Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sigiriya (Lion's Rock)

Sigiriya (Lion’s Rock), the rock fortress which has mystified visitors all over the world throughout her long, colorful history is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a must visit if anyone comes to Sri Lanka.

Different scholars, historians and journalists have expressed various views in order to unveil the many mysteries shrouding the famous historical site. Some distinguished scholars are of the view that the ruins of Sigiriya are those of a Buddhist meditation center, while others stand by the “Culavasma” (sequel to the “Mahavamsa” (Great Chronicle).

Referring to King Kashyapa I (A.D. 478- A.D. 496), the “Mahavamsa” (Great Chronicle) states: “He betook himself through fear to Sihagiri (now Sigiri) which is difficult to ascent for human beings.... thence he built a fine palace, worthy to behold, like another “Alakamanda”, ( A city of the gods) and dwelt there like (the god) “Kuvera.”

Entrance to the Castle
Parts of the castle ruins

In 477 CE, Prince Kashyapa seized the throne from his father, King Dhatusena following a coup assisted by the King's army commander Migara, and usurped the throne from the rightful here, Moggallana, who fled to South India. He imprisoned and later executed his father. After this incident he was known as “Pithru Ghathaka Kashyapa”, meaning Kashyapa the Patricide.

Fearing an attack from Moggallana, King Kashyapa moved the capital and his residence from the traditional capital of Anuradhapura to the more secure Sigiriya and built his “Palace in the Sky”. During King Kashyapa's reign (477 to 495), Sigiriya was developed into a complex city and a magnificent fortress.

Moggallana returned to the country with an army and defeated Kashyapa and regained the throne in 495CE and moved the capital again back to Anuradhapura. Sigiriya was then turned back into a Buddhist monastery, which lasted until the 13th or 14th century. After this period, no records are found on Sigiriya until the 16th and 17th centuries, when it was used as an outpost of the Kingdom of Kandy.

The story of Sigiriya is full of legend, love, courage, power and betrayal. But one story remains, the story of King Kashyapa (477 – 495 A.D.) It’s creator, with an artist’s soul.

The famous frescoes at Sigiriya

In a sheltered pocket on the western face of the Sigiriya rock, approached by a Spiral stairway, are the famous frescoes of what many believe are “Apsaras” (Heavenly Maidens).

"Mirror Wall"

On the western Northern side of the steep rock face runs a gallery which provides access to the summit. Shielding this pathway is a 9 ½ ft plaster wall, so highly polished, that even today, one can see one’s reflection in it, and hence it is known as the name “Mirror Wall”. On the polished surface are the famous Sigiriya Graffiti recorded by visitors to the rock in the past dating back to the 7th centuries.


The summit of the rock is nearly three acres in extent. 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 which were laid out attractively.

Other than the Palace ruins at the top of the summit,  other attractions of Sigiriya includes the wonderfully  laid out Gardens which according to the latest excavations are one of the oldest in the world. The gardens are divided into three distinct but linked forms: water gardens, cave and boulder gardens, and terraced gardens.

Sigiriya can be visited throughout the year, and the best time to climb is in the morning as the temperature is more comfortable compared to the afternoon. There are many Hotels and places of accommodation, and also a lot of infrastructural developments in the region allowing easy access the and links to other historical sites in Sri Lanka's "cultural triangle."

Visit Serendib (Pvt) Ltd has a variety of tour packages that covers Sigiriya as well as the many other sites around Sri Lanka, One such package that I can recommend is the Classic 7Days/6 Nights package

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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