Sri Lanka 1983 Vesak stamps featuring murals by George Keyt


George Percival Sproule Keyt (wtf kind of name is Sproule?) rocks my world. You don’t need to be an art connoisseur to understand that this man could paint.

Keyt’s work has been featured more than once on Sri Lankan stamp issues but for today I wanted to explore the 1983 Vesak issue. It features four of his murals from the Gotami Viharaya in Borella all of which depict various scenes from the Buddha’s life.

Queen Mahamaya’s dream (35 cents)

Once upon a time there was a king called Suddhodana in the north of India (what is now Nepal) who married a beautiful princess named Mahamaya. One full moon night, the queen dreamt that she was carried out to a lake and given a bath by four devas (spirits).

Yeah, I’ve had one of those dreams myself.

Anyway, after her bath, she was dressed in exquisite garments, anointed with perfumes and decked out with masses of flowers. Now here comes the truly creepy bit – a white elephant, holding a white lotus flower in its trunk appears, goes around her three times and ENTERS HER WOMB from the right side.

<aside>At least the Catholics had the decency to claim that the Holy Spirit just snapped his fingers and got Mary with child. This shit sounds downright invasive if you ask me.</aside>

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I do wish the mural and subsequent stamp had featured the sexy bath time part instead of the elephant part of the dream because a) cleanliness is next to godliness and b) elephants are not just boring but they are downright creepy (especially when they are in the business of getting humans pregnant).

Birth of Prince Siddhartha (50 cents)

The elephant induced pregnancy lasted ten months because duh, it takes longer to grow a Buddha.

Mayamaya is supposed to have given birth in an upright position while holding onto a sal branch as depicted in this stamp. They also say that Prince Siddhārtha emerged from her right side.

Elephant in – Buddha out.


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Get me to a nunnery (Rs. 5)

Nearing 29 years of age, Siddhartha is a big boy now and getting throughly fed up with the luscious wenches, tasty meals and constant music and dancing which are part and parcel of his life in the palace. Seriously, wouldn’t you?

Waking up in the middle of the night one day, he looks around him and sees revelers passed out in various stages of disarray and thinks enough is enough. See how Keyt captures the despair in his palm-to-cheek gesture?

He was so goddamn done with this shit.

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The Great Escape (Rs. 10)

Knowing full well that neither his family nor his courtiers would approve of him abandoning his princely station, Siddhartha decides to confide in his head charioteer, Channa who helps orchestrate his escape. This final stamp shows Siddhartha leaving the palace astride his trusty horse Kanthaka for the life of a mendicant.

Does anyone know who the dark skinned man in the right of this last stamp is? I can’t find anyone else who could have been present at this point of the story – I’m assuming the other light skinned dude is Channa so… ?!?



PS: You can salivate over more of Keyt’s Gotami Viharaya paintings here.

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