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Sigiriya ( Pronounced as Seegiriya) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Lanka Nest   
Friday, 21 March 2008

ImageSigiriya 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.Image

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.. 

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 30 April 2008 )
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