Shot down once but resurrected again – plans for a “sound and light show” at the 5th century Sigiriya rock fortress, a World Heritage Site, are not only drawing howls of protests from archaeologists but also from environmentalists.
While a Cultural Ministry proposal for these shows has been given Cabinet approval, questions are being raised in cultural circles whether the Sri Lankan authorities have informed the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in Paris about it.
It is obligatory on the part of the state party, in this instance the Cultural Affairs Ministry, to inform the Centre what it plans for the World Heritage Site of Sigiriya, as that is the body which administers the World Heritage Convention, The Sunday Times understands.
Sigiriya, the most-visited site in the Cultural Triangle, comes under the ministry’s Department of Archaeology and is managed by the Central Cultural Fund (CCF).
Serious concerns have been raised whether such plans which may impact adversely on Sigiriya would act as an obstacle in the nomination of Seruwila as a World Heritage Site as UNESCO would be looking into Sri Lanka’s record.
“There is tourism pressure during the day on Sigiriya which has some impact on the rock fortress but a sound and light show in the night would certainly add much more pressure which could damage it,” a source told The Sunday Times, stressing that Sri Lanka could not afford to create a “bad impression” with regard to its management of World Heritage Sites. “It must not seem as if the country is killing the goose, in this case Sigiriya, which is laying the golden eggs,” the source said.
This is doubly so, another source added, pointing out fiascos with regard to the World Heritage Sites of Galle Fort, where the cricket stadium has caused issues, and the changes to the entrance of the Dambulla rock temple.
With ambitious plans on the cards to announce a Seruwila-Somawathiya sacred route to the world community and to get the Peak Wilderness (comprising Sri Pada, Horton Plains and Knuckles Range) as a World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site, Sri Lanka needs to watch its step, was the message coming from many veterans in the field.
The Sunday Times understands that any sub-policy with regard to a “sensitive” location such as Sigiriya would have to be drawn up in accordance with the National Archaeology Policy, tabled in Parliament in November 2006. Whatever the Cultural Affairs Ministry does with regard to archaeological sites, it should be in consultation with the Director-General (DG) of the Archaeology Department. The DG, in turn, can always seek the guidance of his expert Advisory Committee on important issues, it is learnt.
While both the DGs of the Archaeology Department and the CCF were not contactable, other archaeological and cultural officials pleaded ignorance and the fact that they were not consulted with regard to this crucial matter. The rock fortress being in a wildlife sanctuary, the Department of Wild Life Conservation (DWLC) should also have been consulted but information received by The Sunday Times indicates otherwise.
A culture official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the government has taken a policy decision to hold sound and light shows at Sigiriya.
These would be laser shows but details of how and who will be holding them are not known. “Most probably images will be created using laser beams,” the official said.
The Sunday Times understands that before any such show is held, two important impact assessments would mandatorily have to be carried out. The Department of Archaeology would have to commission a study on the dangers such a show would have on archaeological objects including the famous apsara frescoes while the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) would have to do the same for the environment taking into consideration the fauna and flora at Sigiriya.
Although the final hours of Kasyapa, guilty of patricide who made the rock fortress his magnificent palace, are linked to the elephant he was riding to meet his half-brother Moggalana in the last-ditch battle on Sigiriya plains, little thought seems to have been given by the Cultural Affairs
Ministry to the herd of elephants roaming there now.
Dealing with the legal aspect of tampering with a wildlife sanctuary, Environmental Lawyer Jagath Gunawardena said that under Section 7 of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance disturbing animals, their habitats and their breeding places is prohibited.
“Sound, especially in the night would definitely disturb the animals while light or even reflected light would affect them,” he said, a view echoed by both conservationists and archaeologists. In addition to elephant, deer abound in the area, while there may also be leopard, it is learnt.
What of the hornets, asked Mr. Gunawardena, explaining that not only will there be more attacks by the hornets on visitors to Sigiriya, if night shows are held they would also descend to the surrounding villages creating havoc.
Mr. Gunawardena pointed out that many bird species including the rare Shahin falcon which is known to breed only in a few places in Sri Lanka uses Sigiriya as its habitat. The blue rock thrush, a migrant bird, has also been spotted here while many water birds which frequent the wetlands
in the area perch in the surrounding trees, not for feeding but for roosting.
A similar proposal in 2003 to enact scenes of Kasyapa’s time using dancers, women bathing and processions going up the rock with lamps, along with a sound and light show, was cancelled after huge protests by archaeologists, the Chief Monk of the area and people living there who banded themselves as the ‘Sigiriya Surekheme Samithiya’.
No basic facilities
By Kanchana Kumara Ariyadasa
Visitors, both local and foreign, to the rock fortress often complain of inadequate facilities and little being done about the danger posed by the hornets.
They say authorities have done little to improve even basic essentials such as toilets and clean drinking water and even the access route was in a state of neglect needing urgent repairs.
One visitor to the site asked with a reported daily income of Rs, 200,000 being earned why couldn’t the money be utilised to improve these areas before authorities think of night shows.
U. Kulawansa, a tourist guide said the problem of hornet attacks was a very real threat and pritority should be given to tackle it.
It’s a success in India and Egyp t– Minister
By Ishara Jayawardane
Claiming that the sound and light shows planned for Sigiriya were based on the success of similar shows at the Red Fort in India and the Pyramids of Giza, Egypt, Cultural Affairs Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene said the project estimated to cost US$ 5 million was still in the “concept” stage.
The shows aimed at retaining the tourists at Sigiriya at least for one night, will depict its culture and history through a film lasting about 30-40 minutes. The show will be over by 9.30 p.m., the Minister said when contacted by The Sunday Times. The project is due to begin as soon as the funds are found.
Meanwhile, Cultural Affairs Ministry Secretary G.L.W. Samarasinghe said that the ‘Committee to Organize Cultural Activities in Sigiriya’ consists of different officers of the ministry, the CCF who are the custodians of this World Heritage Site and the Tourism Ministry.
“We have got the approval for the concept of the project from the Cabinet.
Once we develop the project we will ask the relevant agencies to get approval on the environmental, archaeological and wildlife impact. After the project is developed we will consult the CEA, the DWLC and the Department of Archaeology,” he said.
When asked whether UNESCO has been informed, Mr. Samarasinghe said that there was no need to do so.
The show will not be on the rock but in the sky and only sound and light are involved, he said, adding that the ministry would seek a sponsor to fund the project.