Sigiriya, in fact, should have been classed as one of the Wonders of the Ancient World, long ago, there is however, a proposal now to name it as the Eight Wonder of the world. perhaps, its better late than never. Sri Lanka’s ancient architectural tradition is well portrayed at Sigiriya, the best preserved city centre in Asia from the first millennium, with its combination of buildings and gardens with their trees, pathways, water gardens, the fusion of symmetrical and asymmetrical elements, use of varying levels and of axial and radial planning. Sophisticated city planning was at the heart of Sigiriya, this royal citadel of ancient fame from the days of Sri Lanka’s memorable past. The Complex consists of the central rock, rising 200 meters above the surrounding plain, and the two rectangular precincts on the east (90 hectares) and the west (40 hectares), surrounded by two moats and three ramparts. The plan of the city is based on a precise square module. The layout extends outwards from co-ordinates at the centre of the palace complex at the summit, with the eastern and western axis directly aligned to it. The water garden, moats and ramparts are based on an ‘echo plan’ duplicating the layout and design on either side.
This city still displays its skeletal layout and its significant features. 3 km from east to west and 1 km from north to south it displays the grandeur and complexity of urban-planning in the 5th century in Sri Lanka.
The most significant feature of the Rock would have been the Lion staircase leading to the palace garden on the summit. Based on the ideas described in some of the graffiti, this Lion staircase could be visualized as a gigantic figure towering majestically against the granite cliff, facing north, brilliantly colored and awe-inspiring. What’s visible today are the two colossal paws and a mass of brick masonry that surround the ancient limestone steps and the cuts and groves on the rock face give an idea of the size and shape of the lion figure. Though traces of plaster and pigments occur all over this area, there are only two pockets of paintings surviving in the depressions of the rock face, about a 100 meters above the ground level. These paintings represent the earliest surviving examples of a Sri Lankan school of classical realism, which was already fully evolved by the 5th Century, when these paintings had been made. Earlier the Sigiri style had been considered as belonging to the Central Indian school of Ajanta, but later considered as specifically different from the Ajanta paintings. The ladies depicted in the paintings have been identified as Apsaras (heavenly maidens), as ladies of Kasyapa’s court and as Lightening Princesses and Cloud Damsels.
There are also remains of paintings in some of the caves at the foot of the rock. Of special significance is the painting on the roof of the Cobra Hood Cave. The cave with its unique shape dates from the pre-Christian era.
The Sigiri gardens
The Sigiri Gardens blend together to make the perfect setting for the Lion Mountain
The Story of Sigiriya
Sigiriya was not a mere fortress, gloomy and forbidding. During it’s brief height of glory- it was a royal citadel for more than 18 years( 477 to 495 A.D). It was one of the loveliest that have graced this land.
There are many interpretations during this period, history combined with legend, love and betrayal. But one story remains, the story of King Kasyapa (477-495 A.D.) its creator, the King who had an artist’s soul. Books have been written about him and plays and films have tried to depict his personality.
Kasyapa left Anuradhapura and built for himself Sigiriya, a palace and city modeled on the mythical abode of “Kuvera” God of Wealth. . Eighteen years later, his brother Moggallan challenged him with an army and during one of those momentary mistakes of judgment that changes the course of history, Kasyapa thought he was alone in battle and therefore, raised his dagger and slew himself.
In a sheltered pocket on the western face of the Sigiriya rock, approached by a spiral stairway, are the famous frescoes. Epigraphically evidence refers to the existence of 500 such portraits, but only 19 remain today. On the western and northern sides of the steep rock face runs a gallery or pathway which provides access to the seemingly inaccessible summit. Shielding this pathway is a 9 1/2 ft plaster wall, so highly polished, that even today, after 15 Centuries of exposure to sun, wind and rain, one can see one’s reflection in it. Hence, the name “Mirror Wall”. On the polished surface are the Sigiri Graffiti recorded by processions of visitors to the rock in the past. The summit of the rock is nearly three acres. The outer wall of the palace which is the main building was constructed on the very brink of the precipice. There were gardens, cisterns and ponds laid out attractively.
The western side of the rock is filled with ponds, islets, promenades and pavilions. Some underground and surface drainage systems have been discovered during excavations. The wall abutting the moat encircling the fortress is one of the most arresting features.
The History of Sigiriya
Sigiriya dates back from over 7000 years ago, through Pre-historic to Early Historic times, then as a rock-shelter mountain monastery from about the 3rd Century BC, with caves prepared and donated by devotees to the sangha.
The garden city and the palace was built by King Kasyapa 477 – 495 AD. Then after King Kasyapa’s death it was a Buddhist monastery complex up to about the 14th century.
The Mahavansa, the ancient historical record of Sri Lanka, describes King Kasyapa as being responsible for the murder of his father King Dhatusena by walling him up alive and then usurping the throne which rightfully belonged to his brother Mogallana. To escape from the army of Mogallana, Kasyapa is said to have built his palace on the summit of Sigiriya, but Mogallana finally managed to get to Kasyapa and he committed suicide. However, there is also another version of the Kasyapa story, related by one of the most eminent historians of Sri Lanka, Prof. Senerath Paranavitana. He claims to have deciphered the story of Sigiriya, written by a monk named Ananda in the 15 century AD.
This has been inscribed on stone slabs, over which later inscriptions have been written. To date, no other epigraphist has made a serious attempt to read the interlinear inscriptions.
The two conflicting versions have been the basis for the historical novel ‘Kat Bitha’ by Daya Dissanayake, published in 1998. Sigiriya also happens to be the location for Arthur C Clarke’s ‘Mountains of Paradise’.