« Woodworking | Main | Chapter 30 »

Bonzer Words!: Sigiriya

Gehan Wijesinha tells of climbing the lion rock in Sri Lanka.

We saw the rock jutting out of the ground, like a giant elephant dropping, or a lion standing with its mane to the wind, a rusty red monument with black highlights against the sky brilliantly lit up by the blazing late afternoon sun.

The rock is called Sigiriya, which literally means Lion Rock in the Sinhala language of Sri Lanka. The monolith itself has existed for eons, but in the 4th century AD a local king had turned the rock into a citadel, building a seven storey palace on top of the it and turning the surrounding areas into a fortress against his enemies. Most of this glory is still apparent.

My wife and I decided to climb the rock at dawn the next morning, to avoid the crowds and the heat. Both of which would be in abundance from before mid morning. The journey to Sigiriya had been a long and tiring journey, not because the distance we had travelled was some 100 kilometres from the old capital of Kandy in the centre of the island, but because it took us six hours to traverse that distance on potholed, narrow, dusty roads, teeming with vehicles of all description, people, dogs, cattle and the odd elephant.

We had booked accommodation in the hotel at the foot of Sigiriya and were delighted to be offered a cool, welcoming drink on arrival. The resort itself was based on a tropical wilderness theme, blanketed green with lush vegetation. Hotel staff dressed in costumes to generate the appropriate ambience and to impress tourists and guest visiting Sigiriya.

We waited with bated breath, at the gate of this open air museum, bursting with anticipation of a wonderful experience that had been promised to us in the travel guides. We were not disappointed. The rock at sunrise looked even more impressive and gigantic than we had expected. We ambled over to the rock past ancient foundations of what must have been theatres, mess halls, kitchens, dormitories and other structures necessary for a citadel on war footing. History tells us that the king, the illegitimate son of a concubine, had committed patricide and regicide in one fell swoop, by cementing his father into a wall of a gigantic irrigation tank and taking the throne for himself. In the process, he quite naturally made a bitter enemy of his brother, the legitimate son of the queen and the rightful heir to the throne. Whatever the family squabbles might have been, the legacy that remains is the rock fortress Sigiriya.

Mesmerized, I made my way to the foot of the rock and began ascending The vertical incline, appreciating the work the stone masons had done 16 centuries earlier in carving out the steps and the tradesmen of more recent times who constructed handrails and steel cages that cling to the rock like limpets, enabling me to walk up around the rock rather than scale up it like a rock-climber.

The highly polished rendering of the Mirror Walls is still impressive sixteen centuries after construction, in spite of being exposed to the elements and being defaced by graffiti, which itself is now several hundred years old, is in better condition than many modern walls. There are remarkable murals and frescos, the only evidence of scantly clad women frolicking in the gardens of ancient times. These frescos were once reflected in the polished walls, doubling the pleasure for all who passed by them.

My wife and I made our way to the Lion’s Paws structure, all that remains of a once majestic sculpture of a gigantic lion. We climbed between the paws and through what would have been the lion’s mouth, to Sigiriya’s summit. We had a small pack of docile, mange-riddled and undernourished dogs and a troop of monkeys for company, but the tranquillity and awe were the sensations that eclipsed all other sensations.

With adventure and daring driving us, we eagerly climbed the precariously constructed rickety metal structures, rungs and steps, scaring away the occasional startled monkey and being startled by some aggressive monkeys in return, as we reached the apex to survey all that lay below us. The cultural delinquent that I am, forced me to sit on what was once the king’s sofa, and dip my toes in what was once his swimming bath, ignoring the signs asking me to keep off, merely to capture a glimpse of history.

We descended exhilarated, amazed by this marvellous achievement of architecture and planning of ancient artisans.

© Gehan Wijesinha


Gehan writes for Bonzer! magazine. Please visit www.bonzer.org.au


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.