Sigiriya, (Lions Rock) as we all know, is listed as the 8th wonder of the world and considered a world heritage site by the UNESCO. When you think about Sigiriya, what would likely come to mind would be, the frescoes, the ponds, the mirror wall and of course… the giant rock in itself.
I happened to visit Sigiriya with my family (mum and dad) when I was about 10. While I cannot recall much of my visit; what I do distinctly remember was that, half way into the climb (upon reaching the infamous Lion paws),my mum suddenly declared that she was feeling thoroughly fatigued and wanted to discontinue the climb. My dad immediately complied, ignoring my pleas that at least he and I could continue the climb, while my mum waited at the parking area for us to return. As far as I was concerned, I was determined to reach the top no matter what. However, my dad wasn’t quite taken up with that idea. Long story short, my plans were foiled and I was forced to comply. In consequence remained irritable towards my parents, the whole day.
Soon afterwards, my interest Sigiriya died a natural death, never to surface again.
My interest in Sigiriya began when I came across an Indian You Tuber who covered content relating to ancient sites he had visited around the world, during this period of lockdown. It was his series covering Sigiriya, that helped spark a renewed interest in finding more about some of these strange, but fascinating theories. Without further ado, let’s review a few of them!
Who used sigiriya as a palace first?
Common knowledge (gained from years of schooling) would tell you that this rock fortress was built by King Kashyapa, to give protect himself from his brother Mugalan, who seeked revenge following the murder of their father, King Dhatusena. But, could it be possible that this is not entirely true? Contrary to what most Lankan scholars say, many locals in Sri Lanka believe that Sigiriya was used initially by the ancient Sinhalese King Ravana and was subsequently later used by King Kashyapa. According to the records in Ravana Watha, (a palm leaf book), Sigiriya, was built under the directions of king Vishrava, the father of Ravana. According to this book, the frescoes depict women from the Yakka, Naga, Deva and Gandabhbha tribe. The Cobra headed cave is assumed to be the place where Ravana held Sita captive. This ancient book also says that King Kashyapa, during his reign help to restore the palace to its former glory.
Lion Paws or reptile claws?
In one of his videos on Sigiriya, this Indian Youtuber, makes a bizarre assertion that the sculpture commonly referred to as to be ‘lion’s paws’, could actually be a depiction of ‘Ravana’s feet’. Going on to explain, he suggests that Ravana, according to ancient texts, was considered to be a giant humanoid with reptilian like features. A close observation of the structure you could tell that in reality, it bears no resemblance to the paws of a real lion. A lion typically has 5 toes, where else, in this; there appears to be 3 toes and a much smaller toe further at the back. Moreover, carvings of rough scale like features at the ankle can be observed. Could it be that those who designed this, used their imagination to determine what the paws of a lion looked like? ( given that historically there lions had never existed in Sri Lanka) Or, could it be that these ancient builders were sculpting a different animal, akin to a reptile species that existed during that time?
The water Gardens of Sigiriya.
On entering Sigiriya, you would notice pools extended to the left and right of the main walkway leading to the rock. There are also fountains that still function today. Guides at Sigiriya are likely to tell you that these pools were built for the many wives of King Kashyapa for recreational purposes. This interpretation sounds somewhat unconvincing. Could a king really build many pools, solely for his wives’ enjoyment? Rather, Could it be that these pools were strategically built for defense purposes instead? There is a theory that the presence of the pools and fountains, were to flood the entire area if the enemy happened to set foot. It is believed that there is a complex network of underground pipes connecting to the moat, pools and fountains that can be manipulated by a mechanism to induce flooding. The more I think of it, the more this theory compatible than the other, with regards of Sigiriya being a rock fortress designed for defense.
Hidden stairway at Sigiriya
Unknown to many, there is an old black and white photograph depicting a large stairway with many broad steps in Sigiriya. The photograph, taken in 1924, can be found on the internet through a simple web search. Today, this staircase remains nonexistent. Some speculate that it was either renovated or destroyed during the investigations done by H.C.P. Bell; a British civil servant and the first commissioner of archeology to Sri Lanka, under British rule. Some allege that Bell, on exploring a tunnel in Sigiriya, came across a room filled with valuable antiques. The entrance of this tunnel is said to be visible on the left side of this large stairway, in the photograph itself. The story goes on to say that Bell took all of these antiques, and ordered the workers (who were locals) to close the whole area with concrete. Later, he took all of these antiques secretly with him to England.
The origins of this story could likely be connected to a book written by Suriya Gunasekara, who wrote of his visit to Sigiriya with a group of friends in the 1960s, for research purposes. In this book, he writes of meeting a blind old man at an eatery on the way to Sigiriya. Upon hearing the group had intentions on visiting Sigiriya, the old man narrated a curious tale involving his blindness and that it was part of a great ‘sin’ he had committed. He went on to explain that he had been a worker for Bell, and had helped him along with other workers to seal the stairway with concrete. The workers had no choice but to carry out his instructions. After this incident, many of the workers fell into unexpected hardships, some fell ill and others died under mysterious circumstances. The old man, himself, woke up one morning to only find himself blind in both eyes, despite having no health issues.
There is no way in which we could determine the veracity this tale, would likely have passed away by now. Yet the possibility of a tunnel being existence is remotely possible, because after all, it’s possible Kashyapa built this tunnel to keep himself hidden from his brother Mugalan. Yet, reasons as to why all of this remains closed up is a mystery.
In conclusion, there are more of these strange theories involving Sigiriya. If I were to include all of them, I would most certainly bore the reader out of his mind. Nevertheless, I hope you found this article at least remotely interesting!
– Rtr Nirmali Amarasekara
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