Sigiriya Sri Lanka, the master builder
Sigiriya Sri Lanka comes dramatically into the political history of Sri Lanka in the last quarter of the fifth century during the reign of King Dhatusena I (4999-477 A.D.). He ruled the country from the ancient capital at Anuradhapura. A palace coup by Prince Kashyapa, the King’s son by a non-royal consort, and Migara, the king’s nephew and army commander, let ultimately to the seizure of the throne and the subsequent execution of Dhatusena. Kasyapa, much reviled for his patricide, extablished a new capital at Sigiriya, while the crown prince, his half-brother Moggallana, went into exile in India. Kasyapa I (477-495 A.D.) and his master-builders gave the site its present name, “Simha-giri” or “Lion-Mountain”. It is responsible for most of the structures and the complex plan that we see today. This brief Kasyapan phase was the golden age of Sigiriya.
It seems that the post-Kashyapa phase that turned Sigiriya back into a Buddhist monastery lasted until the 13th or 14th century. Sigiriya disappears from the history of Sri Lanka for a while. to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It again appears as an outpost and military center of the Kandy kingdom. In the mid-19th century, archaeologists began to take an interest in the site. Followed decades later by archaeologists who have been working there for nearly 100 years, from the 1890s to now. The Cultural Triangle Project started work in Sigiriya in 1982 and has focused only on the most famous and most prominent aspects of Sigiriya. Royal complex of rock, palace, gardens and forts in the “Western Precinct”. The entire city and its rural hinterlands as well.
A key aspect of Sigiriya’s archeology is that it is one of the best-preserved and most decorative inner-city areas in South Asia from the first era AD. What we currently know about its urban form is that it consists of a series of the concentric precincts, on the outside; seem to form a definite geometrical rectangle, which has not yet been fully surveyed. This succession of precincts centered on the Great Sigiriya rock, a massive monadnock or inselberg rising 200 meters above the surrounding plain. At its summit is a semi-natural, partly man-made, stepped plateau of about 1.5 hectares. On this plateau are the royal palace and nearby palace gardens.
The palace is 360 meters above mean sea level and about 200 meters above the surrounding plain. On the plain below, there are two fortified precincts of 90 and 40 hectares, extending east and west. Surrounding the rock is a walled ‘fort’ or inner royal compound covering an area of about 15 hectares. The fort features an irregular, broad elliptical plan, more or less defining the outer limits of the cliffs surrounding the base of the rock. This rocky hillside shaped into a series of terraces. Creating a terraced garden around the rock. It also includes rock shelters and rock-cut pavilions, the distinctive architecture of the rock gardens to the west and east of the fort.
The area west of the fort equally designed as a royal park or Pleasure Park with elaborate water retaining structures and surface and subsurface hydraulic systems. Three ramparts and two moats forming a rectangle surround it and its internal dimensions are between 900 and 800 meters. To the east of the fort lies the ‘Eastern Precinct’ or ‘Inner City’, the inner enclosure of which is rectangular in shape with an earthen rampart, gates and remains about 700 meters from east to west and 500 meters from north to south. Moat our current interpretation of the site is that it represents a ceremonial compound with no permanent structure other than a large central pavilion built on a long, low rock.
The outermost dyke of the Sigiriya complex is a low, much-eroded masked earthen dyke that defines the extent of the eastern residential or ‘outer town’ area, which is largely un-investigated today. This roughly laid out as a rectangle between 1000 and 1500 meters. Two gates to the east, the suburban settlement beyond its northern wall, and the great man-made Sigiri Lake to its south.
The most striking features of Sigiriya’s urban model are its planning mathematics and holistic planning concept. The plan of the city based on a specific square module. The layout extends outward from the coordinates at the center of the rock-top palace complex. The east and west entrances are directly aligned with the central east-west axis. The Royal Water Gardens Moats, and Embankments in the Western Precinct based on an ‘echo’ plan. It duplicates the layout on both the north-south and east-west axes.
In its whole concept, Sigiriya represents a brilliant combination of the concepts of symmetry and asymmetry, in which geometric plan and natural form are deliberately interwoven.
Sigiriya Sri Lanka The Apsara Paintings
The most famous features of the Sigiri complex are the 5th century paintings found in a depression in the rock more than 100 meters above ground level. Reached today by a modern spiral staircase, they are only a fragmentary survival of a massive painting background that once stretched wide across the rock’s western face. The painted band extends to the north-eastern corner of the cliff, covering an area of nearly 140 meters in length and 40 meters in width. As John still observed, the whole face of the hill seemed to be a giant picture gallery. Perhaps the largest picture in the world.
All that remains of this magnificent painted background are “Fresco Pocket A and Fresco Pocket B” (three other recesses: “Fresco Pocket C, D and E above the rock- face, plaster and pigment stains and, in at least one case, a painted figure Parts). Plaster and pigment marks elsewhere on the rock face provide further evidence of the extent of the paint band. They represent apsaras or celestial nymphs, a common motif in religious and royal art in Asia.
Sigiri paintings have attracted considerable interest and attention, both ancient and modern. Dating from the sixth to the thirteenth or fourteenth century, the poems in the mirror wall scribbles discussed below are mostly addressed to the women in the paintings, and appear to have been studied and reproduced in the eighteenth century. Upcountry artists who painted Dambulla murals. Antiquarian descriptions of the images in the ‘Mural Pocket’ date are based on examining the paintings with a telescope from the plains below. In the modern era, the first person to go into the mural pocket and come face to face with the paintings was an engineer named Murray of the Public Works Department. He made tracings and copied them in pastel and published a paper in 1891.
However, the first real study of the paintings dates back to 1894, when HCP Bell began archaeological operations at Sigiriya, and facsimile oil copies made by Muhandiram DAL. Perera in 1896-7
Meaning and style
A very important and largely unanswered question is how the present images relate to the overall composition of the band of paint that spans the stone face. Their fragmentary nature and unusual dramatic setting have led to various, sometimes fanciful, interpretations of Sigiri paintings. The three most important propositions for scholars to consider are Bell’s propositions. Ananda Kumaraswamy and Senarath Paranavithana.
Bell’s idea of depicting the women of Kasyapa’s court in a devotional procession to the Pidurangala temple is a purely imaginative reconstruction and has no precedent in the artistic and social traditions of the region or era. However, the palace women and their dress and jewelery provided models for the Sigiri painters, whose painting reflected the life and atmosphere of the elite society, the ideals of beauty and the attitude towards women.
Paranavithana’s suggestion that they represent the lightning princesses (Vijju Kumari) and the cloud chains (Meghalata) is at once a literary and a sociological interpretation. It is part of his elaborate hypothesis, which attempts to explain Sigiriya as an expression of divine royalty, that the entire palace complex is a symbolic reconstruction of the abode of the god Kuvera.
Although these identifications derived from Paranavitana’s attempt to see Sigiri Palace and the royal complex primarily as an expression of divine kingship may appear to us today as an extreme interpretation that cannot be fully accepted, they direct our attention to important sociological dimensions of Sri Lanka. Understanding of ancient works of art. There is no doubt that the spatial organization and symbolism of the Sigiri complex is deeply determined by king worship and the ideology of kingship. The great paintings at Sigiriya, the hilltop palace and lion staircase, are part of a complex ‘sign language’ that conveys royal power and ceremonial status.
Coomaraswamy’s credentials of the Sigiriya women as apsaras is in possession with well-established South Asian traditions. It is not only the modest but also the most reasonable and suitable understanding. Recent studies have reinforced this idea, showing that apsaras are often represented in art and literature as celestial beings who carried flowers and scattered them over kings and heroes as a celebration of victory and heroism. We can say almost with certainly that the Sigiriya women are celestial nymphs, very similar in essence to their successors thirteen hundred years later in the ‘Daughters of Mara’ panel from Dambulla. However, it is also likely that they had more than one meaning and function. As expressions of royal grandeur and status and as artistic evocations of courtly life, with aesthetic and erotic dimensions.
Such an interpretation, with its varying degrees of vagueness, allows us to accommodate both Bell’s and Paranwithana’s propositions at the ends of a semiology range. It allows us to see the painted ensemble of Sigiriya as a rare and early survival of a royal citrasal or picture gallery. Famous in Indian literature and implied in the Chulavamsa account of Parakramabahu’s palace and audience halls at Polonnaruwa.
The style and authorship of the paintings has been a matter of debate, as has their identity. Early writers such as Bell and even Coomaraswamy saw them as an extension of the Central Indian Ajanta school or some related tradition in South India such as the Bagh or Chitanvasal. Bell even suggested that the artists were trained in the same school, perhaps in the same hands – executed both Indian and Ceylon murals. These are ideas expressed in an era when very little was known about the extent and nature of early Sri Lankan art.
Benjamin Rowland carefully observed the actual painting technique of Sigiriya and was among the first to note in what specific ways it differed from Ajanta and other subcontinental traditions. ‘Sigiri paintings, outside of their evocative and intrinsic beauty. Perhaps most notable for the freedom they show at a time when art tends to congeal more and more within the mold of rigid canons of beauty. Apsaras have a rich, wholesome flavor, while the masterpieces of Indian art, in contrast, seem careless in their over-refining. The painting is stronger than the paintings of the most modern artists of India. Hence, the colors are bolder and more intense than the tonalities used in the temples of the Deccan.
These insights have been pursued and reinforced by contemporary Sri Lankan scholars, who rightly argue that, while the Sri Lankan paintings belong to the same broad traditions of South Asian art as the various continuity of the Sri Lankan tradition give it its own distinctive place in the art of the region. Thus, the Sigirya paintings represent the earliest surviving examples of a Sri Lankan school of classical realism, already fully evolved when we first encounter it in the fifth century.
The Boulder Garden Paintings
The art of Sigiriya not confined to the paintings on the great rock itself. Of equal archaeological and even aesthetic interest, though less well-preserved, are a number of paintings found in the rock shelters at the foot of the rock in the area that formed the boulder gardens in the time of Kasyapa. This was also the center of both the ancient and the post-Kasyapan monasteries. Nearly thirty rock shelters and boulder arches have found at Sigiriya.
Significant fragments of paintings can see in at least five of these. Many of the others contain traces of plaster and pigment, indicating an extensive complex of painted caves and pavilions in the whole of the boulder garden area.
A more ambitious composition can be found in a large plaster area in Cave 7, with ink marks of several female figures carrying flowers and moving through the clouds, again in a northerly direction, like the Apsaras on the main rock above. Even in their ornate and general pictorial treatment, these women resemble those in famous paintings. At least three of them are full-figured representations without being cut off from the waist by clouds, and the legs are bent. A traditional flying pose. In total, there are less than half a dozen different forms, barely recognizable by body color and markings of linear activity.
One of the most unusual and certainly the most dramatic expressions of Sigiriya’s painterly art are the remains of ceiling paintings in the rock shelter known as ‘Cobra-hood Cave’ due to the dramatic rock formations of its symmetry. The shelter dates from the earliest period of the Sigiriya occupation and bears donor inscriptions dating back to several centuries BC. This painting combines geometric shapes and motifs. It is nothing short of a masterpiece of expressionist painting, displaying a remarkable range of imagination and artistic talent not seen elsewhere in the surviving paintings of the Sri Lankan tradition. The characteristic brushwork style and tonal qualities of the Sigiri school are immediately noticeable here. There is no doubt that this shrine is contemporary with the paintings on the main rock. Further excavations in the caves of the Stone Garden and a detailed investigation of the plaster layers and pigments will give us a clearer idea of the successive stages of artistic activity at Sigiriya.
Overall, the paintings in the Sigiriya rock garden area are very important. It provides important evidence that the Sigiriya school continued for a reasonable period of time. Excavations have shown several post-Fifth Movement phases of occupation of rock shelters in the area, perhaps continuing as late as the twelfth or thirteenth century. This situation paralleled by layers of plaster paintings that provide evidence of several successive phases of painting activity at Sigiriya.
The Sigiriya Graffiti
The Sigiri paintings have attracted the attention of visitors to the site for centuries. After the palace were abandoned in the fifth or sixth century and a monastery was established on the cliff and water garden west of the rock, Sigiriya became a place of pilgrimage for visitors. Paintings, Palace and Lion Steps. Inspired by the paintings, they composed poems about the many women depicted in them. The poets wrote their verses on the highly polished surface of the mirrored wall just below the gallery. Known as the ‘Sigiri Graffiti’ and dating from the sixth to the early fourteenth century, hundreds of these inscribed verses cover the surface of the gallery wall and some of the plastered surfaces of the caves below. Nearly seven hundred of these were deciphered by Paranavithana and another 150 recently by Benil Priyanka. Poems expressing the thoughts and feelings of ancient visitors to Sigiriya not only reveal ideas about the paintings themselves, but also provide insight into the sensibilities cultivated at the time and its appreciation of art and beauty.
The Royal Gardens of Sigiriya Sri Lanka
Sigiriya Park is a major focus of the Cultural Triangle excavations. Sigiriya provides us with a unique and relatively little-known example of one of the oldest landscape gardens in the world, where skeletal formations and significant features are still reasonably well preserved.
Three distinct but interrelated forms found here: water gardens, cave and rock gardens, and sloped or terraced gardens surrounded by rock. A combination of these three garden types also found in the rock-top palace gardens.
The Water Gardens
The water gardens are more extensive and complex, occupying the central part of the western precinct. Three main parks are located along the central east-west axis. Park 1, the largest of these, consists of a central island surrounded by water and connected to the main campus by mainly inclined paths. The quadrangle or Char Bagh plan thus created is a well-known ancient garden form, the Sigiri version being one of the earliest surviving examples. The whole park is a walled enclosure with gates at the head of each seaway. The largest of these portals, on the west, has a triple entrance. The remains of the massive wooden doorway indicate that it was an elaborate portico with multiple, tiled roofs of timber and brick masonry.
The 2nd garden, ‘Fountain Garden’, is a narrow compound on two levels. The lower western half has two long deep pools with stepped cross sections. Flowing into these pools are shallow serpentine ‘streams’ with marble slabs and defined curbs. These serpentine symmetrically perforated circular springs are pierced by limestone slabs. They are fed by underground water pipes and work on a simple principle of gravity and pressure. With the cleaning and repair of underground pipes, the fountains still function in rainy weather today.
Two relatively shallow limestone ponds are located on opposite sides of the park. Square in plan and carefully constructed, they may have originally functioned as storage or pressure chambers for serpentines and springs. The eastern half of the park, above the western part, has several notable features, including a meandering stream and a pavilion with a limestone throne seen today.
Garden 3 consists of a large area of high-level terraces and halls. At its northeast end is a large octagonal pool, and a terrace at the base of a high rock, dramatically juxtaposing rock and water at the meeting point of the water garden and rock garden. The remains of a ‘bathing pavilion’ on the far side of the pool form a raised platform and a drop floor for a skinny room.
The eastern boundary of the 3rd Park is marked by the fort’s wide gateway and massive brick and stone wall. The fortress walls form a dramatic backdrop to the water gardens, echoing the even more dramatic view of the Great Rock and Palace on its summit to the east. Viewed from the water gardens, the wall extends from the high cliff in Garden 3 to a matching bastion in the southeast, formed by a series of boulders surrounding a cave pavilion with extensive brick walls and a rock-cut throne.
The three water parks join together along a central east-west axis to form a series of rectangular enclosures of varying size and character. Moving away from this to the broader concept of the western precinct as a whole, its other prominent feature is a sequence of four large moated islands cut across the central axis of the water park and set in a north-south oriented crescent. . These again follow the principle of symmetrical repetition, with the two inner islands on the one hand and the two outer islands on the other forming pairs.
The two inner islands, adjacent to Fountain Park, are partly built on top of bedrock. They are surrounded by high rubble walls and wide moats. The flat surface of the island was occupied by ‘summer palaces’ or water pavilions. Build bridges or cut into surface rock. Give access to these ‘castles’. Further north and south, close to the bank, are two more moated islands, still unexcavated but clearly showing the quarter or char bag plan.
Intricately linked to the water gardens in the western precinct are the twin moats that surround it and the large man-made lake that extends south from Sigiri Rock. Excavations have revealed that these pools are interconnected by a network of underground conduits, originally fed by Lake Sigiriya, and connected at various points with surrounding moats.
The Miniature Water Garden Sigiriya Sri Lanka
To the west of Water Park 1, recent excavations have revealed a small water park of a very different character from those described above.
The park has at least five distinct units, each of brick and limestone with integrated pavilions, water retention structures and meandering watercourses. Two units at the north and south ends are severely eroded, but the main part of the garden and the three central units are clear.
A distinctive feature of this ‘little’ garden is its use of water-surroundings with pebble or marble floors covered by shallow, slow-moving water. This, no doubt, served as a cooling device and created interesting visual and sound effects at the time, which had a great aesthetic appeal.
Another unique feature of the garden is the complex geometric layout. Between the symmetry and the display of ‘eco-design’ characteristic of the water park as a whole, this little park has a more complex intertwining of tile-roofed buildings, water-retaining structures and water-courses than seen elsewhere in Sigiriya; Even more complex, of course, than the beautiful ‘fountain garden’.
This newly discovered garden seems to belong to more than one phase of construction. As far as we can tell at this stage of our investigation, the garden appears to have been originally laid out as an extension and ‘scaled down’ refinement of Kashyapana’s macro plan. So it belongs essentially to the last quarter of the fifth century, but it was later added and rearranged and then finally abandoned and partly again in the last stages of the post-Kashyapa period, between the nineteenth and nineteenth centuries.
A similar garden is buried under the lawn in the unexcavated parallel section of the northern half of the water-garden, and it is very likely that the ‘echo’ or ‘twin’ of the southern current garden.
The Boulder Garden
The rock garden water garden presents a garden design with significantly different symmetry and geometry. It is a completely organic or symmetrical concept consisting of a number of winding paths, connecting several large natural stone clusters that extend from the southern slopes of the Sigiriya Hills to the northern slopes below the Sinha Padipele plateau. The most striking features of this rock garden are the way each stone and the stone placed on it was a building or pavilion. What we see today are steps and drains or holes on rocks or tops, honeycombs, actually ancient brick walls and timber columns and beams foundations or footings.
Among the unusual features of the park are the “Pond Rock” which takes its name from a large pond made of massive granite slabs and the ‘Audience Hall Rock’ which has a flat summit and a huge 5 meter long throne carved out of the Rock of Life. Others are post-cavity and ‘sermon rock’ flat ledges honeycomb.
Considerable excavation had to be done before the original path in the stone garden was discovered, and at least two distinctly marked ‘stone arches’ and two limestone steps, as well as steps and pavements constructed of polished marble blocks and slabs, are provided by various flights. . Vertical ‘drains’ cut into the stone sides at several places indicate that water-courses and controlled water movement also formed part of the garden architecture.
The Terraced Garden Sigiriya Sri Lanka
Sigiriya’s third garden form, the Terrace Gardens, was created by constructing a series of rubble retaining walls on the natural hillside at the foot of Sigiriya Rock. Around the rock.
Large brick steps lead through the terraced gardens to the west of the limestone steps, while paths in the rock garden connect the steep sides of the main Sigiri rock itself. From here, a covered ambulatory or gallery provides access to the belly of the rock to the ‘Plateau of the Lion’s Steps’, with its chambers, buildings and pavilions and the highest terrace with the great lion.
The Mirror Wall
The mirrored wall dates back to the fifth century and is remarkably preserved in its original form. Built of brick masonry from the base of the rock, the wall has a highly polished plaster finish, earning it its ancient name of the Mirror Wall. The wall is surrounded by a walk or gallery with polished marble slabs. The famous Sigiri paintings are found in a recess above this gallery. The polished inner surface of the mirror wall contains Sigiri graffiti as described above.
The Lion Staircase
One of Sigiriya’s most dramatic features is its great Lion Staircase, now preserved only in two colossal paws and a mass of brick masonry surrounding the ancient limestone steps.
The lion, so impressive even in its ruined state today, must have afforded a vision of grandeur and majesty when it was intact. Remarkably, we have poems recording the impact of the Lion on ancient visitors to the site.
The monstrous Simha – suggestive of the legendary founder of the Sinhalese race – towering majestically against the granite cliff, bright colored, and gazing northwards over a vista that stretches almost hill-less to the horizon, must have presented an awe-inspiring sight for miles around.
We know from the chronicle account of Kasyapa’s construction of Sigiriya that the Lion Staircase House was one of the principle features of his plan of the Sigiriya complex. The Lion was in effect the ultimate and solitary gatehouse to the palace on the summit.
At the same time it made a major symbolic statement, operating on several levels of meaning, enhancing the power and majesty of royal authority and invoking ritual notions of dynastic origins, the Lion being the mythical ancestor and the royal symbol of the Sri Lankan Kings.
The actual structure of the Lion Staircase can be at least partially reconstructed from the evidence that still remains at the site. The plinths, working masses of brickwork and original limestone risers give us a clear idea of the form, scale and materials used in the construction of the lion. A brick masonry structure with its surface molded in a thick coating of lime plaster to make it look quite realistic.
The lion appears to be crouched, its feet, head and shoulders projecting from the rock. The exact width and height of the lion is indicated by cuts and grooves in the rock face. Timber posts, beams and lintels were used within the brickwork to create passages for the stairs, and the decay of this timber framework eventually led to the collapse of a significant portion of the entire structure.
The Lion Staircase was fourteen meters high. Above this, the gently sloping rock face was once again used to construct a gently rising gallery and staircase, presumably of brick masonry.
The top of Sigiri Rock is in the form of a stepped plateau with an area of more than 1.5 hectares.
The palace was the center of the royal city. Standing about 180 meters above the surrounding plain and 360 meters above sea level, it is not only the tallest and liner-highest precinct in the Sigiriya complex, but also the geometric center of the ancient modular grid. Sigiriya plan based. The central north-south and east-west axes of the entire complex intersect near the midpoint of the palace area.
The oldest extant palace in Sri Lanka, its layout and basic floor plan can still be clearly seen, providing important comparative data for the study of Asian palace forms.
The palace complex is divided into three distinct parts: the outer or lower palace occupies the lower eastern part of the hill; the inner or upper palace occupying the upper western part and the palace garden to the south. These three sections converge on a large and beautiful stone pool bordered on either side by a stone-flagged pavement. A marble walkway runs down the center of the complex between the outer and inner palaces, forming an outer north-south corridor.
The Sigiriya Hinterland
The archeology of the Sigiri complex is not incomplete to the citadel, gardens and city, but spreads to a vast hilly area known in ancient times as ‘Sihagiri Bim’, Sigiri land. Recent archaeological excavations have shown that the area presents a complex archaeological landscape with a large number of rural settlement sites, village tanks, prehistoric cemeteries, major iron production centers and various Buddhist monasteries. The immediate larger Sigiriya area includes the suburban settlements outside the city walls and along the Sigiri Oya.
A major irrigation network south of the Sigiri Rock is formed by the Sigiri River, a large man-made lake over eight kilometers long, and a twelve-kilometer long network of waval canals. Immediately north and south of the city are the ancient fort of Mapagala, with its ‘Cyclopean’ walls, dating from the first to the third century AD, and the major monastery complexes of Pidurangala and Ramakele. Recent studies of this remarkable landscape have made it one of the most intensively surveyed archeological micro regions in South Asia.