Dr. Punyasiri Warusawithana’s fascination with Vesak pandols began when he was a child growing up in Ambalangoda. However, his dream of becoming a doctor outweighed the need to build pandols, leading him study medicine and completing his training abroad. On his return to Sri Lanka, he pursued a career as an anesthesiologist but still held a passion for Vesak pandol-making.
It was not until he settled down at his home in Kalubowila in 1982, that he was able to dedicate time to pandol-making. He started small; building a small pandol on his balcony during Vesak. But 37 years later, his pandol stands 25 feet tall, with a multitude of lights and animatronics. “Every year, I tried improve my design so I kept on adding and adding to the design,” he said. “I’ve done this every year without a break. Even the pandemic couldn’t stop me.”
Warusawithana handles every aspect of the pandol himself – from planning and managing the electric components to eventually putting everything together. Though he is a medical doctor, he is also skilled in engineering and electrical components, making it easier for him to work with the various components of the pandol.
Over the years, he was assisted by a handful of artists, who created the artwork for the pandol – painting the artworks, his only weakness, he claimed. His current artist, Senarath Ranasinghe, has been creating the artwork for the pandol for the past decade.
So far, he has built 37 pandols, narrating 37 Jathaka tales, the Buddhist morality stories that recount the Buddha’s past lives. This year, the pandol featured the Kisa Gothami story, and the moving parts portray some of her actions in the story.
The pandol has become a highly anticipated event in Warusawithana’s neighbourhood, and he has left a book for people to write their feedback. He also has photos of every pandol he has built over the past 37 years.
Warusawithana takes great pride in his pandol-making and the joy it brings to those who view it. It is a testament to his dedication, creativity, and passion for the art. After 35 years of service as an anesthesiologist, he retired in 2005 and has dedicated his retirement to pandol-making.