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The mountain Rock of Sri Lanka

By Ihsaan RaisdeenPublished 6 months ago 5 min read
Photo by Brian Kyed on Unsplash

Sigiriya Rock, located in the heart of Sri Lanka, is a magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site that stands as a testament to ancient ingenuity and architectural brilliance. Rising 200 meters above the surrounding plains, this colossal rock fortress attracts tourists from around the globe, captivating them with its rich history and breathtaking views.

Sigiriya, also known as the "Lion Rock," holds a significant place in Sri Lanka's history. It was built by King Kashyapa I in the 5th century AD as a royal palace and fortress. The rock's strategic location provided security against potential invasions. The king's elaborate plan included magnificent frescoes, water gardens, and defensive structures that showcased the grandeur and power of his kingdom. However, after King Kashyapa's demise, Sigiriya was abandoned and became a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century.

Sigiriya Rock stands as an architectural marvel, displaying the advanced engineering and artistic skills of ancient Sri Lankan civilization. At the base of the rock, visitors are greeted by the famous lion paws, remnants of a colossal lion statue that once guarded the entrance to the palace. Ascending through the vertical rock face, one can witness the intricate and colorful frescoes adorning the rock walls. These paintings, depicting celestial maidens known as "Sigiriya Frescoes," are a rare surviving example of ancient Sri Lankan art.

Upon reaching the summit, visitors are rewarded with a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape. The remnants of the palace complex, including the king's throne and the royal bathing pool, offer a glimpse into the opulence and grandeur of the bygone era. The symmetrical water gardens, with their precise hydraulic engineering, reflect the technological advancements of the time.

Beyond its historical and architectural significance, Sigiriya Rock is nestled in a breathtaking natural setting. Surrounded by lush greenery and a network of ancient irrigation systems, the rock exemplifies the harmonious relationship between nature and human creativity. The rock's geological formation, characterized by sheer vertical cliffs and towering boulders, adds to its unique allure.

Sigiriya also holds cultural importance, as it is believed to have influenced various aspects of Sri Lankan art, literature, and architecture. It has been a source of inspiration for poets, painters, and writers for centuries. The site's inclusion in UNESCO's World Heritage List has ensured its preservation and protection, allowing future generations to appreciate its significance and beauty.

Sigiriya Rock stands as an enduring testament to Sri Lanka's rich cultural heritage and architectural brilliance. Its historical significance, awe-inspiring architecture, and natural beauty make it a must-visit destination for travelers. A journey to Sigiriya is a journey through time, unraveling the mysteries of an ancient civilization and leaving visitors captivated by its grandeur.

It is likely that the area around Sigiriya may have been inhabited since prehistoric times. There is clear evidence that the many rock shelters and caves in the vicinity were occupied by Buddhist monks and ascetics from as early as the 3rd century BC. The earliest evidence of human habitation at Sigiriya is the Aligala rock shelter to the east of Sigiriya rock, indicating that the area was occupied nearly five thousand years ago during the Mesolithic Period.

Buddhist monastic settlements were established during the 3rd century BC in the western and northern slopes of the boulder-strewn hills surrounding the Sigiriya rock. Several rock shelters or caves were 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 were made in the period between the 3rd century BCE and the 1st century AD.

In 477 AD, Kashyapa I, the king’s son by a non-royal consort, seized the throne from King Dhatusena, following a coup assisted by Migara, the King’s nephew and army commander. The rightful heir, Moggallana, fearing for his life, fled to South India. Afraid of an attack by Moggallana, Kashyapa moved the capital and his residence from the traditional capital of Anuradhapura to the more secure Sigiriya. During King Kashyapa’s reign (477 to 495 AD), Sigiriya was developed into a complex city and fortress.[3][4] Most of the elaborate constructions on the rock summit and around it, including defensive structures, palaces, and gardens, date from this period.

The Cūḷavaṃsa describes King Kashyapa as the son of King Dhatusena. Kashyapa murdered his father by walling him up alive and then usurping the throne which rightfully belonged to his half-brother Moggallana, Dhatusena's son by the true queen. Moggallana fled to India to escape being assassinated by Kashyapa, but vowed revenge. In India he raised an army with the intention of returning and retaking the throne of Sri Lanka, which he considered to be rightfully his. Expecting the inevitable return of Moggallana, Kashyapa is said to have built his palace on the summit of Sigiriya as a fortress as well as a pleasure palace. Moggallana finally arrived, declared war, and defeated Kashyapa in 495 CE. During the battle Kashyapa's armies abandoned him and he committed suicide by falling on his sword.

The Cūḷavaṃsa and folklore inform us that the battle-elephant on which Kashyapa was mounted changed course to take a strategic advantage, but the army misinterpreted the movement as the king's having opted to retreat, prompting the army to abandon him altogether. It is said that being too proud to surrender he took his dagger from his waistband, cut his throat, raised the dagger proudly, sheathed it, and fell dead. Moggallana returned the capital to Anuradhapura, converting Sigiriya into a Buddhist monastery complex,[5] which survived 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 briefly as an outpost of the Kingdom of Kandy.

Sigiriya Rock from above
Alternative stories have the primary builder of Sigiriya as King Dhatusena, with Kashyapa finishing the work in honour of his father. Still other stories describe Kashyapa as a playboy king, with Sigiriya his pleasure palace. Even Kashyapa's eventual fate is uncertain. In some versions he is assassinated by poison administered by a concubine; in others he cuts his own throat when deserted in his final battle.[6] Still further interpretations regard the site as the work of a Buddhist community, without a military function. This site may have been important in the competition between the Mahayana and Theravada Buddhist traditions in ancient Sri Lanka.

In Professor Senarath Paranavithana's book The Story of Sigiriya, King Dathusena is said to have taken the advice of the Persian Nestorian Priest Maga Brahmana on building his palace on Sigirya. According to Paranavithana, during this period over seventy-five ships carrying Murundi soldiers from Mangalore arrived in Sri Lanka and landed in Chilaw to protect King Dathusena, most of them Christians. King Dathusena's daughter was married to Migara, a Christian and the commander of the Singhalese army.[7] [8]


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