In Search of the Lion at Sigiriya – Part 4

In Search of the Lion at Sigiriya by Ama H.Vanniarachchy

Part 4

The tragedies of Sigriya do not end after the death of Kasyapa. Previously known as the Akasapawa (the sky rock), Sigiriya was home to many more tragedies and conspiracies woven around the Sinhala monarchy. 

After the God-king was gone…

The death of Kasyapa still remains unknown. There are two stories about his death. The widely-accepted story is what the chronicle says. 

As the great chronicle the Mahavamsa narrates, he killed himself on the battlefield. Today, the place is known to be somewhere around Hiriwadunna. Presenting an alternative history, Prof. Senarath Paranavithana says that he was poisoned by his queen, the sister of Migara at Sigiriya. 

Buddhist monasteries at Sigiriya

However, after his tragic death, his brother King Moggallana (495 – 512 CE), constructed a couple of Buddhist monasteries at Sigiriya. Another monastery for bhikkhunis (Buddhist nuns) was also built by Moggallana at the premises of Sigiriya. 

A monastery built at the rock was given to Mahanama Thera, who is known to be the author of the Mahavamsa. It is also known that this monk was a relative of Kasyapa’s father Dhatusena. According to the Pali chronicles young Dhatusena was taken care of by this monk. If the interpretation by Prof. Paranavithana is to be believed, it was Mahanama Thera who intervened and calmed down Moggallana when he lost his mind and started acting in a brutal way. 

Historian, Prof. Mangala Ilangasinghe, believes that the Bodhighara and ruins of a monastery seen near the boulder garden can be identified as the monastery given to Mahanama Thera. He further states that Moggallana did not destroy the royal palace at Sigiriya and build monasteries there. Instead, he constructed separate and new monasteries for Buddhist monks. 

Kings were executed at Sigiriya

Sigiriya continued to play a vital role in the political and religious history of the island. Prof. Ilangasinghe says that Sigiriya must have been the residence of the aadipaada who ruled paachina passa or the eastern quarter of the island.

During the 7th century CE, there were many political conflicts between royal dynasties and families in Anuradhapura. During one of these battles, King Sanghathissa (618 CE) who fled the capital was caught at Minneriya. He was caught with his son and minister. All three were taken to Sigiriya and beheaded. The king who ordered them to be executed was Moggallana III (618-623 CE). He too was subjected to a conspiracy by his ministers and he was also executed at Sigiriya. 

The royals who were captured at Minneriya were taken to and executed at Sigiriya as it must have been the administrative centre of the aadipaada who ruled the east. 

Sigiriya was never abandoned after Kasyapa. Inscriptions and archaeological data support this. It was an active centre, politically as well as religiously. This was the very reason that many of those who visited Sigiriya for official purposes, and then in later times as travellers, inscribed their thoughts on the mirror wall. This is how the mirror wall became a wall of memories. 

The mirror wall poems; memories of the past

Among the many fascinating features at Sigiriya, the mirror wall is one. The many poems as well as the idea of the mirror wall and discovering frescoes on the outer surface of the mirror wall are really interesting.

These poems, known as kurutu gee or Sigiri Graffiti were read and interpreted by Prof. Paranavithana. These poems were written between the 7th century and the 10th century CE by many people of society including royals, monks, educated officials, and common people. There are poems written by both men and women. Despite social class and rank people inscribed their thoughts on the mirror wall. These poems reveal that education was not restricted only to certain groups of society. Another important point highlighted by Prof. Ilangasinghe after studying the poems is that the society we see through these poems was not divided by a caste system. Men and women seem to be enjoying similar status.

One of the most important things we see through these poems is the popularity of Sigiriya as a mesmerising travel destination. People from all over the island have visited Sigiriya. They enjoyed the tiresome journey with their loved ones. Some wrote about the beautiful frescoes they saw while some wrote about the gigantic lion. Some wrote about Kasyapa whilst some wrote about the beautiful damsels they met at Sigiriya. There are some poems written not really as poems but just as a note, to say that they visited the place. Some even expressed how exhausted they were. There are a few poems which were written as a conversation between two people. 

A few Sigiri poems

The doe eyed damsels are pleased that we visited here

With their hands they cover their swan like breasts in coyness

You are still alive, even in this year and this day

The five hundred damsels retarded the progress of him who is going to heaven

The wind blows, O divine lady are you grieving for your departed lord? 

You tell your sorrow only to the jungle birds

Prof. Senaka Bandaranayake states that during the period of the Kandyan Kingdom, in Kandyan historical writings, Sigiriya is mentioned as one of the great urban centres of earlier times, and functions as a regional military centre and staging point in the communication network of the kingdom. 

Lesser known frescoes…

The frescoes we see today are confined to the fresco pocket and a few caves at the boulder garden. Yet, today it is believed that the frescoes were originally painted over a vast area including the western wall of the rock, outer wall of the mirror wall, far above the mirror wall on the rock surface, and on the walls of the palace at the summit. 

Some scholars have found evidence to say that the buildings at the royal gardens were also painted with beautiful murals. For these they present evidence from the Sigiri poems. We also know that ancient buildings at Anuradhapura had wall paintings. 

Also, the Sigiri poems mention about many figures of painted women which we cannot see today. These poems reveal interesting information about the painted figures. Some of these women were painted on the rock surface and some appeared as if they were going to fall off the cliff. Some of these missing painted figures were wearing pearls, some had red-painted palms. There is a mentioning of a woman wearing an osariya. Another damsel wore a Chinese silk cloth. 

Scholars believe that this poem is about frescoes on the palace walls. 

This ruined wall has been taken by you as your abode though the house is there in the vicinity

(A Sigiri graffiti)

New frescoes 

Nine new female figures were discovered on the outer wall of the mirror wall in the year 2004. They are in fragments. These women are depicted as floating in the sky. A similar figure can be seen at the Deraniyagala Cave (Cave Number 7). 

A different woman

Among the famous damsels in the fresco pocket, there is a mysterious woman. She is not like the beautiful damsels who are in their blissful youth. She seems to be quite old and not so beautifully depicted. 

End of a journey…

To end our journey at Sigiriya, in search of the Lion, we would like to present some poems that mention the majestic lion whom these ancient travellers witnessed. 

What do you keep murmuring at the feet of this majestic lion?

This poem mentions Kasyapa.

The damsels whom Kasub, through love, set up on high

There are many poems mentioning the name of Kasyapa as the creator of Sigiriya and many poems that mention the gigantic majestic Lion. Therefore, there is no doubt at all about the creator of this fascinating place or about the existence of a giant lion during the time of Kasyapa. There is no doubt that these remaining paws are of a lion. 

Our journey ends here. We searched for the Lion at Sigiriya and we encountered it through archaeological evidence, historical records, and folklore. The fate of the once majestic beast was similar to Kasyapa, its creator; destined to be great, but veiled through many mysteries.  

We saw you 

We were pleased to have your companionship 

You are a divine creation 

The face of the great lion is also in our vicinity

Anybody can spend time here appreciating you.

(A Sigiri Graffiti)

Sigiriya, will remain undiscovered…

Veiled in mysteries,

Tangled in tales,

Hidden beneath conspiracies,

For more decades to come…

Until a day comes, and the Lion is restored

( a poem by Ama H.Vanniarachchy)

The original article was published on

Uncategorized, Kashyapa, Sigiriya, Sri Lankan archaeology, SRI LANKAN HISTORY 

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