One of our first places to visit during our recent trip to Sri Lanka was Sigiriya, we were staying at a home stay near the Lion’s Rock. To be honest, I was totally unaware about Sigiriya, it’s history and the magnificence that was about to unfold the next day. The first day we took a safari to Minneriya National Park, which is a story for later.
The next day we looked up at what was told to us is a view point of lion rock. It looked like any mountain with a rock face but man was I in for a mind blowing glimpse into history. We turned the corner and the mountain was still quite innocuous, we hired a guide as we didn’t want to miss out on any interesting aspects and it was the right decision. The guide pointed out water gardens lined with kilned bricks. A kingfisher sat with its brilliant plume against the red brick backdrop.
The water gardens were lined by water fountains made of stone which was still functioning. To put that in perspective these structures and fountains were made in 477 – 495 CE. The road to the lion rock made by King Kassapa is beautiful and brings the entire rock fortress into view but a person visiting for the first time is still not completely acquainted with the brilliance of architecture and vision that Sigiriya is.
At the base of the mountain is a gate that once used to have sculptures, walls, guards rooms and other grandeur that a palace gate should have. The rocky stone steps start and seeing our preschooler with us, we got a couple of ‘freelancers’ pitch to us that they will help carry my kid as it was some million steps to the top of the mountain.
The fortress is surrounded by two moats one of which still has water and its original inhabitants the crocodiles.
The fort has three gates, the welcome gate, cobra gate and the elephant gate. The welcome gate is two rocks that look like two hands joined together in the traditional welcome symbol.
Sigirya was pre and post King Kassapa belonged to Buddhist monks who inhabited the caves. King Kassapa in his bid to secure his kingdom after killing his father and his elder brother in exile took extravagance and imagination to the complete opposite of the serenity of a Buddhist cave. The fort had gardens, fountains, murals of hundreds of women adorned the stairway to the top of the fortress and a mirror wall along the sides. The number of stairs made me wonder about the luxury loving King and his concubines treading up and down the mountain path. Later we realized the Kings used lifts made of bamboo and fueled by man power to reach his mountain abode.
Today very few of these paintings have survived the onslaught of nature and probably a moral policing campaign too at one point. The women portrayed in these paintings hail from Sri Lanka, Mongolia, India and even Africa and were said to be the King’s concubines.
Once you brave the gusts of wind on the rock surface and follow the steps to reach the lion paws, everything you have seen till now pales in comparison. The entrance to the palace used to be a crouching lion and the steps to the fortress led up from inside the lion’s mouth. The lions head today has been destroyed by nature or probably by South Indian Kings or invaders as the Sri Lankan’s referred to them.
The ruins of the palace remain till date and one can only imagine what was and the splendor that this kingdom enjoyed once upon a time.
The palace ruins show the throne room, dancing halls, pools, pagodas and other marvels of a bygone era. The palace, the incredible vision and a completely different view point from the echelons of history will remain etched in my memory as a time when my aching feet and broken back helped my mind see imagination as never before.