Delegation Days in Sri Lanka: The Enigma of Sigiriya

The True Mystery of the World is the Visible, not the Invisible

Oscar Wilde

Quite oft a time do we find ourselves mesmerized or terrified by the enigmatic invisible. The invisible forces of gravity evoked enough curiosity in Sir Isaac Newton that he formulated a series of theories and laws which describe the fascinating mechanization of these invisible forces of nature. Background radiation, genetics and radioactivity may exemplify the mysteries associated with the invisible.

Does that mean that the visible is less enigmatic? Well, not by a long shot. The visible is equally, if not more enigmatic.

Else, what can explain the seemingly impossible task of building the Great Pyramids without the use of modern machines? Or how to accurately predict the Aurora Borealis and its patterns?

The deeper we dig, the more questions we encounter, and the allure of the enigmatic visible leaves no stone un-turned to leave us enchanted.

Retrospecting at some of the visible mysteries I have seen so far, I can safely say that I had the privilege of closely seeing a gem of an enigma called Sigiriya in Sri Lanka.

I visited the place in December 2017 as a part of the Indian Youth Delegation to Sri Lanka. An introduction to the same may be read here.

Without much further ado, let’s start unraveling the enigma of Sigiriya..!!


What


The UNESCO World Heritage Site at Sigiriya is truly an enigmatic place to be in.

The 180 m tall granite rock actually houses a fortress atop it. The rock also houses many caves which were once inhabited by Buddhist Monks.

A view of the Sigiriya Rock Fortress alongwith the water “gardens” or reservoirs

The rock, the ancient staircases and even the modern ones are quite steep and difficult to climb. One can only gasp in wonder as to how on Earth could the architects and engineers of the ancient times manage such complicated feats without modern machines?

The Fortress or caves may not be visible in this view, as shown above. Trust me, even I was flabbergasted upon knowing that there actually is a complex system of caves and a Fortress atop the rock. More jaw dropping moments hit me when I came to know about the age of this Fortress.


Where


Sigiriya is quite close to Dambulla, which is an important city in Sri Lanka. The Cricket fans will know about the famed International Cricket Stadium in Dambulla.

People usually hire taxis or buses from Dambulla to reach Sigiriya. It’s about 18 km from Dambulla.


Who


The Rock Fortress and the complex system of fortifications and water gardens was built by King Kashyapa I, the second monarch of the House of Moriya.

Kashyapa I is sometimes called the “usurper” owing to the fact that he was not the legitimate King. He usurped power in 473 CE by overthrowing his father King Dhatusena in a military coup. His half-brother, Moggallana, the rightful heir to the throne, fled to India to escape the persecution.

The fear of Moggallana and attempts to overthrow Kashyapa forced the latter to shift his capital from the flourishing city of Anuradhapura to Sigiriya and build the extensive fortifications.

In 495 CE, Moggallana returned to Sri Lanka with an army and defeated Kashyapa I in a battle near the Sigiriya fortress and ascended the throne as King Moggallana I. The Capital was once again shifted to the traditional place, Anuradhapura.


When


As per legends, Sigiriya was build by Kubera, the half-brother of Ravana as described in the epic Ramayana.

The ancient fortress is said to have been built during the reign of King Kashyapa I from 477 CE to 495 CE. However, Sigiriya had been the home to Buddhist monks much before that, since 3rd Century BCE. There is some evidence that the place has been inhabited right from prehistoric times.

Strange writings on the wall of a rock cut cave in Sigiriya

I observed the above script in a wall of a small rock cut cave, which was possibly used as a shelter for Buddhist monks. The presence of this particular script in this part of the world appeared quite strange to me.

A part of the writing does appear to belong to the Brahmi script, which may peg the age of the writing to be somewhere around 3rd Century BCE, when Buddhist monks from India came to Sri Lanka to preach Buddhism. It has some similarity with the writings which may be found in the columns which held the Lion Pillars of Emperor Ashoka in Sarnath, India (The Lion Pillars have been adopted as the National Emblem of India)

However, if one observes the writings on the extreme left and right side, he / she will find some pictorial letters resembling some hieroglyphs. These hieroglyphs have some odd similarity with the writings which are usually found on coins or tablets excavated from the sites of the Indus Valley Civilization, which predate the arrival of Buddhist monks by several centuries, even millennia.

That may solidify the claim that Sigiriya was inhabited perhaps millennia ago. But the enigma still remains.

  • Why did someone come here in those ages?
  • If they did, where is the Civilization?
  • Do these grounds hide something else? Something massive, which may tectonically shift our existing knowledge or school of thought?

No one seems to know yet.

[Note: I am no professional archaeologist. The theories or analysis of the script is entirely my own, based on my learning from books and several observations from many historical ruins or excavations. Maybe a professional archaeologist will be able to shed some light on these writings. Or, maybe not]


Why


There are several reasons to be astounded by the enigma of the visible in Sigiriya.

The Lion’s Paw which leads to the final climb of a few metres to the top of the Sigiriya citadel.

The name of this place, Sigiriya, is derived from Sinhagiri, meaning the Lion Rock. The Lion’s Paw pictured over here also had the rock cut head, which unfortunately collapsed several years ago.

Climbing atop the final flight of stairs beside the Lion’s Paw, one can see the picturesque vista of lush green forests covering the plains of Sigiriya. The ruins of what used to be the complex fortifications atop the 180 m granite “monolith” can also be seen.

The pond constructed atop the rock was meant to serve the people living in the caves below. The pond was rain fed, but could serve the people below through continuous seepage. Ancient engineering marvel at it’s best
Ruins of the Palace atop the Sigiriya Rock

The sheer engineering skills and architectural genius of the people of the ancient times have always been subjects of my profound fascination. The enigma of their process or method without involving modern machines, on an almost vertical rock seems beyond my comprehension. Perhaps, this question cannot be answered by time.

Although 180 m seems too less a height for professional rock or mountain climbers, yet one has to give the due credit to the skilled people who constructed such marvelous feats atop this vertical rock.

Maybe this picture below will help one gauge the scale and complexity of the said work in hand.

Beautiful vista of the forest and water gardens, taken from almost the top of the rock, on a newly constructed caged metal stairway.

Below the ruins of the Palace are the rock cut caves, used mainly by the Buddhist monks to meditate or study. The caves could also house the royalty or other citizens or soldiers. There were separate caves for those purposes, cut out at different heights on the rock.

One of the many rock cut caves in Sigiriya

As mentioned previously in a number of occasions, these rock cut caves housed the Buddhist monks. Again, the finesse in planning and designing of the caves for the monks deserves another round of applause for the engineers or architects of the ancient times.

Sigiriya is one of the oldest surviving ancient towns which still possess functional water conservation and irrigation systems. One such remarkable system is the water garden.

A section of the water gardens in Sigiriya

The water gardens consist of a complicated network of artificial ponds, drains and underground pipes, many of which are functional even to this day. This network connects to a large reservoir of water, which is usually rainfed.

The purpose of the water gardens was to conserve water, as Sigiriya is a relatively parched area of Sri Lanka. The placement and connection of some pipes and ponds are made in such a way that relatively clean water, mainly for drinking purpose, could be tapped from the pond at an optimum level which was neither too deep (to avoid sediments) nor too shallow (to prevent entry of floating particulate matter). It’s still an enigma as to how precise the calculations of the ancient engineers were. The more we dig into this, the more fascinated we shall become.

The ambiance of the place, the vistas and the scenes were simply stupendous. As an “Age of Empires” fan and player, I felt fascinated, as if I was exploring a whole new and unknown world of forests and hidden civilizations.

A shining star representing the enigmatic visible

Maybe the Age of Empires fans can relate to this setting. So picturesque. So magical, yet so real

Until Next Time

Sri Lanka is truly a fascinating place to be. This post focused on mainly the enigma of a hidden jewel in Sri Lanka, which is a part of the enormous garland of the Country’s rich and diverse cultural heritage.

The Indian Youth Delegation was indeed a privilege, which helped me get acquainted with so many fascinating facets of Sri Lanka, like the one in Sigiriya.

I shall illumine next on another place or sets of places I visited in Sri Lanka, as a part of the Indian Youth Delegation. Each place has a different charm, and a whole new uncliche experience in itself.

Stay tuned..!!

© Abirbhav Mukherjee. All the pictures / videos posted in this article are my own unless otherwise mentioned.

51 comments

  1. Such an interesting post and thank you for taking me on this wonderful tour with you…
    Think I was born in the wrong era as much prefer ancient architecture than the more modern/contemporary buildings we see today. Don’t get me wrong, some modern buildings are beautiful but many are concrete blocks and I can’t really see them lasting 50 years let alone thousands of years!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, be sure to count me in your list of people born in the “wrong era”.. 😉
      I also prefer ancient buildings, which elegantly stand the test of time.. 😊😊 Some modern buildings are no doubt good, but nothing beats the allure of the older ones which stand tall despite the passage of millennia, and were built without modern machinery.
      I hope this will interest you if you like ancient buildings.. Do let me know your reviews..!! 🙂 🙂
      Thank you so much Nilla for your lovely comment..!!

      https://theunclicheophile.com/2019/04/23/a-walk-timeline-saga-civilization/

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great post—very informative and nicely structured with the What, Where, Why…questions. As you know, I was equally enthralled by this amazing site and I share your fascination with how architects and engineers of that time built such a structure. I’m impressed with your interpretation of the script.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Madam for reading my post and sharing such kind words.. 😊😊
      You are very much right Madam. This site is bound to impress anyone. I am glad to know that you share the same fascination.. 😊😊
      Hope someday in future we get answers to the unanswered questions associated with Sigiriya.. 😊😊

      Like

    1. Wow..!! Great to have a History student review my articles.. 🙂
      I do research on both three levels. First I read about the place beforehand. That sets the ground, but gives only 2-3% of the matter. The research on site is a bit exhaustive, because usually I ask the officials on duty or read the information available on plaques or on AV. That covers most of the matter. The remaining gaps are covered through internet based research, which is quite less (about 5-10%)..

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Well, that’s a bit hard to digest, since you are a history expert and your knowledge of concepts far exceed amateur people. But yes, internet based research is also needed. I am not saying you should rely 100% on that. During MBA, we also did such research and filtered the “leaves” out of the “liquor”.. 😉 Anyways, I once again invite you to review my posts on History.. I am confident that I will learn something about History from you.. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

      1. È grandioso Benedetta. Sono così felice che tu sia in grado di rivisitare le tue avventure in Sri Lanka. Grazie mille per aver rivisitato il mio blog e aver condiviso i tuoi adorabili commenti.. 😊😊

        Like

    1. Thank you Madam for taking the time to read my post and share your thoughts.. 😊
      Indeed, Sri Lanka is beautiful and is worth paying a visit. I am sure you will enjoy your time in Sri Lanka.. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a wonderful Post. I would love to visit Sri Lanka someday. I was so intrigued by the script on the walls. It is like message from the past. The pond and water irrigation in the gardens are a marvel. I wish we could study it more and apply it in this day and age. Saving the post for later . Great read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Madam for your appreciation.. 😊😊 Glad that you got intrigued by the post..!!
      Doesn’t it feel exciting to discover and decipher the messages and inscriptions from the past? There is so much mystery surrounding Sigiriya.. 😊 I urge you to include it in your itinerary to Sri Lanka..!!
      I have two more posts about Sri Lanka. A few more are coming up as well. Hope to have your thoughts on them as well.. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Madam for visiting and sharing your comments..😊
      Isn’t it beautiful and mysterious? I mean I am still flabbergasted to think how could they do it ages ago, that too on an almost vertical rock

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Thank you so much once again Madam.. ☺️ Glad you found my blog, though I don’t know how. Anyways, welcome to my blog. Would love to hear your suggestions, thoughts or comments on the other posts of mine.. ☺️

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Okay Boos Lady here to say, I am awed by your post and this amazing place. You said caves and of course, i am imagining at this point these monks huddling in there and living hand to mouth– the way folks did here at times — then suddenly as your post goes on I am seeing the picture and it is huge… So very many unanswered questions. Way back we knew someone from Sri Lanka–quite a character actually. I think he sill lives in Scotland in Blairgowrie and he always said it was a beautiful place full of mystery. Full marks for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your “full marks” to this post.. Glad to know it exceeded your expectations.. 😊 Honestly, appreciate you writing back to me on my posts..!!
      See, the monks were ascetics, who renounced their family lives. They didn’t live in dire conditions as imagined. They lived a life of what we may call “minimalistic living” – consuming only what’s necessary (mainly a vegetarian diet). They spent most of their time meditating, studying, giving sermons or learning. Visit Sri Lanka, or India and make sure you see a Buddhist monastery.. I am sure you will love the tranquility, calmness of the environment over there and the simple nature yet discipline of the monks. Feels so simplistic, yet divine.. 😊
      Thank you Madam for your comments.. Appreciate them as always.. 😊

      Like

  5. Wow great post. Your photography is very nice. I love the close up of the stairs, water tables, gardens and caves. It is amazing that as of 2020 we can see something so old unique and wonder how it was ever built. The close up of the Lions Paw was amazing. Thank you for taken me to some place I will likely never have the opportunity to go. Love, blessings and safety Joni

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Madam for your appreciation.. 😊
      I am glad I could give you a virtual tour of this gem of a place, and I believe that you can definitely visit this place in future.. 😊
      Thank you so much for your visit and comments.. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. How I would love to spend days there. If it is in God’s plan than perhaps I will. It certainly is a beautiful Country and City. You do an excellent job of making it look so. Hugs, stay safe and thanks again. Love 💕 Joni

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I am sure that if you wish for it and start preparing for this trip, you will be able to fulfill it without hesitation. This pandemic should ease in 1-2 months time, post which, everything will be back to normal.
          Thank you so much once again for your appreciation.. 😊😊

          Like

  6. You were fortunate to be the part of Indian Delegates so that you could see this wonderful piece. You have explained in detail. Sigiriya is on my travel list for sure. It must be altogether a different world up on the fortress. I am excited to see that script. I wish I can visit it someday! Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Madam for visiting and sharing your comments.. 😊
      You can say so, as the Delegation did indeed give me an opportunity to discover and appreciate the unknown aspects of Sri Lanka.
      It definitely is a different world altogether. The entire granite rock is a magma plug, and the feat of such a construction along and atop it is simply breathtaking.. 😊
      Do visit Sri Lanka. It’s so beautiful and impeccably clean. I am sure you will love the experience.. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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