Tuesday, April 3, 2018


The Sigiriya rock
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.

The history of Sigiriya goes back to the very early times. The drip-ledged caves with pre-Christian Brahmi inscriptions indicate that the Sigiriya was an abode of forest-dwelling Buddhist monks since the B.C. era (Chutiwongs et al., 1990).

King Kassapa
King Kassapa (477-495 A.D.), one of the two sons of King Dathusena (463-477 A.D.), converted this unscaleable 600 feet high Sigiriya rock into a marvelous fortress and built a planned city around it (Chutiwongs et al., 1990; Ray, 1959). The chronicle Mahawamsa mentions 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 father with the assistance of a royal commander. Kassapa imprisoned his father 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 (Ray, 1959).

In fear of his escaped brother Moggallana, King Kassapa sought 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 Kuvera, 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 A.D.). He handed over the rock of Sigiriya to the monks of Dharmarucikas who followed the Mahayanist form of Buddhism under the Abhayagiriya sect (Chutiwongs et al., 1990).

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 (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). Thereafter the name of Sigiriya does not occur in any of the local chronicles (Chutiwongs et al., 1990).

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
Sigiriya was rediscovered by Forbes in April 1831 and was scaled in 1853 by Adams and Bailey (Chutiwongs et al., 1990).

Sigiriya is a secular monument with fine paintings of the classical era (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). 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 is 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 of twenty-three figures (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). These paintings are the earliest found in Sigiriya dated to the 5th century A.D.
Bodhi and Uppalavanna? Bodhi and Uppalavanna?  (left photograph)
Mahawamsa says that  King Kassapa restored
the Issarasamana Vihara (modern Vessagiriya)
and  renamed as Bo-Upulvan Kasubgiri Vihara,
giving  it his  own name and  the names  of his
two    favorite   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 (Chutiwongs et al, 1990).
Sigiriya frescoes Sigiriya frescoes Sigiriya frescoes
More paintings are found on the rock ceilings of the Deraniyagala cave (cave no. 7), Asana cave and Naipena Guhava (Cobra-hood cave) in the surrounding garden (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). The Deraniyagala cave contains several fragments of paintings belonging to the late 6th century A.D. (Chutiwongs et al., 1990)

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, 1990.
The paintings found in the Naipena Guhava, dated to the late 6th and early 7th 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 (Chutiwongs et al., 1990).
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 B.C.
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 belong 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 describes the ladies painted on the rock surface as well as the surrounding environment of the royal park.

Sigiriya monument list

1) Outer rampart 2) Outer moat 3) Middle rampart
4) Inner moat 5) Inner rampart 6) Western gateway
7) Southern gateway 8) Northern gateway 9) Water garden no. 1
10) Ambagaspitiya inscription 11) Brick wall with ancient lime plaster 12) Water garden no. 2 (fountain garden)
13) Southern summer palace 14) Water garden no. 3 15) Octagonal pond
16) Inner city rampart 17) Boulder garden 18) Stupa
19) Image cave 20) Bodhighara 21) Deraniyagala cave
22) Cobra hood cave 23) Boulder arch no.2 24) Asana cave
25) Audience hall 26) Lime plaster with graffities 27) Boulder arch no. 1
28) Ancient road 29) Terraced garden 30) Mirror wall
31) Paintings 32) Lion's paw 33) Lion's paw terrace
34) Palace 35) Palace complex 36) Seat
37) Pethangala 38) Miniature water garden 39) Preaching rock
40) Wathura Kotugala 41) Middle compound 42) Prison rock
43) Mapagala 44) 45)
46) Triple entrance 47) 48)
49) 50) Vertical drain 51) Under ground water conduit
52) Central bathing pool 53) East palace complex 54)

Ponds on the summit of the Sigiriya rock Ponds on the summit of the Sigiriya rock The royal garden The royal garden
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. (Editor in chief), 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

This page was last updated on 9 January 2021
For a complete tourist map follow this link: Lankapradeepa Tourist Map


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