10 June 2014
UNESCO WHS Sigriryi Rock in Matale (Central Province) sits comfortably within the cultural triangle formed by the cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy. A grand palace on top of a huge 200 meter high rock encircled by limitless greenery, gardens, terraces, pathways, ponds and plantations is a splendid sight and if it were to survive throughout the centuries, it would be such a fierce-some thing to behold especially since the entrance is guarded by a huge rock lion— my pet rock lion.
Left over from an long extinct volcano, this protruding rock is unmissable from the horizon. Fishe and I both saw it from Dambulla Cave. This area is so rich in history. It’s like my ideal treasure chest. Imagine, Fishe and moi, both explorers who stumbled upon the ancient sites that was once consumed by nature…we’ve released it from its long deep slumber, awakening its treasures for the world to see. Here goes another fantasy!
Initially a shelter-monastery from 5th BC, a King from 477-495 CE moved his capital to Sigiriya and built many gardens, palaces and other structures around the rock. He was later defeated, the capital was moved back to Anuradhapura and his once grand palace was turned into a Buddhist monastery. The palace crumbled with time and only a bit of the walls exist as well as the two front paws and the rough outline of the handsome lion’s body. The famous mirror wall which allowed passer-bys to stare at their own reflections is currently filled with vandalism. Nevertheless, it’s still alluring.
We hitched a free ride from our guesthouse to the car park. Right beside the car park is Sigiriya Museum, which shows the excavation of the area, the artifacts and a reproduction of the frescoes. That became our last stop. With our tickets in our hands, we walked past several lotus ponds, crossed the outer and inner moat and was allowed into the complex. The areas surrounding Sigiriya Rock is lush in greenery and vast- like Cambodia’s Angkor Wat complex.
Not wanting to waste time, we both decided to explore the complex grounds after seeing the frescoes and the rock lion. We walked through the gardens and made our way slowly towards the 2000 year-old Mirror Wall. The 3-m high mirror wall is half-way up the rock and leads you towards the famous frescoes. Sort of like a public notice/comment board and a mirror, it was said that the King could admire his own reflections when walking up towards his palace. Some say that there are also drawings of deities.
People had always left behind comments and graffitis on the walls. Excluding the awful modern ones, some ancient graffitis which dates back to the 6th-16th centuries still can be seen in only a few places. One reads: ” the ladies who has golden chains on their breast beckons me”. Another reads: “a deer-eyed woman… in her hand she had taken a string of pearls…”
The ancient Sinhalese scripts, like a piece of artwork helps modern linguistics to understand the development of the language. It’s great to know that people back centuries ago are so eloquent and poetic. Mankind is becoming dumber since in the year 2014, I would leave behind just one word: HOT! Can’t help that my education has clearly failed me and I’m always limited in my vocabulary.
Straight after the Mirror Wall is the renowned frescoes, a series of 5th century paintings depicting half naked apsaras (celestial nymphs) or the King’s concubines.
No matter who they are, these thousand-year-old maidens with religious symbols and painted in distinctive Sri Lankan style were all protected from the blazing sun by their caves’ cavity. Flash photography is not allowed and those who accidentally do are gently reminded by the very friendly on-site police who was more than happy to take a photo with Fishe and moi. Sigiriya is such a precious darling. The mirror wall contains the oldest Sinhala literature- 8th-10th century verses and poems and the frescoes are the oldest, best preserved and only surviving specimens of art of the Anuradhapura Kingdom.
Even though the palace is no longer with us today nor the mirror wall and the intact rock lion as its grand entrance, the renowned ancient frescoes is still here for us to admire. After the frescoes, we were greeted by the lion claws and a group of school children who came with their teachers to this wonderful place to learn about their country’s history
Mr Bell, a British archaeologist, found these two enormous lion claws during an excavation in 1898. The stairway from the Lion’s claws to its mouth marked the final ascent to the Sky Palace. It is difficult for anything around the 5th century to remain absolutely intact so having the two claws there is already great enough.
We rested before making the 750 step climb to the summit. It was rather steep so we took our sweet time. The more we went up, the better the view which gave us a better perspective on its surroundings.
1.6 hectares with garden, ponds, places for water storage and a few foundation blocks which marked the once Sky Palace and the other accompanying structures, we walked around the summit and relied on our imagination to picture what it possibly looked like back in its glorious days.
The cisterns cut from the rocks still functions today and after knowing that the summit gardens employed surface and subsurface hydraulic systems, we can’t help but marvel at the intelligence of our predecessors. Damn! they knew how to manage their sky gardens through knowledge of the irrigation systems. They also have perfect understanding of symmetry and constructed various structures and formed their garden in a linear + symmetrical fashion.
I think modern mankind with our fancy technology tend to believe that we are much more smarter than our predecessors. I beg to differ. We have always underestimated the ancient civilizations. For those who can build these structures without the technology and scientific tools that we have today, they really are the smarter group.
Fishe and I sat there gazing at the surroundings, watching the birds soar high in the sky, listening to the wind just like the cassavas (Buddhist monks) did, perhaps at the same spot that we were in- looking out at their precious kingdom some 1500 years ago.