Sigiriya is famous for its frescos and the royal gardens. It is a ‘World Heritage’ site and is a very popular tourist destination among both the locals and the foreign tourists.
Originally Sigiriya has been a major dwelling place of Buddhist monks. According the cave inscriptions in the Brahmi script you find at Sigiriya, the caves at the foot of the Sigiriya rock had been donated to the Buddhist monks at about 3rd c. BC, immediately after the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. You find many of such cave inscriptions at Sigiriya.
However, Sigiriya , as it is seen today revolves round the story of King Kashyapa who , according to Mahawamsa , ruled around 477 AD.
The story of Sigiriya according to Mahawamsa ( a boo k written in the 6th c AD to record the works of the Sinhala Kings ) is very pathetic and in a way very cruel too . According to the Mahawamsa, the story runs like this :King Dhatusena had a son called Kashyapa, born to a queen in his harem.
Kasyapa had a younger sister. The King gave this younger sister of of Kasyapa to Migara, the son of Kings younger sister. One day Migara lost his temper over something or other and whipped his wife, the sister of Kasyapa and because of this her thighs were bleeding. When the King heard of this , he became very angry and in turn he got Migara’s mother to be stripped naked and burnt alive. Migara was very angry over the King’s action and in order take vengeance upon him induced and persuaded Prince Kashyapa, to get the throne from his father. Ultimately Kashyapa threw out King Dhatusena from the throne and he became the King. The story did not end up there. After he became King, he suspected that a great part of Dhatusena’s treasures are hidden away fro him. So Kashyapa was persuaded to obtain Dhatusena’s treasures some how or other. Of course King Dhatusena had no treasures like that. He spent all the wealth he received for constructing tanks ( reservoirs ) etc for the benefit of his subjects. When Kashyapa was harassing him to declare his Treasures, Dhatusena one day asked him to take him Kala Wewa, the great reservoir he made for the benefit of his people and said he would then tell him where his treasures were. Kashyapa became very happy and he took Dhatusena to the Kala Wewa ( Wewa means tank-reservoir . Sri Lankans call such reservoirs as ‘ Tanks’ derived from a Dutch word.) Accordingly Dhatusena was taken to Kala Wewa. He had a bath in the waters of Kala wewa and then stretched his hands pointing to the Kala Wewa and said ‘These are my treasures’. Kashyap became so angry on this that he was taken out and was killed later. Prince Moggallana, Kashyapa’s elder brother who was the real heir to the throne, then fled to India in fear of his brother. Kashyapa thereafter built a palace in Sigiriya and lived there , according to Mahawamsa, ‘like the Kuvera’. But later his brother came back with an army from India and defeated and killed him.
Kashyapa made a big fortress at Sigiriya , also with pleasure gardens and a beautiful palace on the top of the rock. On the approach way to the palace, he had got the roof of the rock painted with hundreds of frescoes; out them only 13 remain now. Midway to the entrance to the palace complex was the huge image of a lion with his front paws stretched forward ; the people had to go through the throat of the lion to enter the palace. It is said the name Sigiri was given to this rock because you had to walk through the ‘Sinha’s ( lion’s)‘Giriya’ (throat).
Sigiriya has also earned renown for its ‘mirror wall’ on which hundreds of visitors to Sigirya expressed their appreciation of Sigiriya by inscribing their feelings on the Mirror. These have been collected and published in ‘ Sigiri Graffiti’, the famous Archeologist of Sri Lanka ,Dr. Senarath Paranawithana
It is believed that the initial fortress of King Kashyapa lies here. The remnants of a rampart made out of stones could bee seen now. Archaeologists are of the view that this could have been constructed even prior to Kashyapa.
The Inner Rampart
This is constructed by a mixture brick and stone. The ruins of the entrance to the fortress and approach route could be seen now.
The Main flight of Steps
There are two flights of steps to approach the top of Sigiya Rock from the gardens below. These flights of steps meet at the middle of he rock. These flights of steps are carved out of the solid rock itself .
Paws of the Lion
Only the paws of the huge lion remain now. There are several references to the lion in the Sigiri graffiti, inscribed by the visitors to Sigiriya . It is said that Archaelogical Commisiner Bell who discovered Sigiriya in 1898, was highly captivated by the sight of the Lion .
Royal Palace at the top of the Sigiriya Rock
The Royal Palace is on the top of Sigiriya where you have a flat spread of about 3.5 acres. To construct a palace on the top of such a huge rock would have been really stupendous. One has to imagine how difficult it would have been to take raw materials required for construction of the palace complex , to the top of such a huge rock. Surely this should been through their engineering skills together with the exercise royal command and also with the ingenuity of the people at that time.
The gardens consist of parks, foot paths, ponds, moats etc. This is a novel creation in the art of making gardens and parks. The Gardens have been constructed in such a manner that one could have a fascinating view of the gardens from the top of the rock as well as from inside the gardens. This is considered the oldest of such gardens of Asia , with historical and aesthetic value . It could be considered second to the Gardens of Rome only. The drains to carry rain water ( when it is raining) or water collected in various ponds have been allowed to flow in it’s natural ways through drains and fountains have been constructed using the flow of water through gravity. These fountains function even today when it rains and water start gushing through the drains. Sri Lanka’s ancient engineering skills are mostly concentrated in the construction of tanks and very seldom in works for pleasure. Their engineering skills to build such things as parks and gardens meant for pleasure , could be considered to haves reached its zenith at Sigiriya.
Ancient Engineers of Sri Lanka were experts in the control and administration our water resources. The ‘Biso Kotuwa’ is one of their marvelous inventions. It is meant to control the outflow of water from a Tank into the main canal , without causing any damage to the bund of the tank. The ‘Bisokotuwa is something like a well built inside the tank adjoining the bund of the tank, opposite the main canal which takes out the water from the tank.. The base of the Biso kotuwa is geometrically a square.
. Water inside is allowed to flow into this ‘Bisokotuwa’ and under a control mechanism, is allowed to go out of the ‘Bisokotuwa’ into the canal. Since the water from inside passes into the outside canal through Bisokotuwa, the tank bund does not get damaged through the strong current of water rushing into the canal outside. Ancient people in Sri Lanka were also experts in creating canals and tunnels to take water from one place to another. They have used the geometrical features of parks of Egypt and Persia and natural elements found in the construction of parks by Chinese and Japanese.
Ramparts and Moats
The rampart and moat constructed at Sigiya give us an indication of their knowledge in mathematics. The rampart has been constructed by the use of soil in between two support walls on both sides ,constructed out of stones. The soil has been pressed over and over again to make it strong. This type of constructing a rampart is not found else where in Sri Lanka. The rampart is the work of King Kasyapa. The main entrance to the fortress is several yards wide so that horse carriages, elephant drawn carriages or even carriages wider than them could easily enter. On the western side is a very narrow entrance.
Timber used for the construction of buildings do not remain now. But remnants of such timber could be seen. The Mirror Wall, and the ruins of the lion and the large Palace complex on the top of the rock give us indication of their aesthetic values , sense of beauty and the abilities in elaborate motifs.
Sigiriya Frescos and Graffiti
Sigiriya is mainly renowned for it’s frescos. There are several theories to explain whom these ladies represent . Some believe that the ladies in these frescoes depict King Kashyapa’s queens in his harem. The influence of paintings of Royalty and religious theme of South Asia could be observed in these frescos..