Tuesday, April 3, 2018


Sigiriya is an ancient fortress situated in Matale District, Sri Lanka. The fortress is today a recognized World Heritage Site and is popularly known among the people as the eighth wonder of the World.

King Kassapa (477-495 AD), one of the two sons of King Dathusena (463-477 AD), converted this unscaleable 600 feet high Sigiriya rock into a marvellous fortress and built a planned city around it. The Great Chronicle, Mahawamsa accounts that prince Kassapa, who had no claim to the throne as he was not the son of the main queen, usurped the throne of his farther with the assistance of a royal commander. Kassapa imprisoned his farther and later put to death by walling in a dungeon. Meanwhile, the other son of Dhathusena, prince Moggallana who was the rightful heir, escaped to India.

In fear of his escaped brother Moggallana, King Kassapa sought the security in the rock of Sigiriya and transformed it into an impregnable fortress. He built his abode on the summit of the rock which according to the chronicle was a palace like unto a second Alakamanda, the abode of Kuwera, the lord of wealth. Kassapa named his fort as Sinha-giri (Lion-rock) and turned the nearby Pidurangala into a shrine of religious worship.

Nearly two decades later, prince Moggallana came back with the support of South India and defeated King Kassapa and became the king of Anuradhapura (495-512 AD). He  handed over the rock of Sigiriya to the monks of Dharmarucikas who followed the Mahayanist form of Buddhism under the Abhayagiriya sect.

The name of Sigiriya is mentioned again in Mahawamsa at the beginning and end of the 7th century. It accounts that there were two occasions of further killings of royalty at Sigiriya in Samghathissa II and Moggallana III. Thereafter the name of Sigiriya is not occurred  in any of the local chronicles.

The Boulder Arch No. 01

Description : The Boulder Arch No. 01 which is
on the ancient pathway shows the successful
adoption of features of the natural landscape
in Sigiriya planning.

Two caves, prepared as dwellings for the
Buddhist monks during the first monastic
phase before Kassapa are visible on the
either side of the arch.

The inscription (on the left cave)

Script : Early Brahmi
Language : Old Sinhalese
Transcript : Parumaka Kadiya puthasha...
Translation : (the cave of) chieftain Kadiya's son

Reference : The information board at the site
However the drip-ledged caves with pre-Christian Brahmi inscriptions found in the area indicate that Sigiriya and the nearby Pidurangala were using by the forest dwelling monks from very early times.

Sigiriya was rediscovered by Forbes in April 1831, and was scaled in 1853 by Adams and Bailey.

Bodhi and Uppalavanna?  (left)
Mahawamsa says that King Kassapa restored
the Issarasamana monastery (present
Vessagiriya) and renamed as Bo-Upulvan
Kasubgiri Viharaya, giving it his own name and
the names of his two favourite daughters Bodhi
(light) and Uppalavanna (blue-lily
complexioned). The pair of light complexioned
and dark hued ladies in this painting could
therefore represent the two royal princesses.
Reference : Chutiwongs, N. (1990).  p. 41.
Sigiriya is a secular monument with fine paintings of the classical era. The paintings are found on the western face of the rock boulder and in the sheltering caves of the surrounding garden. The major group of paintings are in the pockets on the western face of the rock. There are five figures of damsels in the pocket A and eighteen in the pocket B making a total twenty three figures. These paintings are the earliest found in Sigiriya dated to 5th century AD.
More paintings are found on the rock ceilings of cave no. 7, Asana cave and Naipena Guhava (Cobrahood cave) in the surrounding garden. The cave no. 7 contains several fragments of paintings belonging to the late 6th century AD.

On the night of 14th October 1967, a commercial
paint had been daubed on fourteen of the
nineteen paintings in the pocket A and B.

Two figures had also been damaged by
hacking away the head of one figure and the
portion above the waist of the other figure.

Reference : Wijesekara, N. (1990).
The paintings found in the Naipena Guhava, dated to late 6th and early 7th of centuries, are mainly decorative motifs of medallions and bands which are similar in the theme and style to those found in the caves at Ajantha in India.
Naipena Guhava (B 9 Cave)

Description : Naipena Guhava (the
Cobra Hood Cave) is a cave with
drip ledges that had been used as a dwelling
for Buddhist monks during the first monastic
phase before Kassapa.

Nine skeletons have been recovered during
an excavation carried out in front of the cave.

The Cobra Hood cave inscription 

Period : 3-1 centuries BC
Script : Early Brahmi
Content : This cave has been donated by
chieftain Naguliya

Reference : The information board at the site
The Paintings in the Asana Guhava located nearby are belonged to the 12th century AD. There is a seat (Asana) inside the cave, carved out of the living rock. Few graffiti belonging to the 8-9 centuries AD have been found in the cave.

A large number of graffiti are found on the surface of the Mirror Wall. Visitors who came to Sigiriya from the 7th to the 19th century have left their comments on the Mirror Wall. The body of literature known as graffiti, ranging between the 6th and 13th centuries describe about the ladies painted on the rock surface as well as the about surrounding environment of the royal park.

1) Sigiriya boulder gardens 05 by Cherubino is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
2) Sigiriya boulder gardens 21 by Cherubino is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

1) Chutiwongs, N., Prematilleke, L., Silva, R., 1990. Paintings of Sri Lanka: Sigiriya: Colombo, Archaeological Survey of Sri Lanka, Centenary Publications, Central Cultural Fund. pp. 37-47.
2) Ray, H. C., Jayawardana, M. A., 1959. University of Ceylon: History of Ceylon (Vol 1, part I). Ceylon University Press. pp. 296-298.
3) Wijesekara, N., Silva, R. D., 1990. Archaeological Department Centenary (1890-1990): Commemorative Series (Vol. V). Painting: Colombo. Commissioner of Archaeology. p. 19.

Location Map


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