The Timeless Allure of Sigiriya
By Ama H.Vanniarachchy
Sigiriya or the Lion Rock has fascinated people for centuries, even far before it was known to the modern world. The many poems written on the Mirror Wall reveal to us how people in the past were awestruck by the beautiful frescos, the gigantic lion, and the breath-taking ambience of the place.
Sigiriya was the abode of the God-King, Kasyapa, whose tale still remains veiled.
Sigiriya is one of Asia’s major archaeological sites, and will always be the crown jewel of Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage. Considering its Outstanding Universal Values, Sigiriya and the fortress complex was declared a ‘World Heritage Site’ in 1982 by UNESCO.
Its Royal Gardens are among Asia’s oldest surviving man-made gardens. These mesmerising gardens are similar to ancient Persian gardens which are geometric in layout; known as Charbagh or Chahar Bagh. Although beauty and magic is spelled all over this mysterious place, an unexplained eeriness overshadows the palace complex and it’s past. Adding to this, the many tragedies woven around Sigiriya, enhances the mysteriousness of the place’s atmosphere.
Tragedies are not new to Sigiriya. The life of Kasyapa itself was a tragedy. A few more royal princes were beheaded at this place. The fate of the majestic lion is a tragedy. Although people in the past have witnessed him, we no longer see him. It is evident how the face of the lion’s paws and the entrance have been disfigured by later ‘founders’. The beautiful damsels of the famous Fresco Pocket were attacked during the 1960s. The place was subjected to exploitation since its rediscovery in the 19th century despite the fact that Sigiriya is the highest income-generating cultural heritage site in Sri Lanka. Instead of protecting and preserving this as the pride of our nation we neglect it.
It is highly crucial that the two bodies who are to be the guardians of our cultural heritage, the Department of Archaeology and Central Cultural Fund (CCF), actually be the ‘guardians’ of our cultural heritage. Sigiriya should not be protected only because it is a World Heritage Site, but because it is ‘people’s heritage’. The area surrounding Sigiriya, the natural environment, and culture is a part of Sigiriya. It is the pride and heritage of all.
(Pix by Laksiri Rukman)