Wavy raven black hair gently cascading down past her shoulders, her porcelain face framed by her lustrous curtain of hair, a picture of Ena Aluwihare in her youth is staggeringly beautiful and the embodiment of Eastern splendor.
Born in to the wealthy aristocratic Aluwihare clan hailing from Matale, Ena created a sensation when at the tender age of sixteen she eloped with Osmund de Silva, 13 years her senior. In a bizarre twist Osmund De Silva was appointed the Inspector General of Police after the retirement of Ena’s father Sir Richard Aluwihare in 1955.
Ena De Silva has the distinction of being credited with having singlehandedly reviving the Sri Lankan Batik industry. This legendary woman is a well loved cultural icon and remains the undisputed queen of batik and traditional Sri Lankan design. Her journey in to the world of art began through her admiration for colour. Her unique designs are inspired by ancient Sinhalese flags and traditional motifs but intwined with her own creative stamp. Social minded Ena also initiated a Cooperative which worked towards empowering villagers especially in the Matale area. Ena De Silva counts legendary architect Geoffrey Bawa and artist Laki Senanayake as her close contemporaries and most of Bawa’s work is complemented with work both by Ena De Silva and Laki Senanayake.
A triumvirate of sorts the combination of Bawa, Aluwihare and Senanayake working in cohesion, through their artistic vision and creative talents altered the architectural, sculptural and interior beauty of some of Sri Lanka’s landmark properties.
Ena’s vibrant personality and her unique character are embodied in her work. The iconic tapestries that overawed all at the lobby of the Oberoi Hotel, the batik paneled ceiling of the Bentota Beach Hotel, the korale flags fluttering in the forecourt of the Parliament of Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte to the batik ceiling in the bar of the Lighthouse hotel in Galle all bear the timeless creative beauty that embodies the essence of Ena Aluwihare.
At the age of 26, Ena was chosen to represent the Spirit of Sri Lanka at the Island’s independence celebration. Dressed in a glittering silver costume, holding a lamp in her had and decked with an elaborate headdress, Ena symbolised the birth of Sri Lanka and the victory of civilization over the island’s primeval past.
Ena’s style can be described as flamboyant and unpretentious. Often dressed in Kandyan sari Ena cuts a dashing figure with her vibrant hued attire, elaborate jewellery, hair ornaments and her hats! It is said that Ena has over fifty hats in her collection which only serves to accentuate her unique sense.
Pictures of Ena in her youth are few, but the ones that are available portray the young Ena as an absolutely archetypical Kandyan beauty. Blessed with a flawless complexion and willowy figure Ena was the ideal muse for the Kandyan sari.
A nonagenarian Ena has her own unique sense of style which belies her age. Often dressed in vibrant colours and adorned with a myriad of hair ornaments, cocktail rings and broaches Ena Aluwihare is the mistress of her own inimitable flamboyant style.
This article first appeared in the Hi!! Best Dressed List Magazine 2013