the remaining artisans from ancient craft families obtain silver ingots from the market. It is possible that in ancient times, a limited amount of silver was supplied from the rare silver deposits on the island and imported from foreign markets as well. Lately, the Bank of Ceylon has imported Swiss silver and provided the opportunity for the artisans to buy as they need. Currently, there seems to be no other way than to buy silver from the market.

Processing raw materials

The artisan always processes the raw material as required for crafting the expected silver product. If silver is 100% pure silver, any special pre-treatment is not usually required. But, since silver is a soft metal, when it is needed to be hardened, artisans process the silver ingots. Usually, artisans prepare a silver alloy by adding 2% copper per tola of silver. 1 tola of silver is equivalent to 10.2 grams of silver. Artisans claim that in their experience, the silver that is being imported nowadays comes as grains, as the size of black pepper grains makes them easier to harden.

The crafting begins with pouring the melted and processed silver into a mould. There, the artisan chose the type of mould according to the type of expected finished product. Usually, the melted silver is poured onto a small trench of roofing tile. Currently, the roofing tile has been replaced by a metal plate with several moulds.

Then the poured silver metal is left to cool down with air and then taken off from the roofing tile or the mould and hammering down begins as required. For that, the anvil and hammer are used. The process up front is decided according to the product that is expected to be crafted.

Making silver wires

Silver wires are needed for crafting jewellery such as necklaces, rings, bangles, etc. For that, the artisan further hammers the silver piece that is taken out of the roofing tile and roughly hammered until it becomes a slim and long piece. The silver piece is required to be heated while hammering it down. But unlike iron, silver should not be hammered down when it is red hot. The heated silver piece is left to cool down with air, not water, and then hammered. Because when the heated silver is hammered, it gets fractured. So, the heating is done frequently to repair the damages caused by the hammering and to ensure the softness of the metal. This technique is passed down to generations of preindustrial silversmiths in Sri Lanka.

Then, to transform the slim and long silver piece into a wire, the draw plate is used, as mentioned in the previous chapter. It seems that this traditional technique cannot be replaced by modern machinery, even today.

Silver Welding

Silver welding is done using a substance called “puskara” as flux. The flux is applied as a paste in the required amount, as decided by the artisan, to the two silver pieces that are to be welded together. Then one piece is kept on a coconut shell charcoal piece. Then, the other piece is kept on the silver piece that is kept in the charcoal pot. Then, using the paraffin lamp, the two silver pieces are heated. When the required heat is given, the two pieces get welded together. The excellent craftsmanship in silver welding is evident in traditional crafts.

Silver Carving

Metal carving is naturally different from wood carving. In wood carving, the material is removed and in metal carving, only in necessary instances is the material removed. For instance, though the metal is removed on a small scale, when carving jewellery and depicting lines in statues, the metal carving means embossing the metal by hammering from front and back, using the malleability of the metal. This technique and practice are valid for silver as well and they can be examined by referring to the process of crafting a silver tray.

the steps of crafting a silver tray

Melting silver: the silver ingots are put into a crucible and heated in a furnace to make them melt.

Pouring into the required mould: The shape of the mould is decided according to the expected shape of the ee. If the tree is oval-shaped, the mould is oval, etc. Usually, the diameter of such moulds is only 4 cm. These moulds are traditionally made with roofing tile clay and are now replaced with metal moulds.

Hammering on the anvil: The silver piece that is left to cool down is hammered down, ensuring its correct shape, until it gets to the required size of the trey. If a silver piece with a diameter of 4 cm is hammered mechanically using a roller drum, it can only be extended to a maximum of 10 cm in diameter. But, when hammered on the anvil, it can be extended to 30 cm in diameter. Hammering is not continuous, and frequent heating is needed. According to the artisans, to hammer a silver piece with a diameter of 4 cm into the required size to make it a tray, it should be heated at least 25 times frequently. And the hammering is only done when the metal is heated and then cooled down with air.

Carving the hammered-down silver plate: The carving is decided by two factors: the needs of the buyer and the decisions of the artisan. For carvings, traditional Sinhalese decorations are used. The carving process has three steps using the chisel and hammer. The use of the substance called pandan, as described earlier, is essential for making the metal soften or harden as required in the process. The three steps of silver plate carving that make a plate into a tray can be identified as follows:

  1. carving the base drawing—marking the initial drawing on the plate. This is referred to as “carving the marama” in Sinhala.
  2. embossing the carving, making the surface concave and convex as required according to the drawing
  3. finishing up the carving—this is referred to as “Miliyama.” It means finishing up the carving by carving the sharp and surgical parts of the drawing.


Polishing is done by hand in traditional crafts. For that, a polishing compound called “Wadi” is used, as explained in the previous chapter. The initial polishing compound, referred to as “Mattam Wadi,” is used to flatten the surfaces. Mixed with this compound, the removed silver parts stay as a black paste on the silver plate. Then it is washed off with parapine oil and then with water. Then, using the secondary polishing compound referred to as “Opa Wadi,” the silver tray is polished. With that final polishing, the crafting process of the silver tray in traditional silver craft in Sri Lanka ends.

Stonesetting for silver items

The precious and semi-precious stones are set into gold and silver items such as jewellery, medals, cups, souvenirs, statues, etc. Stonesetting comes in two types.

  1. bezel setting
  2. prong setting

Bezel setting is known as “keweni bamma” in Sinhala in traditional silver craft. In this type of stone setting, the stone is kept in place on the silver piece by a continuous band of silver around the gemstone from the sides. It naturally looks as if the gemstone has been semi-submerged in the metal. This method was the most commonly used and accepted stonesetting method practised by the traditional silversmiths in Sri Lanka in the preindustrial setting. Here, the ring or other silver item is kept in place using the vise mentioned above. and a band is formed in the ring around the hole that has been created to place the gemstone in. Then the gemstone is kept in place and the band around it is tightened slowly and steadily until the gemstone is fixed in place tightly.

Prong setting is known as “dath gal bamma” in Sinhala. It means stone bound by dentees. The small prongs that are used to secure the gemstone in place on the piece are called dentees in this context. The descendants of traditional silversmiths claimed they began to practise this method after the colonial era in Sri Lanka, as their buyers asked for that method under the influence of the appearance of imported jewellery. Most often, there are four prongs created at equal distances around the place where the gemstone should be. Then the gemstone is kept in place and the prongs are tightened inside the gemstone to keep it in place.

The restoration of the silver items with the prong setting is claimed to be easier than the bezel setting. According to Ananda Kumaraswamy, this prong-setting type of stone setting was unknown to Sri Lankan jewellers until the modern era. Due to the higher possibility of stones getting lost with the prong setting, the artisans could have neglected that method, considering it’s useless, according to Kumaraswamy (1962: 208).

Decorating silver crafts

The decoration of silver items in pre-industrial silver craft consisted of carving some shape on them and precious or semiprecious stonesetting. The decorations used for carvings have been the standard traditional Sinhalese decoration patterns. Bherunda Pakshi and Annasi Mala are the most common among them. When it comes to the patterns that are modified to a certain level, it can be seen that the foundation for them as well has been the traditional Sinhalese decoration patterns. However, the descendants of the preindustrial silver artisans in Sri Lanka now use totally different patterns from the past. And also, the types of gemstones that are bound to silver have changed. For instance, the production of silver items using the imported stones called tiger eye can be noticed.

The Silver Items Produced by the Pre-industrial Silver Craft in Sri Lanka

The silver items manufactured under the preindustrial silver craft in Sri Lanka can be identified in two categories: ornamental and non-ornamental. as ornamental silver products,

  1. signet rings (peras mudu in Sinhala)
  2. diadems (nalal pati in Sinhala)
  3. earings (karambu in Sinhala)
  4. bangles (walalu in Sinhala). two types: thulabendi walalu and saree walalu.
  5. necklaces (greewabharana in sinhala) (types: lunumal malaya, onion flower chain; polmal malaya, coconut flower chain; thunpota malaya)
  6. hairsticks,

can be identified as non-ornamental silver products,

  1. trays
  2. Kendies (water vessels)
  3. flower vases
  4. keyhole door plates
  5. hilts of swords and daggers
  6. maces
  7. scroll cases,

can be identified.

The Problems and Challenges for Traditional Silver Craft in Sri Lanka

The traditional silver artistry in Sri Lanka is also in decline, as are the rest of the preindustrial crafts. As the root and basic causes of the declination, the following factors can be indicated:.

  1. dispersal of imitations
  2. higher cost of raw materials
  3. lack of state sponsorship, unlike in ancient times.
  4. lack of market needs
  5. The new generation is not learning the craft.

The silver imitations are relatively low-cost products on the market. Being imported and widely sold products, those imitation items have posed a considerable threat to the traditional silver craft in Sri Lanka. Plastic imitations can also be found among them. For instance, the medals and cups that are used in sports events are imported plastic products that can be bought for a cheap price in the market. By close inspection, it is clear that the importers have paid the traditional silver artisans to craft silver items and then sent those samples to China, where they mass-produced the plastic imitations. Those imitations are cheap but they satisfy the local market. Here, it can be said that traditional artistry has been threatened and stolen.

Obviously, the higher the cost of the raw material, the higher the price of the finished product. It leads to fewer buyers and fewer profits, which eventually leads to a downgrade of the craft.

The traditional silver craft in Sri Lanka was at its peak when the country was governed by the monarch. In that context, the possession of gold and silver crafts is a traditional factor of wealth for the upper class of society. But, in today’s world, the needs of the locals have changed significantly. The use of ornamental luxuries has been replaced with the use of productive luxuries. And also, when inspected closed, it can clearly be seen that the traditional silver craft in Sri Lanka did not reach its peak depending on the market. It was solely a monarch-sponsored craft. Though gold and silver were important in an era when the wealth of the king was considered, today’s situation is quite different.

The lack of a good market for the traditional silver craft is another issue. The market need for silver has drastically declined. Therefore, it has come to a point that the remaining artisans cannot sell their products and have no choice but to leave the craft. Several reasons can be identified for not having a stable market like this. As explained earlier, the dispersal of imitations, the absence of state sponsorship, and socio-cultural changes are major factors. The ancient craft was dependent on the two main social powers: the state and religion. But now, those two powers are functioning in different ways. Although the wealthy foreigners still have an inclination towards buying from traditional silver artisans, due to the lack of well-structured and planned government intervention, the foreigners buy them from the jewellery shops in the towns rather than from the artisans who live in villages in the countryside. It is determined that, according to the artisans, without a state-sponsored intervention, the link between the wealthy foreign buyers and traditional silver artisans cannot be established. Also, it is evident that the lowest price of silver items

Under these circumstances, knowing that they cannot reach the expected economic development by engaging in the traditional silver craft, the younger generation of the traditional artisans leaves the craft. And also, in modern society, they are not forced to do their craft by the caste system. Therefore, the modern generation is leaving the traditional craft behind and finding their future in other ways of living.

As a development in the craft, the use of new technology can be seen. Modern machinery and technology are far more advanced in efficiency. The positive side of it is that the traditional artisans have also taken advantage of modern technology as a way to do their work more efficiently. However, it is apparent that it is a challenge to take the technology to the traditional artisans who believe in the boundaries of traditional beliefs. 

It is evident that these artisans expect the same silver items they produced in ancient times to be sold in the market in this modern era and that expectation and the limitations they have placed upon themselves are also causes of the decline of the artistry. The ancient artisans have provided what contemporary society needs. Therefore, it is possible that these descendants of traditional silversmiths can have a positive impact on the craft if they produce what the current society needs.

The traditional artisans have limited themselves only to the traditional Sinhalese decoration patterns, while modern buyers can easily check out modern designs and decorations from around the world. Therefore, buyers have the ability to choose between local and imported products as well as designs. Therefore, traditional artisans should not be limited to their traditional products, designs, or decorations. It could lead the local buyers to buy from the local artisans and with the economic stability of the artisans, they can carry out the legacy of the traditional craft.

And also, it appears useless to try to replace gold and silver with the modern technological devices the younger generation uses. Instead, the artisans should identify modern needs and create or recreate items that are useful for modern generations. By establishing a market for silver products, the local artisans will be able to continue the craft and produce the traditional items when needed. especially by eradicating the barriers between the foreign market and the local artisans, the state could uplift the traditional silver craft and its value.

In a nutshell, the artisans accepting modern technology and modern needs and producing items according to the needs of the local market, as well as eradicating the barriers between the foreign market and the local artisans, can be seen as the challenges that should be overcome.


The silver craft can be identified as one of the preindustrial crafts in Sri Lanka that continues to function today. Although the use of silver was rare in Sri Lanka, it has become a sophisticated craft. With traditional artistry, this craft was sophisticated, but today it is declining gradually. Due to higher raw material costs, the dispersal of imitations, the change in the socio-cultural system, the absence of state sponsorship, and the lack of local markets, the younger generation leaves the craft and therefore the craft is dying. Establishing a place in the foreign market by the state and artisans modifying their craft to provide for the local market needs seem to be the challenges to win for this craft.