Reading Donald Friend’s Paintbrush ‘Reading’ of the Bandaranaike Assassination-by Michael Roberts

Reading Donald Friend’s Paintbrush ‘Reading’ of the Bandaranaike Assassination-by Michael Roberts

Michael Roberts


elankaThuppahi invited its Limited Circle of Readers to Interpret the Brushwork Reading of the Awful Act of a Buddhist Monk a named Somarama Thero on  29th September 1959 …. who pulled out a revolver as the Prime Minister bowed in the customary worship of a Buddhist religiosi…. and killed him.


The Australian artist Donald Friend had international renown in his own time …. after a colourful career involving many lands, including England, Italy, Nigeria and the island of Ceylon. Friend was homosexual in his tastes and lifeways; and his detailed and extensive diaries provide information on his pedarastry and paedophilia . He was residing in Ceylon — a tropical land that was an attractive destination for personnel with such inclinations (among them Arthur C. Clarke) — when the deadly act by Somarama occurred.[2]

Mevan Pieris, a scholar, scientist and Sri Lankan cricketer,[3] has immediately responded with his READING of Donald Friend’s brushwork reading. This act, in its turn, has spurred me to provide an interpretation myself in the process of encouraging others to follow suit.

ONE: An Interpretation from Mevan Pieris, June 2024

Hi Michael,

I give below my analysis of the painting.

This painting is of the assassination of the prime minister, SWRD Bandaranaike which took place at his residence in September 1959. He was shot at point blank range in the verandah of the house by a Buddhist priest, Talduwe Somarama. The painting shows a fallen prime minister in spotless white attire with spectacles on, with the assassin yet firing at him using a revolver with fire spouting out through the nozzle, and the prime minister’s wife, Sirimavo with outstretched arms staring helplessly at the assassin. On the left is seen a lone police constable crouching with the rifle directed at the assassin (it was rumoured that the constable’s shot had hit the assassin’s testicles).

There is also seen, a guy in black dress, running towards the door.

The artist has gone a step further to share his.imagination of the prime minister’s journey to the next world. The dead body of the prime minister is seen, carried towards the enlightened, by two naked women (a rather undignified expression), with a leaf of the sacred bo-tree reaching through the roof, towards the fallen prime minister. On the extreme top left, is seen on a pedestal, another Buddhist priest blowing a trumpet of triumph, and a guy in trouser, having a good drink.

TWO: An Interpretation from Lam Seneviratne, June 2024

I think Mevan has given a fine detailed and most plausible explanation. The top left possibly shows the handlers of Somarama in jubilant mood– ie Buddharakhitha Thero and the person who supplied the firearm.

THREE: An Interpretation from Michael Roberts, June 2024

In my reading the ‘central’ causative act is at the bottom end of the painting. But this act produces a dreamland scenario of celestial realms. This celestial realm is presided over by the Buddha.

But …. Yes But …. the fallen Prime minister is being carried (‘carted’?) by two celestial nymphs with voluptuous breasts, while (a) a monk blows a trumpet on the sideline with (b) a drunkard guzzling a bottle of booze beside him; and (c) a vulture pursues its ‘greed’ on the sideline.

In sum, this is the work of an iconoclast extraordinary.

PS: In his abode at his home named “Brief” …. off Bentota …. Bevis Bawa would probably have been amused by this irreverential interpretation.

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