Sigiriya (Lion's rock) is an
ancient rock fortress and palace ruin situated in the central
District of Sri Lanka, surrounded by the remains of an extensive network
of gardens, reservoirs, and other structures. A popular tourist
destination, Sigiriya is also renowned for its ancient paintings
(frescos), which are reminiscent of
Caves of India.
Sigiriya was built during the reign of King Kassapa I
(AD 477 – 495), and it is one of the
seven World Heritage
Sites of Sri Lanka
Sigiriya may have been inhabited through prehistoric times. It was
used as a rock-shelter mountain monastery
from about the 5th century BC, with caves prepared and donated by
devotees to the Buddhist Sangha
. The garden
and palace were built by King Kasyapa. Following King Kasyapa's
death, it was again a monastery complex up to about the 14th
century, after which it was abandoned. . The Sigiri inscriptions
were deciphered by the archaeologist
renowned two-volume work, published by Oxford, Sigiri
He also wrote the popular book "Story of
, the ancient historical
record of Sri Lanka, describes King Kasyapa as the son of King
. Kasyapa murdered his father by
walling him alive and then usurping the throne which rightfully
belonged to his brother Mogallana
Dhatusena's son by the true queen. Mogallana fled to India to escape
being assassinated by Kasyapa but vowed revenge.
In India he
raised an army with the intention of returning and retaking the
throne of Sri Lanka which he considered was rightfully his. Knowing
the inevitable return of Mogallana, Kasyapa is said to have built
his palace on the summit of Sigiriya as a fortress and pleasure
palace. Mogallana finally arrived and declared war. During the
battle Kasyapa's armies abandoned him and he committed suicide by
falling on his sword. Chronicles and lore say that the
battle-elephant on which Kasyapa was mounted changed course to take
a strategic advantage, but the army misinterpreted the movement as
the King having opted to retreat, prompting the army to abandon the
king altogether. Moggallana returned the capital to Anuradapura,
converting Sigiriya into a monastery complex.
Alternative stories have the primary builder of Sigiriya as King
Dhatusena, with Kasyapa finishing the work in honour of his father.
Still other stories have Kasyapa as a playboy king, with Sigiriya a
pleasure palace. Even Kasyapa's eventual fate is mutable. In some
versions he is assassinated by poison administered by a concubine.
In others he cuts his own throat when isolated in his final battle.
Still further interpretations have the site as the work of a
Buddhist community, with no military function at all. This site may
have been important in the competition between the Mahayana
Buddhist traditions in ancient Sri Lanka.
Location and geographical features
is located in Matale
District in the
Central Province of Sri
It is within the cultural triangle
, which includes five of
the seven world heritage sites
in Sri Lanka.
The Sigiriya rock is a hardened magma
from an extinct and long-eroded volcano
. It stands high above the surrounding plain,
visible for miles in all directions. The rock rests on a steep
mound that rises abruptly from the flat plain surrounding it. The
rock itself rises above sea level and is sheer on all sides, in
many places overhanging the base. It is elliptical in plan and has
a flat top that slopes gradually along the long axis of the
Rock shelters at the foot of the
A partially man-made shelter with
brick walls, using a large boulder as the roof.
The earliest evidence of human habitation at Sigiriya was found
from the Aligala rock shelter to the east of Sigiriya rock,
indicating that the area was occupied nearly five thousand years
ago during the mesolithic
Buddhist monastic settlements were established in the western and
northern slopes of the boulder-strewn hills surrounding the
Sigiriya rock, during the third century B.C. Several rock shelters
or caves had been created during this period. These shelters were
made under large boulders, with carved drip ledges around the cave
mouths. Rock inscriptions
are carved near
the drip ledges on many of the shelters, recording the donation of
the shelters to the Buddhist monastic order as residences. These
have been made within the period between the third century B.C and
the first century A.D.
In 477 A.D, prince Kasyapa
throne from King Dhatusena
, following a
coup assisted by Migara, the king’s nephew and army commander.
Kasyapa, the king’s son by a non-royal consort, usurped the
rightful heir, Moggallana
, who fled to
. Fearing an attack from
Moggallana, Kasyapa moved the capital and his residence from the
traditional capital of Anuradhapura to the more secure Sigiriya.
Kasyapa’s reign from 477 to 495 A.D, Sigiriya was developed into a
complex city and fortress. Most of the elaborate constructions on
the rock summit and around it, including defensive structures,
palaces and gardens, date back to this period.
Kasyapa was defeated in 495 A.D by Moggallana, who moved the
capital again to Anuradhapura. Sigiriya was then turned back into a
Buddhist monastery, which lasted until the thirteenth or fourteenth
century. After this period, no records are found on Sigirya until
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when it was used as an
outpost of the Kingdom of Kandy
When the kingdom ended, it was abandoned again.
In 1831 Major Jonathan Forbes of the 78th Highlanders of the
British army while returning on horseback from a trip to
Pollonnuruwa came across the “bush covered summit of Sigiriya".
Sigiriya came to the attention of antiquarians and, later,
archaeologists. Archaeological work at Sigiriya began on a small
scale in the 1890s. H.C.P Bell was the first archaeologist to
conduct extensive research on Sigiriya. The Cultural Triangle
Project, launched by the Government of Sri Lanka
, focused its
attention on Sigiriya in 1982. Archaeological work began on the
entire city for the first time under this project.
Archaeological remains and features
Sigiriya consists of an ancient castle built by King Kasyapa during
the 5th century AD. The Sigiriya site has the remains of an upper
palace sited on the flat top of the rock, a mid-level terrace that
includes the Lion Gate and the mirror wall with its frescoes, the
lower palace that clings to the slopes below the rock, and the
, walls and gardens that extend for some
hundreds of metres out from the base of the rock.
The site is both a palace and fortress. Despite its age, the
splendour of the palace still furnishes a stunning insight into the
ingenuity and creativity of its builders. The upper palace on the
top of the rock includes cisterns cut into the rock that still
retain water. The moats and walls that surround the lower palace
are still exquisitely beautiful.
The Sigiriya Rock seen from the
Sigiriya is considered one of the most important urban planning
sites of the first millennium, and the site plan
is considered very elaborate
and imaginative. The plan combined concepts of symmetry and
asymmetry to intentionally interlock the man-made geometrical and
natural forms of the surroundings. On the west side of the rock
lies a park for the royals, laid out on a symmetrical plan; the
park contains water retaining structures, including sophisticated
surface/subsurface hydraulic systems, some of which are working
even today. The south contains a man made reservoir, these were
extensively used from previous capital of the dry zone of Sri
Lanka. Five gates were placed at entrances. The more elaborate
western gate is thought to be reserved for the royals.
The gardens of Sigiriya, as seen from
the summit of the Sigiriya rock
A pool in the garden complex
The Gardens of the Sigiriya city is one of the most important
aspects of the site as it is among the oldest landscaped gardens in
the world. The gardens are divided into three distinct but linked
forms; water gardens, Cave and boulder gardens, and terraced
The water gardens
The water gardens can be seen in the central section of the western
precinct. Three principal gardens are found here. The first garden
consists of an island surrounded by water. It is connected to the
main precinct using four causeways, with gateways placed at the
head of each causeway. This garden is built according to an ancient
garden form known as char bhag
, and is one of the oldest
surviving models of this form.
The second contains two long, deep pools set on either side of the
path. Two shallow, serpentine streams lead to these pools.
Fountains made of circular limestone plates are placed here.
Underground water conduits supply water to these fountains which
are still functional, especially during the rainy season. Two large
islands are located on either side of the second water garden.
Summer palaces are built on the flattened surfaces of these
islands. Two more islands are located further to the north and the
south. These islands are built in a similar manner to the island in
the first water garden.
The third garden is situated on a higher level than the other two.
It contains a large, octagonal pool with a raised podium on its
northeast corner. The large brick and stone wall of the citadel is
on the eastern edge of this garden.
The water gardens are built symmetrically on an east-west axis.
They are connected with the outer moat on the west and the large
artificial lake to the south of the Sigiriya rock. All the pools
are also interlinked using an underground conduit network fed by
the lake, and connected to the moats. A miniature water garden is
located to the west of the first water garden, consisting several
small pools and water courses. This recently discovered smaller
garden appears to have been built after the Kasyapan period,
possibly between the tenth and thirteenth centuries.
The boulder gardens
The boulder garden consists several large boulders linked with
winding pathways. The boulder gardens extend from the northern
slopes to the southern slopes of the hills at the foot of Sigiriya
rock. Most of these boulders had a building or pavilion upon them.
There are cuttings on these boulders that were used as footings for
brick walls and beams.
The audience hall of the king was situated in the boulder garden,
the remains of which are seen on the flattened and polished summit
of a large boulder. There is also a five metre long granite throne
in this hall. The throne is carved from the boulder itself, and is
not separated from it. Another notable feature in the boulder
garden is the Cistern rock, named after a large, carved cistern on
top of the rock. A large archway, created by two boulders, provides
access to the terraced gardens.
The terraced gardens
The terraced gardens are formed from the natural hill at the base
of the Sigiriya rock. A series of terraces, each rising above the
other, connect the pathways of the boulder garden to the staircases
on the rock. These have been created by the construction of brick
walls, and are located in a roughly concentric plan around the
rock. The path through the terraced gardens is formed by a
limestone staircase. From this staircase, there is a covered path
on the side of the rock, leading to the uppermost terrace where the
lion staircase is situated.
The Mirror Wall
The Mirror Wall and spiral stairs
leading to the frescos
Originally this wall was so well polished that the king could see
himself whilst he walked alongside it. Made of a kind of porcelain,
the wall is now partially covered with verses scribbled by visitors
to the rock. Well preserved, the mirror wall has verses dating from
the 8th century. People of all types wrote on the wall, on varying
subjects such as love, irony, and experiences of all sorts.
Unfortunatly one of mently unsound man had damaged to some of the
paints in the mirror wall by applying tar and later manage to
recover some of them.Further writing on the mirror wall has now
One such poem in Sinhala is:
- "බුදල්මි. සියොවැ ආමි. සිගිරි බැලිමි. බැලු බැලු බොහො දනා ගී
The rough translation is: "I am Budal (name of the person). (I)
Came with all my family to see Sigiriya. Since all the others wrote
poems, I did not!"He has left an important record that Sigiriya was
visited by people from a very long time. Its beauty and majestic
appearance made people awe of the technology and skills required to
build such a place.
John Still in 1907 suggested, "The whole face of the hill appears
to have been a gigantic picture gallery... the largest picture in
the world perhaps". The paintings would have covered most of the
western face of the rock, covering an area 140 metres
long and 40 metres high. There are references
in the graffiti to 500 ladies in these paintings. However, many
more are lost forever, having been wiped out when the Palace once
more became a Monastery so that they would not disturb meditation.
Some more frescos different from the popular collection can be seen
elsewhere on the rock surface, for example on the surface of the
location called the "Cobra Hood Cave".
the frescoes are classified as in the Anuradhapura period, the painting
style is considered unique, the line and style of application
of the paintings differing from Anuradhapura paintings.
lines are painted in a form which enhances the sense of
voluminousness of figures. The paint has been applied in sweeping
strokes, using more pressure on one side, giving the effect of a
deeper colour tone towards the edge. Other paintings of the
Anuradhapura period contain similar approaches to painting, but do
not have the sketchy lines of the Sigiriya style, having a distinct
artists' boundary line.
Image:IMG 3515.JPGImage:Sigiri Frescos 1.JPGImage:Sigiriya
Outer Gardens and Moat
Image:Sigiriya_WaterGardens.JPG|View of one of the pools in the
garden complexImage:Sigiriya moat and garden1.jpg|View of the
moatImage:Sigiriya moat_and garden2.jpg|View of the
moatImage:Sigiriya moat and garden3.jpg|View of the moat
The complex is surrounded by an extensive set of walls and man made
Mirror Wall and Lion Gate
Image:Way up.jpg|StairwayImage:WAy Down.jpg|Towards the Mirror
WallImage:Sigiriya_mirror_wall1.jpg|The terrace below the mirror
wallImage:IMG_3525.jpg|View from the side of the Mirror wall
Top of the Rock
Image:Palace Ruins.JPG|Summit ruinsImage:IMG 3549.jpg|View over the
gardens from the summitImage:Sigiriya_royal_pool1.jpg|The rock cut
- Sigiriya is used as the location of many of the events in the
science-fiction novel The
Fountains of Paradise by Arthur
C. Clarke, although Clarke
changed the name to Yakkagala in the book.
- Sigiriya Museum is now open for public.
- Story of Sigiriya, by Professor Senerath