It is a tale of treachery and deceit, love and hate, triumph and disaster that has fascinated people down the ages. It is also a tale of craftsmanship and sensuous art, the legacy of which still holds people in awe, more than 15 centuries later.
All about Sigiriya and more will now be available to “discerning” tourists, both local and foreign, at the state-of-the-art Sigiriya Museum and Information Centre -- having as its backdrop the formidable rock fortress – to be opened shortly.
|The glass-topped model of Sigiriya
Many are familiar with the Kasyapan period (477-495 AC), when King Kasyapa, after murdering his father King Dhatusena made his home at Sigiriya, creating a different image of this forbidding rock outcrop, starting with a passage leading through the lion’s paws and encompassing the lion staircase, the mirror wall, the beautiful apsaras, the water gardens, moated palaces, boulder gardens, terrace gardens et al.
But what of the pre- and post-Kasyapa period, asks Central Cultural Fund (CCF) Director-General Prof. Sudarshan Seneviratne, explaining its many-layered history.
Sigiriya, in addition to being a World Heritage Site, is also one of the very few large secular sites with an unbroken history from 5,000 BC to contemporary periods. It depicts a “microcosm” of the cultural and technological phases of Sri Lanka, he says.
The museum represents all these facets in their totality, he adds, explaining that the concept was conceived by the first Director of the Sigiriya Project, Prof. Senake Bandaranayake who later took up the mantle of CCF D-G, assisted by various eminent scholars. The concept was translated into the material structure by Architect Chandana Ellepola, while the internal design was handled by Japanese experts who were advised by a team of Sri Lankan specialists.
Picking out one of many factors which make this museum unique, Prof. Seneviratne says it is the first with facilities for the differently-abled.
While the whole area is naturally landscaped to blend with the environment, the location is scenic, built on the Yan Oya, with most of the trees branching skyward through the museum and streams winding through it giving out a merry tinkling tone. “This is in keeping with the ability of the ancient builders who not only laid out the garden elements in a grid pattern but also embraced organic beauty and asymmetry, moulding their building on to boulders although they had sufficient engineering knowledge to remove them,” he says.
All important features of Sigiriya such as the frescoes, spiral staircase and bubble fountain have been replicated, The Sunday Times understands. “This is a bonus for anyone who cannot scale the rock,” says the DG.
The spiral staircase is made to the same scale as the actual one, giving a true picture while the “objects gallery” for sculpture, coins, graffiti writing will exhibit some beautiful pieces, pride of place being given to the intricately carved single ear ornament found at the site and believed to have been worn by a Sigiriya maiden.
Even the biodiversity and the important archaeological monuments around the rock fortress such as the pre-historic Megalithic burials at Ibbankatuwa will be represented, says Prof. Seneviratne adding that another unique exhibit will be the partially-conserved original furnace used for steel-making with tuyeres and all, brought from Alakolawewa, a vast iron smelting site in the olden days, close to Sigiriya.
Some of the exhibits including the burials, the landscaped presentation of Sigiriya as also the backdrop of the rock and authentic imitation of the fresco pocket were turned out in Japan, explains the DG, adding that it was like a “giant jigsaw puzzle” with the pieces being brought down and carefully assembled in Sri Lanka.
Explaining that it is difficult to pinpoint all the extraordinary features of the museum, he says that the Chulavamsa section on the Kaspaya legend has been engraved on a glass panel near the amphitheatre which doubles up as a performance balcony.
Another lure for the tourist will be the “visitor approachable” conservation laboratory, while additional attractions will be a library and archival facility, an information centre run by the Tourism Ministry, internet facilities, a sales outlet for authentic replicas from Bataleeiya and a restaurant. “The museum will be an ideal research centre for archaeologists and conservators,” he says.
The centerpiece, according to Prof. Seneviratne, is the glass-topped model of Sigiriya with water gardens and all, giving a bird’s eye view of its grandeur.
About the museum
The Sigiriya Museum and Information Centre has been funded by Japan, through JICA, under its Project for the Development of Culture-oriented Tourism (COT) which hopes to promote nature-culture-traditional lives. The funds were channelled through the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and National Heritage and the project executed by the CCF.
The museum was a long felt need to attract the up-end tourist market, local as well as foreign, stressed CCF DG Prof. Seneviratne. “These tourists look beyond simplistic information or just visiting a site and moving on.”
There are a few such museums scattered across the country, in addition to the National Museum in Colombo, The Sunday Times understands. These include the Polonnaruwa museum funded by the Netherlands and the Abhayagiriya Museum in Anuradhapura funded by the Chinese. The Marine Archaeology Museum including a marine biology section located in the Warehouse in Galle and funded by the Netherlands is due to be opened soon.
“We are looking beyond the tourists who come for a quickie three-hour jaunt,” said the DG, explaining that they are attempting to lure the tourists at least to stay a night at this World Heritage Site.
That’s why the CCF wanted to offer something more than the site, surveys having shown that a lesser percentage of tourists come for the beach but more come in search of nature, herbal treatment and heritage.
Sigiriya offers the full “ensemble”, stresses Prof. Seneviratne, pointing out that Sigiriya is a World Heritage Site along with beautiful and scenic archaeological sites around it as well and is located on a protected nature reserve, with an abundance of fauna and flora while traditional communities such as chena farmers, cattle-herders and potters still live around it. The primary stakeholders of all this are the local community who will also be able to “show off” their skills in their own settings.
The logistical advantages are many as well, The Sunday Times learns, with Sigiriya being centrally located, offering short excursions to Ritigala, Dambulla, the rose-quartz hill at Namal Uyana, Avukana and Kala Wewa and other natural attractions such as lakes and rock outcrops as well as wildlife resorts.
Period 1: Prehistory – Prehistoric humans are believed to have lived at Sigiriya between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago.
Period 2: Proto-history, between 1,000 and 300 BC, when village settlements began along with irrigation and the production and use of iron.
Period 3: Early monastic, from about the 3rd to 1st century BC marking the establishment of early Buddhist monks’ settlements around rock-shelter residences.
Period 4: Pre-Kasyapa between the 1st and 5th centuries AC. Development of large-scale iron production and construction of fortified Mapalagala complex, with ‘cyclopean’ walls and terraces, south of Sigiriya rock.
Period 5: Kasyapa I from 477-495 AC.
Periods 6 & 7: Later monastic A & B from 6th to 10th century, with the setting up of a new Buddhist monastery in the western sector and the Boulder Garden area in the early part.
Period 8: Polonnaruwa Period – From 11th to 13th century, rise of Polonnaruwa and decline of monastery construction at Sigiriya.
Period 9: Abandonment from the late 13th to the 17th century, with rural settlements surviving but no urban and monastic activity.
Period 10: Sigiriya appears to have been an outer province of the Kandyan kingdom.
Period 11: Antiquarian interest when in the 19th century Sigiriya seems to have “recovered”.
Period 12: Modern recovery when in 1894, archaeological investigation, restoration and conservation by the Archaeological Department begins.
(Extracted from ‘Sigiriya’ by Senake Bandaranayake)