Sigiriya – the mansion in the sky – is an architectural marvel. The rocky citadel rises up like a majestic lion, ascending to a lofty height of nearly 200 meters from the surrounding plains. It has rightly been considered as the 8th wonder of the world by the Sri Lankans and is one of their most visited tourist attractions. The rocky fortress and the adjoining garden complex is nearly 1600 years old, dating back to the 5th Century AD.
As we approach the ancient site, we wonder at the sheer ingenuity of King Kashyapa who built his palace atop the hill and created a small city for his people around it. He deployed scientific methods for building gardens and underground reservoirs.
The story of King Kashyapa’s life is filled with intrigue and drama. He was born as the eldest son of the then king Dhatusena. But Kashyapa was denied his rights as the rightful heir to the throne. Kashyapa crowned himself the King. But worried that his brother might return to attack him, he decided to build his fortress and palace atop the huge lion-like structured rock. Thus, Sigiriya, the impregnable citadel was born. From the top, it provided unhindered views of the surrounding plains.
Today, we can climb several flights of steps, up the rock to reach the top. Halfway through, we get to see the huge claws of a seated lion that King Kashyapa had got sculpted. The upper body of the lion is no longer visible. Kashyapa’s appreciation for the arts can be gauged by the beautiful frescoes that cover the rock walls. Though these paintings of pretty damsels were done around 460 AD, the natural colors remain intact and still retain their shine despite the ravages of time. Higher up the hill, on the rock surface, is the ‘mirror wall’. Using a material found locally, King Kashyapa got this ‘mirror’ installed – the rock surface was scoured and polished till it resembled a mirror.
It reflected the image of the beautifully landscaped gardens and ponds filled with aquatic flowers that were maintained right below the hill. King Kashyapa employed engineering skills to have an underground reservoir built that remained filled with water even during the dry season. He ensured the scientific use of rainwater to provide water to his garden. A complex hydraulic system of canals, lakes, bridges, fountains and surface/underground pumps was set up to irrigate the gardens and the surrounding moat and ramparts. These are functional even today.
After the slow and arduous climb to the top, the view is breathtaking. We also get to see the ruins of the erstwhile palace constructions – the royal throne, the king and queen’s apartments and ponds. King Kashyapa ruled from his secure palace for nearly 22 years till 495AD. His deep-rooted fear that his step-brother would return with an army and wage a war became a reality. Mogallana attacked the seemingly impregnable Sigiriya Fort, killed King Kashyapa and took over the reins.