I wish I'd been able to record more of our Sigiriya guide (Rajasinha “Raju“ Bandaranaike) — he gave us permission to record him and publish it (and we paid extra for that), but he kept speaking without warning, and then it felt rude to make him repeat what he'd just said. I should've just done it, but I am not a practiced interviewer, and it felt rude, esp. as he had certain things he was used to saying at various points, and when I asked questions or interrupted him, it was clearly throwing off the spiel. I'd like to go back sometime with a local archaeologist and just go through the site really slowly. Another time, perhaps.I tried to transcribe what he's saying, but I'm clearly missing a lot of words. "…original moat one thousand six hundred years ago, about 5th century AD. This moat, around the rock eight kilometer. 5 meter, there's crocodile; there's still crocodile underneath in the water….an area…this would've been drawbridge. There's two moat — see the brick wall over there, seven meters high, would've been…outer moat…..moat, inner rampart."
Posted by Mary Anne Mohanraj on Thursday, January 17, 2019
I wish I’d been able to record more of our Sigiriya guide (Rajasinha “Raju“ Bandaranaike) — he gave us permission to record him and publish it (and we paid extra for that), but he kept speaking without warning, and then it felt rude to make him repeat what he’d just said.
I should’ve just done it, but I am not a practiced interviewer, and it felt rude, esp. as he had certain things he was used to saying at various points, and when I asked questions or interrupted him, it was clearly throwing off the spiel.
I’d like to go back sometime with a local archaeologist and just go through the site really slowly. Another time, perhaps.
I tried to transcribe what he’s saying, but I’m clearly missing a lot of words.
“…original moat one thousand six hundred years ago, about 5th century AD. This moat, around the rock eight kilometer. 5 meter, there’s crocodile; there’s still crocodile underneath in the water….an area…this would’ve been drawbridge. There’s two moat — see the brick wall over there, seven meters high, would’ve been…outer moat…..moat, inner rampart.”
Okay, so brace yourself for some breathless colonial archeology.
“This 1898 article tells the remarkable story of the archaeological excavations at Sigiriya in Ceylon. Sigiriya was a large rocky outcrop that could be seen for miles around. It had long been thought to be out of bounds and haunted by demons by the local population.
The chief archaeologist in Ceylon, H.C.P. Bell, directed an archaeological survey in the 1890s that helped unearth fantastically preserved frescoes and a significant settlement on the summit of the hill. It really was like uncovering a lost city that had been hidden in plain sight of the local population at least for many years.
The team learned that it had initially been built as a fortress of last resort before being converted into a Buddhist monastery. The sheer quality of the artefacts and artwork discovered stunned those who witnessed it and added greatly to the appreciation of Sinhalese art and culture.
Parker’s article first appeared in Volume 1 of the Harmsworth magazine published in 1899.
‘Some Adventures in Scaling Its Walls
By Percy L. Parker
Perhaps the most remarkable rock in the world is to be found in the centre of the Island of Ceylon, and its story is full of romance. It was fortified 1,400 years ago to shelter a cowardly parricide, and when he died it became a Buddhist monastery. But for centuries no human foot rested on its summit; it was the abode of silence; its walls were buried beneath the dust of ages, birds built their nests on it and the beasts of the field haunted the jungle which grew about its base….'”
etc. and so on for several more paragraphs. Worth a read, if you can stand the columbusing.
I’m still trying to figure out exactly when elements like this modern bridge were added, but there was clearly a long process of making Sigiriya more easily accessible — I’m guessing started by the British and continued by the Sri Lankan government after Independence in 1948?
I’m certainly grateful that the British added metal steps for the climb! “He first reached the top of the rock by means of jungle wood ladders and six inch grooves cut in the rock. But once up, iron ladders and an iron rail were fixed so that constant ascent and descent could be made.”
Sigiriya, Sri Lanka.
It’s unnerving, sometimes, realizing you’re looking at stones that were cut and shaped more than 1500 years ago. The king demands water gardens — water gardens he shall have!
It’s a hot, fairly dry part of the country, but if you’re king, you can make the water come to you.
You enter Sigiriya from the far left of this map, where pleasure gardens lie at ground level. Then you progress through the gardens, through one of the gates, and climb 1200 steps up the Lion Rock, past the Mirror Wall and stunning frescoes of the lovely topless ladies, to the top of King Kasyapa’s 5th century palace.
“Sigiriya or Sinhagiri (Lion Rock Sinhalese: සීගිරිය, Tamil: சிகிரியா, pronounced see-gi-ri-yə) is an ancient rock fortress located in the northern Matale District near the town of Dambulla in the Central Province, Sri Lanka. The name refers to a site of historical and archaeological significance that is dominated by a massive column of rock nearly 200 metres (660 ft) high. According to the ancient Sri Lankan chronicle the Culavamsa, this site was selected by King Kasyapa (477 – 495 CE) for his new capital. He built his palace on the top of this rock and decorated its sides with colourful frescoes. On a small plateau about halfway up the side of this rock he built a gateway in the form of an enormous lion. The name of this place is derived from this structure — Sīnhāgiri, the Lion Rock (an etymology similar to Siṃhapura, the Sanskrit name of Singapore, the Lion City). The capital and the royal palace was abandoned after the king’s death. It was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century.
Sigiriya today is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site. It is one of the best preserved examples of ancient urban planning.” (Wikipedia)
Sigiriya, Sri Lanka.
So we’re going to go through my visit to Sigiriya in some detail, as I’m working on a Sigiriya-related project right now, so this is also serving as my research notes.
What project, you ask? A video game! I’m partnering with Kel Bachus‘s Rad Magpie game company, to develop a Sri Lankan-themed video game. This weekend I’ll actually be flying out to Vermont for a retreat with Kel, the lead artist, Kat Weaver, and the game designers. We’ve been working on game possibilities for several months now, and by the end of the weekend, I’ll be able to tell you quite a bit more about the shape of the project. I am SO excited to be working with this great group.
(We will likely need more artists to work on the project, and I would love to suggest Sri Lankan or SL diaspora artists; if that’s you or someone you know, please get in touch!)
I’ll also take this opportunity to give big thanks to Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, Suchetha Wijenayake, and Samanthi Hewakapuge, who have kindly agreed to serve as cultural consultants on the project.
We made it to Sigiriya! At which point, we left Kavi in the van with the driver. I felt a little ridiculous doing so, but she had absolutely no interest in trying to climb 1000+ steps. Kavi really just wanted to read her book, and would’ve been happiest just staying in bed.
But I knew we’d be away from the hotel for 2-3 hours, and I just didn’t feel comfortable leaving her there on her own, even with a door that locked. I’m not sure where the age cut-off is for that; I think at 14, I’d have been okay with letting her stay on her own, probably? But not at 11.
Kavi was pretty tolerant of her mother’s fretting, and just settled in with her book; our driver (who’d been with us for a week at that point; we hired Chamara for the entire trip) took good care of her, and even picked up some snacks for her at one point.
Jed, Karina, and I set out to climb. We were happy to see that there was lots of water in Sigiriya’s various water gardens — apparently if you come in summer, after May, it all is likely to have dried up. The water is v. pretty.
Sigiriya, Sri Lanka.
The sign says: “Wild elephants roaming area at dusk.”