Artefacts of Culture; Vesak Postage Stamps of Sri Lanka

by Samudra de Silva and Sumanthri Samarawickrama

Conference Paper · October 2022

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Postage stamps are an integral part of a communication system, the postal service of a country. Technically they are fiscal receipts of the prepayment for a postage service. Although postage stamps are less encountered in daily lives today, they remain as primary sources of global material and visual culture. Being a product made by humans of a specific community, for an intentional communication, and inherent of purposeful and symbolic content, a postage stamp can be identified as an artefact of the culture that it was produced in. When looking at philatelic practices of Sri Lanka, issuing a Vesak commemorative stamp annually has been the longest continuing tradition. The Vesak postage stamps of Sri Lanka have its roots in Buddhist culture. Vesak is the combined commemoration of the
birth, enlightenment and passing away of Buddha, celebrated by 506 million Buddhists worldwide, which is approximately 6% of the world population. It is an international holiday for United Nations member countries in South-East Asia.

Propagating the message of compassion and devotion to the service of humanity, various philanthropic activities, religious observances, as well as Vesak decorations, happen during Vesak. Complementing the state sponsored national Vesak celebrations, Sri Lankan government issues a Vesak postage stamp, annually. A total of 86 Vesak stamps have been issued by the Philatelic Bureau of Sri Lanka
from 1969 to 2020. This research analyses Vesak stamps and its application as artefacts of Sri Lankan Buddhist culture. Three case studies with three sets of Vesak stamps were investigated to learn how the information intrinsic to culture is inscribed within them. Through the study if was found that Vesak commemorative stamps of Sri Lanka depict both material and non-material aspects of Vesak culture
as well as Vesak stamps are planned to act as carriers of ideological meanings and values in Buddhism, to the audiences.

Keywords: Culture · Artefacts · Postage stamps · Sri Lankan postage stamp · Vesak postage stamp