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Sep 13, 2007

Lion Rock of Sigiriya - Srilanka

Standing tall over the surrounding plains, Sigiriya Rock offers splended views for miles in all directions. Sigiriya Rock lies on a steep mound that rises over the otherwise flat plains, and is itself a further 370 meters tall. The rock is sheer on all sides, and in many parts even overhangs the base. From the top, it is elliptical in plan. Its top is flat, and slopes gradually along the elliptical axis.

Archeological Remains at Sigiriya

The ancient king's Upper Palace is located at the flat top of Sigiriya Rock. On the middle terrace is the Lion Gate and the Mirror Wall, with its frescoes. The king's Lower Palace clings to the slopes below the rock. The moats, walls and gardens of the palace extend for a few hundreds meters from the base of the rock.

The king built his residence here to function not only as a palace, but also as fortress. The engineering ingenuity and creativity required to create this landmark still impress today's visitors. On the Upper Palace, for example, one finds cisterns cut into the rock to retain water.

The History Of Sigiriya

Sigiriya Rock may have been in use since prehistoric times. It was already a rock-shelter monastery from about the 3rd century BC. The caves within it were prepared and donated by devotees. Later King Kasyapa built the garden and palace around it. After King Kasyapa died, Sigiriya reverted to monastic use up till the 14th century, when it was finally abandoned, and was only rediscovered in 1907 by British Explorer John Still.

The Legend of Sigiriya

According to the Mahavamsa, the ancient historical record of Sri Lanka, there was once a king calleed, Kasyapa, the son of King Dhatusena. Kasyapa murdered his father by walling him alive and then usurping the throne which rightfully belonged to his elder brother Mogallana. Mogallana escaped Kasyapa's assassination attempt by fleeing to India. In India Mogallana raised an army with the intention of returning and retaking the throne of Sri Lanka. Knowing that Mogallana will return one day, Kasyapa built his palace on the summit of Sigiriya Rock as a fortress as well as a pleasure palace.

In AD 495, eighteen years afer Kasyapa seized power, Mogallana returned and declared war. At the heat of the battle, Kasyapa's elephant turned aside sensing a hidden swamp. His army though he was retreating, so they backed away, leaving him stranded. Rather than be captured, Kasyapa committed suicide by turning his sword on himself (legend said he beheaded himself). Moggallana returned the capital to Anuradapura and Sigiriya reverted into a monastery complex.

The irony of this story is that had King Kassyapa remained within the high walls of Sigiriya Rock, Mogallana would have never been able to defeat him. Some people believe that the years of waiting for an invasion had driven Kassyapa over the edge, or that Kasyapa developed a guilty consoncience over what he had done and wanted to fight his brother on an equal level. Alternative stories have the primary builder of the palace at Sigiriya Rock as King Dhatusena, with Kasyapa finishing the work in honour of his father. Another story have Kasyapa as a playboy king, with Sigiriya Rock being his pleasure palace. Still, Kasyapa's fate was nowhere less tragic. In some versions, he was assassinated by a concubine, in another he cut his own throat when isolated in his final battle.