Sri Lanka, of course, is a land of wonders. Wonders that have attracted and inspired most of the world. Sigiriya rock castle is one of those wonders, often called by locals as the eighth wonder in the world. Declared as a wonder or not by the UNESCO, Sigiriya, indeed, is such a marvellous construction that demonstrates the skill and the talent of ancient architecture, water technology, arts and folk literature. The blend of all these aspects is so perfect at Sigiriya that anyone goes there gets mesmerised by its elegance.

What is Sigiriya?

Sigiriya or Sinhagiri, as it was called originally, is a large rock fortress built by King Kasyapa during the Anuradhapura period. It is situated in the Northern part of the district of Matale and near the city of Dambulla, of Central Province. Sigiriya is an isolated rock which stands predominantly on the plain topography of the area with a height of around 180m. The area had been an ancient fortress decayed due to the adversities of weather, before King Kasyapa chose the place as his capital. However, King Kasyapa constructed a fortress centering the rock, with beautiful frescoes on the sides of the rock walls. On a small plateau around halfway up the side of this rock, he has constructed a magnificent gateway which look like as said-there are different interpretations- a lion. So, when people enter into the fortress it is like they are going through the mouth of the lion. In fact, it is believed by the archaeologists that it could have been the reason for its name Sinhagiri, The Lion Rock.

Some believe that King Kasyapa’s intention in building this rock fortress was to make him equal to God Kuvera, the ancient god of wealth and money. His palace, which is introduced as ‘Kuvera Bhavana’, is also said to be a rock mansion that looks like the Sigiriya.


The walls of Sigiriya are said to have been plastered white to symbolize purity and sacredness, in the manner which the City of Gods were demonstrated in the ancient times. However, King Kasyapa should have wanted to make his fortress a piece of astounding art that would catch the eyes of anyone who witnesses the citadel. That is why the walls of the rock are covered with magnificent frescoes of beautiful Apsara (nymphs).

“The whole face of the hill appears to have been a gigantic picture gallery… the largest picture in the world perhaps”

-John Still (1880–1941), British archaeologist and author, known for his discoveries at Sigiriya and his book The Jungle Tide

The frescoes are believed to have been done on the western part of the rock with 500 figures of Apsara, but only a very small part of the frescoes is conserved and the rest is lost forever. There are two types of ladies in these beautiful drawings; ones with lighter tones of skin and darker tones. Some scholars think these paintings to be of the concubines of King Kasyapa while Senarath Paranavitana interprets them to symbolise the rain and thunder; lightning princesses (vijju-kumari) and cloud damsels (megha-lata). He says that it could have attributed some divinity to king Kasyapa too.

Commenting on the beautiful frescoes, Harry Charles Purvis Bell, CCS, more often known as HCP Bell, British civil servant and the first Commissioner of Archaeology in Ceylon says,

“Each figure is imbued with divergent traits in face, form, pose and dress, which would seem to stamp it as an individual likeness.”

Though these paintings belong to the Anuradhapura period, they depict quite different and unique features. The lines are painted in a way that it enhances the sense of volume of the figures. Though the true identity of the paintings has not been deciphered yet, they show similar characteristics to famous Ajanta Caves in India.

By Induwara Athapattu