Sigiraya (22 kilometers north of Dambulla and 94 kilometers north of Kandy) is perhaps the most spectacular sight in Sri Lanka. This 200-meter-high (650-foot) -high, table-top block of granite is almost perfectly square and is topped by a magnificent 1.2-hectare (three-acre) fortress built by Kasypaya, a fearful king for protection from his half brother after the king murdered his father.

Sigiraya (pronounced si-GEAR-ee-ah) means “Lion Rock”. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, the Ancient City of Sigiraya was first occupied in the 3rd and 2nd centuries by monks who lived in rock caves. King Kasyapa began building his fortress in A.D. 477, A great deal of trouble went into creating the palace, which ultimately didn’t achieve its aim. The site was used for a while as a monastery and then was abandoned. It gathered dust for many centuries until it was rediscovered in the 19th century by British colonial explorers.

According to UNESCO: “The ruins of the capital built by the parricidal King Kassapa I (477–95) lie on the steep slopes and at the summit of a granite peak standing some 180m high (the 'Lion's Rock', which dominates the jungle from all sides). A series of galleries and staircases emerging from the mouth of a gigantic lion constructed of bricks and plaster provide access to the site.”

Ruins at Sigiriya

The granite block of Sigiriya rises abruptly from the surrounding flat landscape. The top is 377 meters above sea level. Around the citadel at the top are two moats, that once contained man-eating crocodiles, and three ramparts and 20 hectares of elaborately landscaped gardens with boulders and fountains that still work after 1,500 years. On the west side of the base is symmetrically laid-out water garden. Above it is a boulder garden with flights of stairs that wind in and out between the giant rocks. Among the boulders are caves used by monks since the 3rd century B.C.

Most people enter through the western gate. It is elaborately carved and leads to the water garden, which embraces royal bathing pools, pavilions and small moated islands at the foot of the granite monolith. The water garden and moats have been relatively recently been restored. As of 2002, about half had been restored. The garden features a series of increasingly large elongated pools of water that collect rain and spring water to nourish the gardens. The great Mughal gardens in Lahore and Kashmir would later be built with a similar design.

The monolith rises up from the water gardens. A long set of stairs switchback through the boulder garden up the western face of the monolith and leads to a massive pair of stone lion's paws and the lions’s staircase to the summit. The paws, staircase and the granite block are derived from the story of Vijaya, the legendary founder of the Sinhalese people, who was born form the union of a lion and a princess. Only the restored paws of the lion still exist. Ancient chronicles describe the staircase as one of the citadel’s main features. It is said to have started at the paws and emerged thorough the lion’s mouth at the summit. Based on fragments that remain in the rocks, the crouching lion’s head and shoulders were made form brick mounted on the rock face with a wooden staircase located beside it.

The summit covers 1.6 hectares. At one time there was a great seven-story palace with baths, galleries and a pink throne room. All that remains now are foundations. the most notable feature is 27-x-21-meter pond carved out of rock that is nearly the size of an Olympic-size swimming pool. It may have been used for recreation but more likely was used to collect water in the rainy season. A smooth slab of stone is refereed to as the king’s throne.

Paintings at Sigiriya

The southern side of the Sigraya citadel was once covered with paintings, but all that remains today are two adjacent depression in the rock with depictions of “apsaras,” or celestial nymphs. Of the 500 figures painted onto the polished rock walls in 30 caves 1,500 years ago only 22 remain in one cave. Some paintings were damaged by a vandal in 1967.

One of the most outstanding features of Sigiriya are the famous Maidens of Sigiriya, beautiful life-size frescoes of voluptuous thin-waisted, bare-breasted women scratched in a granite overhang underneath the fortress about half way up the granite cliff. The breasts are large, firm and shapely.

The famous Maidens of Sigiriya are said to be the only non-religious paintings found in Sri Lanka. They are reached by a spiral staircase about halfway up the rock face. They are usually covered by a curtain to protect them from the elements. The frescoes are among the earliest ever painted, predating Michelangelo by around 1,000 years. They resemble women painted at the caves in Ajanta, India.

Near the frescoes is a mirrored wall, where graffiti written between the 6th to the 11th century can be seen Almost 700 of the inscription have been deciphered. Many are comments on the maidens. One reads: "The girl with the golden skin enticed the mind and eyes." Another reads: “The ladies who wear golden chains on their breasts beckon me.” Some believed the women were Kasyapa’s wives. “I saw the long-eyed ones of the King who, being separated from their lord, are worn out with grief and those eyes are comparable to full-blown lilies”. Another wrote that the golden-colored ones in the caves appeared as if they were hurling themselves down from the summit of the rock, being unable to console their hearts as, indeed, the King had died. A monk named Sirinaga speculated they were inmates of the King’s harem who wanted to escape.

On getting to the frescoes, Patrick Wullaert wrote: "A metal spiral staircase leads up to the Sigiriya Damsels, beautiful - both in subject, execution and colour - paintings of half-naked women. Nobody really knows who these ladies are. They may be women in waiting, or apsaras, heavenly nymphs. To me they definitely are the latter !”

Maidens of Sigiriya: Who Are They?

Several scholars have interpreted the frescoes in different ways. To some, they depict female members of the royal household. Since most of them are in pairs, these have been described as portraying a queen and a maid or a lady-in-waiting. Difference in colour indicates that they are different personalities, these scholars argue. Pioneer archaeologist, H C P Bell says they are ladies of the king’s court on their way to a nearby temple because they are carrying flowers and moving in one direction. Another theory is that they are Kasyapa’s queens with attendants bringing floral offerings to a shrine, which seems to be located in Thusitha heaven, since the figures appear to be half immersed in the clouds denoting that they are in heavenly spheres. Are they Kasyapa’s queens mourning for the royal husband, was another theory about the damsels.

To renowned interpreter of Asian art and culture, Dr Ananda Coomaraswamy, the ladies in the frescoes are Apsaras (celestial nymphs) because the figures are cut off at the waists by conventional clouds. Dr Senerat Paranavitana, the respected archaeologist says that the figures represent Lightning Princesses (vijju kumari) and Cloud Damsels (meghalata). He interprets the whole of Sigiriya as the abode of God Kuvera.

Even if the artist depicted celestial beings, he was obviously influenced by the queens in the King’s court when drawing the figures. Cornets and tiaras crown the head; flowers and ribbons adorn the hair; heavy ornaments and jewellery are worn in the ears, neck, breast, arms and wrists. There is a feeling of movement in that the bodies are bent forward or sideways. The eyes are cast down with either a downward look or a side long glance. The eye lids being narrow, there is a distinct look of them being half closed.

King Kasyapa

Kasyapa I, also known as Kashyapa I, was a king of Sri Lanka from A.D. 473 to 495. One of the most tragic or notorious figures in Sri Lankan history, depending on your perspective, he allegedly attained the throne by assassinating his father and tried to murder his brother.

Kasyapa was not meant to be king. he was the eldest son of King of Dhatusena but was born to a second-tier wife and was not first in line to the throne. Kasyapa killed Dhatusena in 473 A.D., according the Mahavansa (the Great Chronicle) after Dhatusena "chastised his wife," Kasyapa mother. Angered by his mother's humiliation, Kasyapa seized the throne in a palace coup and had Dhatusena thrown alive into the bund of the biggest reservoir he built during his reign

Kasyapa's brother Mugalan fled to India to raise an army. After his brother escaped, Kasyapa become so paranoid he moved his capital 100 kilometers (63 miles) to Sigiriya and built a fortress on top of 600-foot-high block of granite and surrounded it with a moat filled with man-eating crocodiles.

Kasyapa lived in a seven-story fortress with his 500 concubines, some of whom may be depicted in caves below the fortress. The king enjoyed spending time ay his water garden where he watched his concubines bath and dance. They were forbidden from wearing clothes on the upper half of their bodies.

Kasyapa lived like a king for 16 years until his brother returned from India with an army. Kasyapa left his palace with an army to meet him. The path to the battle was blocked by a marsh. When Kasyapa turned his elephant to avoid a marsh, his army interpreted this as a retreat and fled. The humiliated Kasyapa pulled out dagger right there on the spot and slit his throat.

King Kasyapa: A Bad Rap?

On King Kasyapa, Remy Chevalier wrote: “The truth about this rather eccentric character, a contemporary of another mythical figure King Arthur, is that he fancied himself more of a lover than a fighter. He was a far cry from the cruel monster text books portray him to be. The German theorist Gauribala, after studying the monument for many years, unraveled the official version for what it really was; a smear job cover story written as propaganda to squelch potential popular resentment. Gauribala discovered Kasyapa was himself poisoned by his half brother's sister, who, get this, was one of his many wives. She later threw herself, or was pushed, from the rock and fell to her death. Kasyapa did not commit suicide, as the story goes, after his elephant bucked in battle.” [Source: Remy Chevalier at]

Nadhira Lawrence wrote: “The story of Kasyapa as obtained from the documents of Ananda-Sthavira, translated by Senarath Paranavitana, differs from the story that many learned as school children; that King Datusena had been plastered alive to a wall by his son Kasyapa who later died in battle facing his brother Moggallana. Perhaps this is the story accepted until later documents and literary works suggested otherwise. King Kasyapa was the man who dared to hold the dream of his father of building a palace in the sky, despite the many obstacles he faced. Kasyapa was unfortunately called a parricide, owing to the earlier legend and later by his famed epithet 'God-King'.” [Source: Nadhira Lawrence, Sunday Times]

Sigiriya: Playboy Mansion in the Sky?

Remy Chevalier wrote: “Think Devil's Tower with a health spa on top. Rising 650 feet out of the ground, this Eight Wonder of the World, long believed to be the fortress of a mad king, has been revealed for what it really was: a temple of Tantric sex initiation. King Kasyapa had 500 wives. He was a 5th Century Hugh Hefner. Sigiriya was his Playboy Mansion. Yet the Sri Lanka government still portray him as a great villain, a tyrant and a swine, a man who walled his father alive to usurp the throne, when in fact his half brother was guilty of the crime.

Construction on top the monolith at Sigiriya was started by Kasyapa's father, who was a master designer of canals and dams. But the project was abandoned proving too difficult. After his father's death and his half brother's exile, Kasyapa took it upon himself to finish the work, and succeeded. He made Sigiriya the capital city of Ceylon so he could live there year round. It wasn't a fortress, it was his pleasure palace.

Sigiriya was deserted after the death of its sex-obsessed king. For a few years Buddhist monks used it as a monastery. It quickly fell into disrepair as no resources were made available to maintain it. Centuries of vandalism took their toll. UNESCO is now funding the preservation of the site. The fountains have been restored to working order.

King Datusena and Sigiriya

King Datusena (ruled from A.D. 455 to 473) was the Anuradhapura-based ruler of Sri Lanka and father and predecessor of Kasyapa. Nadhira Lawrence wrote: “King Datusena's reign saw 15 years of peace and prosperity in the land. He built the greatest tank in the ancient city of Anuradhapura, Kalaveva, which he considered as all the wealth he ever possessed. King Datusena now wanted to be the 'Bodhirajaya' a title which the monarchs of Sri Lanka had held as protectors of Buddhism in Asia. However, King Sri Kundya of Java had assumed this title and stubbornly held on to it even after Datusena sent word to him saying that it was illegal for another ruler other than a Sri Lankan to hold this title. [Source: Nadhira Lawrence, Sunday Times]

“Disappointed, Datusena sought the advice of the Abbot of the Mahavihara, head of the 'Theravada' sect of Buddhism, who advised the king to practise the 'dasarajadharma' (ten royal virtues) which would enable him to acquire the status of a 'Chakravarti', which was higher than a Bodhirajaya. Datusena, being quite human was unable to practise it and found himself in a state of great mental distress, when he came into contact with a 'Maga Brahmana' or Magian Priest of Persian origin, a Christian who had come to the Royal Palace.

“This priest was to play a very influential role both in Datusena's and Kasyapa's lives. Datusena confided in this priest and he counselled the king saying that it was impossible for a human being to practise the ten royal virtues and that even the ancient Persian Kings had tried and failed. There- after, they had tried to obtain imperial status by observing the ritual of 'Parvataraja' or Mountain King. To achieve this, the king had to reside in a palace built on the summit of a rock and rule from there. The Maga Brahmana suggested that funds for building such a palace could be obtained if all the people in the kingdom gave a gift according to their ability to the king on his birthday as a token of their allegiance. They calculated that if they do so for seven consecutive years they could obtain the funds needed for building the palace.”

Rivalry Between Kasyapa and His Brother Moggallana

Nadhira Lawrence wrote: “Meanwhile, the intrigues within the palace of Datusena began to grow. Samgha his second queen desired the throne for her son Moggallana whereas Kasyapa too wanted the same. Abroad too, the acts of fate began to intrude upon the rule of Datusena. Simhavarman, Datusena's brother-in-law assumes the title of 'Parvataraja' in India and declares war on Datusena. He sends Datusena's sister's husband, Migara as general of the army to invade Sri Lanka. Simhavarman had purposely sent him at the head of a small army so he may be destroyed because he resented Migara and his wife converting to Christianity. [Source: Nadhira Lawrence, Sunday Times]

“In the same way Datusena had decided that the only way to stop Kasyapa making a claim to the throne would be to have him destroyed because he had already decided to give the throne to Moggallana. Datusena sent Kasyapa to war against General Migara at the head of a small army. Kasyapa realized that his father wanted him dead and he made a pact with General Migara to stage a mock battle and to have Migara and his army surrender to him. Migara gave his allegiance to Datusena and promised to serve him.

“The rivalry between the two brothers grew, when after this battle, Kasyapa claimed the title of 'Yuvaraja'. Datusena made no commitment and Kasyapa assumed that the title will be given to Moggallana and decided to leave Sri Lanka. In despair, he went to see his mother for one last time and told her that he'd rather live in exile than be subservient to his younger brother. He had worshipped at her feet and had sobbed saying, "This may be the last sight that I may have of my mother." She too had sobbed and blessed him saying "May thy paths be propitious."

“Kasyapa was informed shortly by General Migara that Datusena had brought a charge of treason against him because he had reportedly conspired with Simhavarman of India. This, in fact, was a false piece of information deliberately given to mislead Kasyapa and make him flee the country so that the people can confirm that if he fled then he must indeed be guilty of treason. Kasyapa fled to Madras and sought refuge with his uncle Silatisyabodhi. After seven months he gathered an army and prepared to invade Sri Lanka. He landed at Chilaw and proceeded to the Kurunegala District where he set up camp near the village of Sri-Pura. Datusena ordered his troops to set up camp in the village itself, that is in the rear of Kasyapa's army, and thus he forfeited the claim to immunity when setting up camp because he was doing it at the rear of Kasyapa's army instead of in front. Datusena's army was thus attacked while they were setting up camp and they were badly defeated. Kasyapa had no idea that it was his father who was at the head of the army. He was under the misconception that it was Moggallana. Datusena not wanting to see the outcome of this battle, cut off his head with his own sword.

“Thus Datusena's reign came to a tragic end, indirectly caused by his first born. He died without the impe- rial title of 'Parvataraja'. Kasyapa, stricken, paid last respects to his father and ordered that a stupa be built at the site where he was cremated. After this battle Kasyapa marched to Anuradhapura and took over the reins of power without any opposition. He magnanimously offered friendship and the title of Regent to Moggallana who turned it down and fled abroad with his mother. Kasyapa tried to intercept them but he was too late. Returning from Batticaloa, he camped for the night at Habarana. Rising at dawn he had seen in the southern direction a solitary mass of rock looming high over the horizon. He had inquired about this rock and was told that it was called Aksa-paravata and that his father had begun to build a palace on its summit. He had climbed the rock from the northern side with a few others and observing the outline of the construction had said that it was too large and that it would be difficult to remain at the summit right throughout the year and ordered a small edifice to be built there. Kasyapa employed a Sinhalese architect named Sena Lal to execute his designs for Sigiri.

Kasyapa, His Achievements and Sigiriya

Nadhira Lawrence wrote: “On the advice of the Maga Brahmana, Kasyapa issued and regulated a gold coinage. For this to be accepted by overseas merchants he was told to proclaim himself as 'Kuvera' or God of Wealth. Further- more, if the merchants were to accept him as Kuvera, he had to reside and administer his kingdom from a palace on the summit of a rock. Though the Abbot of the Abhayagiri Vihara had accepted his new imperial status, the Abbot of the Mahavihara who was not consulted by Kasyapa before embarking on this new venture, chastised him saying, "Kuvera was the chief of the 'Yakksa' or demons and it would take a long time for a Yakksa to acquire human status again." Proclaiming himself Kuvera, Kasyapa earned the animosity not only of the Mahavihara but also of other overseas rulers. [Source: Nadhira Lawrence, Sunday Times]

“Kasyapa also established free ports to attract more merchants to the ports of Sri Lanka. By this, other trading nations too suffered. Ship chose to sail to Suvarnapura (Palewbang) from India, even after the Maharaja too issued a gold coinage. Angered by the loss of trade for his nation, he summoned Kasyapa's brother Moggallana and told him that he would sponsor an army to fight his brother if he promised, in the event he succeeded to defeat Kasyapa to discontinue the use of a gold coinage and abandon Sigiri and rule once more from Anuradhapura. Moggallana agreed to do this.

“Ananda-Sthavira in his essay 'The two sons of Datusena' says that "King Kasyapa brought honour to the Sinhala Kingdom. Though the mercantile undertakings initiated by King Kasyspa were discontinued by King Maudgalyana, they were again started and continued by Sinhala Kings after King Maudgalyana. Vast wealth accrued to the Sinhala Kingdom through these mercantile undertakings. Kasyapa also renovated the ancient monastery named Isirimana (sometimes called Vessagiri) and bequeathed it to the Mahavihara, even though he himself was an adherent of the Mahayana doctrines. The Mahavihara was endlessly opposed to Kasyapa not only because he had proclaimed himself as Kuvera but also because he followed the 'Mahayana' sect and not the 'Theravada' sect.”

Ancient Description of Sigiri

Nadhira Lawrence wrote: “An ancient Sinhalese guide book called the 'Sihigiri Vihara' found in the library of the Maharaja at Suvarnapura describes this rock and its palace in great detail. It describes the edifice constructed at the summit to have been made only for the use of a couple. No one was allowed to climb there other than King Kasyapa and his Queen. This edifice is described as a mansion with several landscaped gardens and a beautiful pond called Dharani with aquatic flowers. It was always full of water even in the dry season as a mechanism conducted water there. “It also gives a wonderful description of the lion figure. The forepart of a lion had been there but now only the massive paws exist. The rock above the lion figure had painted images of Kasyapa and his father. The plateau in front of the lion figure was known as the plateau of Red Arsenic. [Source: Nadhira Lawrence, Sunday Times]

“This guide book also mentions the gallery and its protective mirror wall whose shining surface was obtained by the use of some mineral which only Sri Lanka possessed at that time. Above the gallery were the beautiful frescos or 'Sigiri Apsaras' painted in the form of cloud damsels and Lightning Princesses.

“The western and southern slopes were divided into terraces with dwelling places for the maids, members of the body-guard and concubines of Kasyapa, supposedly 500. On the western slope there had been two flights of stairs to climb the Sigiri rock, one which passed a cave which was believed to have been a shrine for the goddess Abhrasthita (Aphrodite). A figurine had been discovered there in the time of King Parakramabahu.

“There had also been a theatre with seats carved on to the rock. Tradition says that many ancient Sinhalese plays were first performed here during Kasyapa's reign. A cave below a boulder of stone which has the appearance of the hood of a cobra, had the paintings of Kas-yapa's biography which were eventually erased by his brother Moggallana. There had also been fountains for the use of the harem. According to legend, Kasyapa used to watch them bathing from his mansion. There had also been a pavilion where these damsels used to leave their clothes before bathing and sometimes dried themselves there naked.

Moggallana and King Kasyapa's Death

Nadhira Lawrence wrote: “The son of the Maga Brahmana and Kasyapa fell out and after the death of his father, he left the palace and went abroad. There he conspired with Kasyapa's brother Moggallana. The Maga Brahmana (Jr) obtained a promise from Moggallana that if he ever assassinated Kasyapa, then he must convert to Christianity. He returned to Sigiriya and told General Migara about Moggallana's promise. He then told Migara that his sister, the wife of Kasyapa must be the one to kill him. Migara's sister agreed to kill Kasyapa if she was assured of never being accused of his murder. [Source: Nadhira Lawrence, Sunday Times]

“She had then persuaded Kasyapa to climb to the summit where they were to spend the night alone together. In the night the king's attendants were summoned by her and was told that the king was ill. They carried Kasyapa down to the plateau of Red Arsenic where the physician proclaimed him dead. The queen may have poisoned him.

“Ananda-Sthavira in his narrative says that "There was a great commotion at the city of Simhagiri on the death of King Kasyapa." Kasyapa passed away after 18 years on the throne, in the palace in the sky that he had built. In his book of verse titled "The Sigiriyan King" (1973) V. Ariyaratnam makes the following to be the dying words of the God-King Kasyapa.

After the king's death the commander-in-chief of the garrison at Sigiri, General Sulaksmana, installed the son of Kasyapa, Datusena, on the throne and administered his kingdom in his name. Eventually this General was defeated in battle by Moggallana. He died like Kasyapa's father by beheading himself. Moggallana seized Sigiri and abandoned it as the capital. He later administered the kingdom from Anuradhapura, as in keeping with the promise made to the Maharaja of Suvarnapura. Moggallana later married Kasyapa's widow. Kasyapa's son fled to India, where he died in exile.

“The tales surrounding King Kasyapa have been passed from generation to generation and still have the power to instill respect and admiration. Perhaps this is why Sigiriya is such a major tourist attraction right throughout the year. If you ever climb Sigiriya you will definitely see at least one young mother cuddling an infant or a toddler to her and scaling the steep climb to the top. Maybe these young mothers hope to instill the essence of Kasyapa into the lives of their young children by showing them the greatest monument to his memory the remnants of his palace in the sky.”

Climbing an Hiking at Sigiriya

Sigiriya means 'Lion Rock' because it looks like a crouching lion from a distance. In ancient times, after a hike through forests, you reached the entrance gate, a 20-meter-high lion statue. Walking through its mouth you came to a staircase leading all the way to the top. Only the paws are left today. There were no guard rails in the old days but there are today.

Sigiriya can reached by a climbs along the rock face. The climb is not recommended for the faint of heart. Sometimes long lines form behind the single-file section near the Maidens of Sigiriya frescoes. Many visitors only go as far as the lower palace, which itself takes a hike up steep stone steps with no railing and patches of bare rock. It is recommend that the climb be done early in the morning. Otherwise it can be very hot.

The final ascent begins at the Lion Staircase. From here there is a set of stairs chiseled into a cliff that perilously wind to the to the summit. There is a metal hand rail but if you are bothered by heights don’t look down. On way down to the south gate is the Cobra Head Cave, so named because the overhand resembles the hood of a cobra.

Sigiriya Museum

Sigiriya Museum opened in 2009. Designed and built by Sri Lankans with Japanese aid and expertise, it was designed by Prof Seneka Bandaranayake to be ‘artifact as text', meaning artifacts are displayed with text within a contextual site. reports: “It is not a traditional museum where a monumental building houses artifacts. Rather it was architecturally designed to afford spaces for the contents which accommodate the opportunity for the individual to arrive at his or her own interpretation of the exhibits, plans, models and photographs with a minimum of ‘technical' information. Each gallery would plunge the visitor into direct communication with different aspects of the past. Furthermore, the architectural design was in no way to overshadow, in the slightest, the Rock itself. The museum, the excavated gardens and all else are secondary to the Rock. [Source:, May 2010]

“One sees the museum only as green sections among the trees as one starts to walk along its entrance path. None of the large trees on site were cut; the museum was designed around them, rising from water. Thus emerged a ‘green building' successfully conserving the archaeological character of the Sigiriya monument and its site. The water below and all around the building represents the moat around the Rock. The building - offices, museum, open air theatre and atrium covering 50,000 sq feet - is on stilts, making allowance for any flooding of the impounded Sigiri Oya which fills the red lotus covered pool and then released, goes its way to irrigate the land.

“The architectural concept drew inspiration from the sophisticated design systems apparent in the 5th Century ruins of the Sigiriya monument, the most significant being the unique hydraulic system now apparent in the excavated gardens. Hence the built bubbly cascade of water close to the exit. Also incorporated in the design was the very clearly enunciated ‘green concept' that was inherent in the entirety of the Sigiriya rock palace and pleasure gardens; a vernacular tradition in ancient Sri Lankan buildings.

“The museum is three levelled, to parallel the climb to the summit of the Rock. The visitors' lobby gives standing room access to a short history of Sigiriya presented in the three languages: English, Sinhala and Tamil. You pass to the front atrium where a structured open space frames a stunning view of the majestic Rock. Etched in glass is the story of King Kasyapa from the Chulavamsa (historical record inscribed by a Buddhist monk in the 13th century AD.)

“Entrance to the main museum is through an enclosed bridge in the form of a brick archway tunnel, which is an exact replica of an excavated archway to the Rock. This ‘time tunnel' further signifies the visitor's imminent journey back to the 5th century AD. The first space is the Protohistoric Gallery; the exhibits being excavated artifacts of various sorts from iron implements to pottery and terra cotta heads and figures. A replicated iron smelting kiln proves that iron was used extensively in this region of the Island, probably earlier than the 5th century AD.

“The second gallery represents the Buddhist Monastic Period with artifacts of that time. The third section is the story of King Kasyapa. The room dedicated to his achievements showcases Japanese technology at its most precise. Visitors walk on glass panels looking down, first on the water gardens, then on the mirror wall area, the lion's paw and last of all on the summit of the Rock, exactly replicated to scale. The underlying concept was to give the visitor an aerial view of the rock and gardens. It could also compensate those who are unable to make the arduous climb to the summit of the Rock. A treasured exhibit is an earring. Made of solid gold, it has a purple stone, thought to be a priceless amethyst. The value has not been calculated since it is too precious an artifact to be subject to tests. It is definitely of the Sigiriya period since it resembles the ornaments worn by some of the fresco-women.

“The fourth gallery is the mirror wall room with the kurutu kavi or graffiti replicated exactly. Interestingly termed kurutu liyawili (scribbled writings), the graffiti are inscriptions along one portion of the rock face that climbers pass on their way to the summit. They are on-the-spur-of-the-moment inspired short verses (kavi) commenting on the frescoes - some in adoration and even lust, others reprimanding the girls for their immodesty. The ancient script was ‘cracked' comparatively recently and the verses translated to Sinhala and English. The kavi have been exactly copied on a wall surface and presence-sensitized, a couple of them are chanted as you approach for a closer look.

The fifth and last gallery is dedicated to etho-archeology of the Sigiriya region; in it is traced the history of archaeology and findings in Sri Lanka from early on to the present day. You proceed to a spiral stairway, climbing, which brings you on to the mezzanine floor where invariably gasps are heard, especially from those who have already climbed the rock and halfway reached the wire-mesh enclosed gallery with the frescoes on display. The replication of the rock and the painted frescoes on the rock face is stunningly accurate. On the Rock, to get to this seeing point, one climbs an enclosed spiral stairway that hangs in air. From the viewing gallery looking down you see the tree covered, green ground far below you.

“The museum has placed the lovely doe-eyed damsels, most of them holding lotus flowers in their hands and riding clouds in an in-built rock cave. The frescoes were recreated in the museum by Prof. Albert Dharmasiri. Many of the frescoes face a temple on a hill close by, Pidurangala, to venerate the Buddha. Originally the entire Sigiriya rock face, apart from the mirrored sections, was covered with painted apsaras - heavenly women - estimated to be around 500. Of them only 20 are seen today, most clustered together, but some, discovered later, are inaccessible as of now to visitors. The museum, however, replicates this latter group too, including an elderly, and one may dare declare, rather stern woman!”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (, Government of Sri Lanka (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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