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Dr Dulma Niroshini Karunarathna

Project title

Imaging the female in changing socio-cultural contexts: a study of female representations in the visual arts of late medieval and colonial Sri Lanka


Seema Malaka buddhist temple in the Beira Lake in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Project description

My research is the first of its kind. It uses Sri Lanka as an in-depth cross-regional study. The study will develop an understanding of female representations in visual art forms in their proper institutional structure from the 14th to the 19th centuries.

The project will explore the varying representations of South Asian women in history.

I will compare and contrast female figures represented in murals, paintings and sculpture with literary sources from this period.

I will also compare and contrast such evidence through a cross-regional and cross-cultural study. My study will collect information from primary and secondary sources.

Information from primary sources includes mural paintings, sculpture and architecture. Supplementary sources mainly comprise inscriptions, textual and ethnographic data.

I will collect information from secondary sources through a Library survey on women in ancient Sri Lanka.

I will carry out data analysis and interpretation with a multi-disciplinary application.

My investigation will consider how women lived in changing social contexts in late Medieval and colonial Sri Lanka. This will allow us to question and dispel myths about women in our history. It will enhance our understanding of the situation of women in contemporary South Asia in general and Sri Lanka in particular.

Contemporary research may ultimately use such new information when considering the rights of women and their legitimate position in society.

Training programmes

  • 2007 - Attended the Cultural Heritage Institute – South Asia program in India & United States hosted by the Council of American Overseas Research Centers. July 19 – August 16, 2007, India (American Institute on Indian Studies, New Delhi) & U.S.A. (Smithsonian Institution & University of Wisconsin, Madison)
  • 2009 - Underwater Archaeology, Maritime Archaeology Unite, Central Cultural Fund Galle, Sri Lanka. (8-18 July 2009)

Awards, prizes, scholarships and fellowships

  • 2011 - Commonwealth Scholarship United Kingdom
  • 2003-2004 - Hilda Obesekera Research fellowship for M. Phil, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka
  • 2002 - Professor Leelananda Prematilake and Dr. Nanda Prermatilake prize for highest average in Archaeology, General Convocation, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka
  • 1997 - Mahapola Higher Education ( Merit ) Scholarship, Mahapola Higher Education Scholarship Trust Fund, Sri Lanka
  • 1996 - Annual Best Students’ Prize, Awarded by Bandarathilaka Art Foundation, Kelaniya, Sri Lanka
  • 1995 - Prof Maramba Ratanasara Annual Memorial Scholarship Prize to a student of Gurukula Maha Vidyalaya, Kelaniya, Sri Lanka for the best Advance Level results

Other information

  • Artist, poet and photographer


  • BA in Archaeology 
  • MPhil in Archaeology


Selected publications:

  • 2004 – Dulma Karunarathna, Did Women Hold a Prestigious Position in the Krishna Valley during the Satavahana & Ikshavaku Dynasties? A Socio- archaeological study, Nawa Vimarshana, Centre for Women’s Research (CENWOR) Colombo. pp1- 17
  • 2005 – Dulma Karunarathna, “ Review on Lakshmi Plaques” Welipila Archaeological Magazine, Vol. 6, ed. Thusitha Mandis, Central Cultural Fund, Colombo, pp 89-97
  • 2006 - Dulma Karunarathna, “Andhra Art Tradition & the Relationship between the creations of Sri Lanka”, Alternative Archaeology, Vol. 1, ed. Prof. Sudharshan Seneviratne & Others, Archaeological Society, Department of Archaeology, University of Peradeniya. pp 38-51
  • 2007 – Dulma Karunarathna, “Cave Temples of Ajanta”, Welipila Archaeological Magazine, Vol. 7, ed. Thusitha Mandis, Central Cultural Fund, Colombo. pp 105-116
  • 2009 - Dulma Karunarathna, The Sculptured Art of Jetavana Ayaka, Jetavana Stupa Puranaya, Central Cultural Fund, Colombo. pp 79-91
  • 2009- Dulma Karunarathna, Women & Heritage: An Ethno-Archaeological study on Vaddha Women in Dambana, Sri Lanka, Alternative Archaeology, Vol. 2, ed. Aruna Rajapakshe, Archaeological Society, Department of Archaeology, University of Peradeniya. pp 79-86
  • 2010 - Dulma Karunarathna, Portrayal of Women in the Sigiri frescoes, Terracotta Figures and Graffiti: A Socio- archaeological study. Prof. K.N. O. Dharmadasa felicitation Volume, ed. Palitha Lakshman Nugapitiya & Mahinda Ratnayake, S. Godage & Brothers, Colombo. pp 282-307

Selected paper presentations:

  • 2003 - Dulma Karunarathna, Andhra Art Tradition & the Relationship between the Carvings of Jetavana Monastery. Paper Presented at the 07th National Archaeological Symposium. Colombo.
  • 2004 – Dulma Karunarathna, Did Women Hold a Prestigious Position in the Krishna Valley During the Satavahana & Ikshavaku Dynasties? A Socio- archaeological study, Paper presented at the 9th National Convention on Women’s Studies (CENWOR), Colombo.
  • 2006 – Dulma Karunarathna, “Female Representation in Early Krishna Valley, Andhra Pradesh: A Socio- Archaeological Study”, Paper presented at the Postgraduate Research Symposium 2005, January 21, 2006, Faculty of Arts, University of Peradeniya.
  • 2006 – Dulma Karunarathna, Portrayal of Women in the Sigiri frescoes, Terracotta Figures and Graffiti: A Socio - archaeological study, Paper presented at the 10th National Convention on Women’s Studies (CENWOR), Colombo.
  • 2008 - Dulma Karunarathna, Joined presentation with Prof. S.D.S. Seneviratne on Learning through an Archaeological and cultural study tour of South India, Consultative Review panel, Trans Asia Hotel, 01.03.2008, Organized by American Institute for Lankan Studies.
  • 2009 – Dulma Karunarathna, Female representation in primitive rock art in Ancient India: Social- Archaeological Study. Paper presented at the Peradeniya University Research Sessions (PURSE) 2009.
  • 2010 - Dulma Karunarathna, The Function of Lakshmi Figure in Sri Lankan Art Forms, Paper presentation, Postgraduate Symposium, Faculty of Arts, University of Peradeniya. held on 29, 10, 2010 at University of Peradeniya. pp 1-3
  • 2010 - Sudharshan Seneviratne, Dulma Karunarathna, Kumuduni Nanayakkara and Poornima Ihalagedara. (Joined research paper and presented by Dulma Karunarathna) Contradictions of Development in the Chasm of Survival or Obliteration: Saga of the Crafts Communities in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. International Conference, Reflections 2010, Managing Diversity, Reconciliation & Development, held on 01& 02, 11, 2010 at Galadari Hotel, Colombo, Organized by GTZ & FLICT
  • 2010 - Dulma Karunarathna, The Multi-facetted Contribution of Female Figures at the Entrances of Ancient Sri Lankan Built Environment, Paper has been selected to be presented at the, Peradeniya University Research Sessions (PURSE) 2010, will be held on 16th December 2010.


Ancient built environment of South Asia, socio-economic history of South Asia, art history, craft and technology of Pre-Industrial Sri Lanka, archaeology and gender