The True Mystery of the World is the Visible, not the InvisibleOscar 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..!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
There are several reasons to be astounded by the enigma of the visible in Sigiriya.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
© Abirbhav Mukherjee. All the pictures / videos posted in this article are my own unless otherwise mentioned.