Blasting a rock
Sigiriya, an icon of Sri Lankan tourism has gained worldwide
fame. Sri Lankans believe that Sigiriya was the kingdom of the great
king Kassapa, who ruled for 18 years, from 477- 495 AD. But in his
new book Sigiriya and its Significance, former Commissioner of Archaeology
Raja de Silva has unveiled some radical theories about the
history of this famous rock.
its Significance' was launched last week at the Hotel Sigiriya and
in a lively and scientific presentation, Dr. de Silva presented
his view that contrary to the accepted thinking that Sigiriya was
built by Kassapa, it was a short-lived capital and its paintings
were also done by Kassapa during his 18-year reign, it was in fact
a Mahayana Buddhist monastery.
as 'Sigiri Raja' among his colleagues and friends for his devoted
work on the Sigiriya rock, Dr. de Silva says the Buddhist monastery
was built over several hundred years. The paintings are not of Kassapa's
queens, cloud damsels, lightning princesses or apsaras, but depict
the Goddess Tara.
Dr. de Silva
said that his theory was from a scientific point of view. "I
don't agree with the accepted theory for various reasons,"
he added. He said he accepted the writings of anybody, if the facts
were reasonable and once he knew the background of the party concerned.
The 'chethanawa' or motive of the historian, is reflected in what
he writes, he added. Dr. de Silva explained that the history of
Kassapa revolves round one source so far - 'the Mahavamsa' which
comes in a few slokas. But, the compilers of the Mahavamsa were
members of the Buddhist sect - the Mahavihara, and Kassapa was a
follower of the opposite sect - Abeyagiri.
Dr. de Silva, the sections from Chapter 38 onwards of the Mahavamsa,
where Kassapa is referred to, were written at least 700-800 years
after the demise of Kassapa. "Therefore, is it likely that
the compiler of the thirteenth century, who wrote about events of
the fifth or the sixth century, relied upon on a story trail, not
authentic, prejudicial or other Mahavihara sources? Is it acceptable
to examine Kassapa in the hands of these Mahavamsa authors?"
asked Dr. de Silva.
in its very brief information given on Sigiriya says that Kassapa
came to Sigiriya, cleared the land around and about, built a staircase
in the form of a lion, built a palace on the summit and lived there
like God Kuvera on Alakamandawa.
this theory, Dr. de Silva said that we are invited to believe that
Kassapa came to an abandoned land, cleared it and built a wall.
But the Mahavamsa does not mention exactly where he built the wall.
The wall could be on the summit, on the sloping land area of the
escarpment between the summit and ground level or at ground level.
On the summit,
there is a rectangular projection, facing north. The rock surface
of the summit extends to about three and a half acres. This was
surveyed, measured and excavated by H.C.P. Bell - the British Commissioner
of Archaeology, but not conserved as there are still areas slightly
Dr. de Silva
said that in this rectangular projection, there is a structure to
the northwest, which has not received any mention from modern archaeologists.
This, he said, was a dagoba or stupa, at the highest level. At the
same level, there are remains of a big building with minor structures
on either side.
Dr. de Silva
said, at a lower level, there is a light stone-paving. There are
two other structures next to the dagoba. The rest of the summit
is devoted to reservoirs, ponds and innumerable gardens, which have
been accepted by all his predecessors as the palace of Kassapa,
though he himself believes there is no evidence of a palace.
you see is a platform or a terrace surrounded by a parapet wall
or higher wall. There is no evidence of any roofs, rooms, structures
of setting of timber pillars or evidence of a building.
however, is clear evidence of a stone seat - 'Aasana' or throne
which is 100 feet away at a lower level, with evidence of four posts
for the setting of pillars and roof against the escarpment.
many months on the summit during the north- eastern monsoons measuring
the speed of the wind, rain-fall and other environmental changes.
No roof would have withstood the gales of the monsoons from May
to September, I am sure of it," said Dr. de Silva.
of a wall round the rock, the dagoba, the gardens and terraces was
well-known in monastic buildings. Monks walked up and down in the
"Sakman Maluwa", while meditating and the enclosed stone
seat with steps leading to this would have been from where monks
delivered desanas or religious discourses to devotees."
Bell, who reported
even the small items he found on the summit during excavations in
1898, did not say there may have been a timber roof and flat tiles.
in the form of a lion was documented by Bell. Except for Paranavitana,
nobody explained as to what a lion structure, constructed at tremendous
cost was doing there. The lion was a symbol of royalty but, Paranavitana
went on to say that this particular lion was in keeping with the
Manothathva Lake on Alakamandawa which was an integral part of the
Kassapa story, where it was said that he lived like Kuvera.
India, the lion was associated with the Buddha - the Sakyasingha.
At the Sanchi gateway, you see a number of lions. In Asoka's capitals,
the lion is on all the inscriptions. The lion was part of Buddha's
monuments. At Sigiriya, the Buddha was at the highest level and
the lion below at the entrance," Dr. de Silva explained
Dr. de Silva
thus related the significance of the monument in order that the
frescoes - an integral part of the monument, would be understood.
Some described the frescoes as human, others as divine figures.
But there is no reasonable explanation for these figures to be cut
off at the waist both in the upper caves and the caves below,
said that it was due to the continuity of the rock. But, I believe
this holds no water," he said
escarpment, from the second century BC through the Anuradhapura
period, had been replete with a wealth of Buddhist monuments. This
is recognizable from the architectural features of guardstones,
moonstones and Buddha statues found in the caves. A seated Buddha,
three dagobas and one Vatadage had been found.
Why were the
frescoes cut off at the waist? According to Dr. de Silva, these
paintings, style-wise and iconogra-phically were almost contemporary
of the Ajantha frescoes of the 5th and the 6th centuries in India.
Therefore, the Sigiriya frescoes, it could be said, were of the
same school. He said that the paintings are securely dated by inscriptions
and are of the first quarter of the sixth century AD. (Kassapa's
reign was from 477-495 AD.)
He said that
the ornamentation on the ceiling of the cobra cave is identified
with that of Ajantha. The posture of the frescoes, the way they
hold their neck forward, the "mudra" and other features
are identical with the iconography of Tara.
Raja de Silva, has been a member of the statutory Archaeological
Advisory Committee since his retirement as Archaeological Commissioner
in 1979. He is the author of many books, including the official
guide books to Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa.