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Sigiriya – A Heavenly Palace on Earth

Believed to have been built in reminiscence of Alakamandawa, the legendary palace of Kuvera, the treasurer of the gods and a mythical king of Lanka, Sigiriya is a palace and a pleasure garden built atop a 200 meter rock in the Fifth century AC by King Kashyapa.

Having seized the power after killing his father through a coup, Price Kashyapa, the son of King Dathusena born to a non-royal consort, chose to establish his kingdom in Sigiriya, away from Anuradhapura, the seat of power at the moment. Fearing military threats by Price Moggallana, the rightful heir to the throne, King Kashyapa, chose to build his castle on a strategically beneficial position, on the top of 200 meter tall Sihagiriya.

The grounds around the rock had long being the premises for Buddhist monasteries but the new king established himself on Sigiriya in the most fashionable manner. His castle on the top of the rock was a unique creation consists of landscaped gardens with ponds and wall murals. The palace complex includes a an upper palace sited on the flat top of the rock, a mid-level terrace that includes the Lion Gate and the mirror wall and a wall filled with frescoes, the lower palace that clings to the slopes below the rock, and the moats, walls, and gardens that extend to hundreds of metres out from the base of the rock.


Sigiriya in Sri Lanka

It is considered one of the best urban planning sites of the first millennium as the plan includes concepts of symmetry and asymmetry, combining man-made structures and natural forms of the surroundings. On the west side of the rock is a park for the royals, laid out on a symmetrical plan, containing reservoirs and ponds, including sophisticated surface and subsurface hydraulic systems, which are in working condition even today.

Yet the most famed and beautiful is the frescoes of Sigiriya, which according to archaeologists would have covered the whole western face of the rock fortress, creating a large picture gallery, 140 meters long and 40 meters wide. It is believed to have contained 500 images of beautiful damsels, which had won the admiration of many who visited Sigiriya, after it lost its master. Eighteen years after the palace was built Kashyapa lost his throne and life to his royal sibling Moggallana, who chose to rule from Anuradhapura.

Yet the beautiful ladies of the Sigiriya were admired by many who climbed the steeps of Sigiriya and their admiration was noted in poems on the mirror wall of Sigiriya, initially built as a mirrored wall. Made of porcelain, the wall is now partially covered with verses scribbled by visitors to the rock as back 8th century AC. People of all walks had written on varying subjects such as love, irony, and experiences of all sorts but mainly their admiration for the damsels of Sigiriya.

The painting belong to the Anuradhapura period contains sketchy lines unlike other paintings of the same period while the artist have employed the technique of sweeping strokes, using more pressure on one side, giving the effect of a deeper colour tone towards the edge. The true identity of the ladies in these paintings still has not been confirmed. Some believe them to be the wives of the king while some depict them as women taking part in religious observances.

Their close resemblance to some of the paintings in the Ajanta caves in India had always been celebrated although the subject matter and techniques of Ajanta and Sigiriya are vastly different. Ajanta frescoes belong to the tempera medium while Sigiriya is of true frescoes medium, with limited colours. Yet Ajanta frescoes in cave 2, belonging to the 5th -6th century AC Mahayana phase are similar to the Sigiriya frescoes, sparking assumptions that Sigiriya too could have been a Mahayana monastery instead of a royal palace. The frescoes are believed to be of Tara, a female bodhisattva in Mahayana.

Sigiriya in Sri Lanka

Ajanta in India

However none of the assumptions were proven true while the fifty remaining Sigiriya damsels wait for their identity and purpose to be rediscovered.

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