Sigiriya is a proof of the rich civilization of SriLanka during the years of the reign of King Kassapa I (?Kashyapa). The site of the ‘Lion Mountain’ was visited from the 6th century AD, by passionate admirers. The frescoes of Sigiriya inaugurated a pictorial style which endured over many centuries. The poems inscribed on the rock by certain of these admirers, and known as the ‘Sigiri graffiti,’ are among the most ancient texts in the Sinhalese language, though now overlapped with modern graffiti by tourists.
In the heart of SriLanka, Sigiriya, a lofty rock dominating the otherwise green rain forest. At a height of 150 m, the neighbouring plateau, has been inhabited since the 3rd century BC, as attested by the graffiti which proliferate in the grottoes and the shelters of the Buddhist monks. The fame of the ‘Lion Mountain’ is, however, due to one single factor: during a short period in the 5th century AD, a sovereign established his capital there. King Kassapa I (477-95), son of Dhatusena, only came to power after he had engineered the assassination of his father and had, briefly, dispossessed his brother.
Fearing the vengeance of the latter, Kassapa had a fortified palace built on the rock of Sigiriya which was reputed to be impregnable. However, it was there that he was defeated after a short but cruel battle in 495, following which he cut his throat. After the death of Kassapa, Moggallana returned the site of Sigiriya to the monks, thus condemning it to progressive abandonment. During the eleven years that Kassapa resided in Sigiriya, he created a residence of exceptional splendour and founded his capital there, impressive vestiges of which are still exist.
At the summit of the rock is the fortified palace with its ruined buildings, its cisterns and its rock sculptures. At the foot of the rock are the two quarters of the lower city which are defended by a massive wall: the eastern quarter (5th century), which has not been sufficiently excavated, and the aristocratic quarter of the capital of Kassapa I, noteworthy for its terraced gardens embellished by canals and fountains, as well as for numerous monumental remains which have been disengaged from the forest which had invaded the ruins.
Halfway up the rock, within an inaccessible rocky shelter in the vertical wall of the western face are rock paintings which have brought universal acclaim to the site of Sigiriya – ‘The Maidens of the Clouds’, 21 non-identified female figures, comparable to the most beautiful creations of Ajanta. Thanks to the British, the rock paintings can be seen from close range, with a viewing platform.
Tips for an enjoyable Sigiriya Experience:
Plan: Reach Sigiriya by Road from Colombo (4-5 hours due to bad roads). En route stop at Dambulla (16km proximal to Sigiriya), explore cave temples (90minutes), Reach Sigiriya by check in time, relax in the pool after a lunch. Trek the rock in the late afternoon, return for a shower, massage at the spa (well earned after a trek), head for the extensive buffet dinner…
Where to stay: Sigiriya Village Resort (4*) a 32 year old well maintained eco resort, has pool with a view of the rock, dinner with live classical music, great local cuisine. (Alternative: Heritage Kandalama Dambulla, in an interesting Eco- Hotel designed by the famous SriLankan architect Bawa.)
Trek instructions: It involves a medium grade trek, walk on platforms anchored to the rock. If you are a photographer, choose an afternoon for the trek, to catch the golden hour of the evening. Light clothing, water/ isotonic drink, backpack, for hands free climb. There are no shops/ vendors en route. However upon descent, there are couple shops selling cold drinks and souvenirs. Carry your passport for entry ticketing. It makes sense to hire a certified guide.
Beware: of hawkers selling “ebony” carvings.
Travel planning & Bookings: Mr Tomton, Swastika Tours & Travels, Mangalore/ Fortune Lanka (an ideal introductory package would be a 5 night package of Srilanka: Colombo-Kandy-Nuwara Eliya-Sigiriya).
Sigiriya was explored by me in 2010.