Sigiriya (Lion’s rock is an ancient rock fortress and palace ruin situated in the central Matale District of Sri Lanka, surrounded by the remains of an extensive network of gardens, reservoirs, and other structures. A popular tourist destination, Sigiriya is also renowned for its ancient paintings, which are reminiscent of the Ajanta Caves of India. It is one of the seven World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka.[
Sigiriya may have been inhabited through prehistoric times. It was used as a rock-shelter mountain monastery from about the 5th century BC, with caves prepared and donated by devotees to the Buddhist Sangha. According to the chronicles as Mahavamsa the entire complex was built by King Kashyapa (AD 477 – 495), and after the king’s death, it was used as a Buddhist monastery until 14th century.
In 477 CE, prince Kashyapa seized the throne from King Dhatusena, following a coup assisted by Migara, the king’s nephew and army commander. Kashyapa, the king’s son by a non-royal consort, usurped the rightful heir, Moggallana, who fled to South India. Fearing an attack from Moggallana, Kashyapa moved the capital and his residence from the traditional capital of Anuradhapura to the more secure Sigiriya. During King Kashyapa’s reign (477 to 495), Sigiriya was developed into a complex city and fortress. Most of the elaborate constructions on the rock summit and around it, including defensive structures, palaces and gardens, date back to this period.
Kashyapa was defeated in 495 by Moggallana, who moved the capital again to Anuradhapura. Sigiriya was then turned back into a Buddhist monastery, which lasted until the thirteenth or fourteenth century. After this period, no records are found on Sigiriya until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when it was used as an outpost of the Kingdom of Kandy. When the kingdom ended, it was abandoned again.
The Mahavamsa, the ancient historical record of Sri Lanka, describes King Kashyapa as the son of King Dhatusena. Kashyapa murdered his father by walling him alive and then usurping the throne which rightfully belonged to his brother Mogallana, Dhatusena’s son by the true queen. Mogallana fled to India to escape being assassinated by Kashyapa but vowed revenge. In India he raised an army with the intention of returning and retaking the throne of Sri Lanka which he considered was rightfully his. Knowing the inevitable return of Mogallana, Kashyapa is said to have built his palace on the summit of Sigiriya as a fortress and pleasure palace. Mogallana finally arrived and declared war. During the battle Kashyapa’s armies abandoned him and he committed suicide by falling on his sword.
Chronicles and lore say that the battle-elephant on which Kashyapa was mounted changed course to take a strategic advantage, but the army misinterpreted the movement as the King having opted to retreat, prompting the army to abandon the king altogether. It is said that being too proud to be surrendered he took his dagger from the waist band, cut his throat, raised the dagger proudly, sheathed it and fell dead. Moggallana returned the capital to Anuradapura, converting Sigiriya into a monastery complex.
Alternative stories have the primary builder of Sigiriya as King Dhatusena, with Kashyapa finishing the work in honour of his father. Still other stories have Kashyapa as a playboy king, with Sigiriya a pleasure palace. Even Kashyapa’s eventual fate is mutable. In some versions he is assassinated by poison administered by a concubine. In others he cuts his own throat when isolated in his final battle. Still further interpretations have the site as the work of a Buddhist community, with no military function at all. This site may have been important in the competition between the Mahayana and Theravada Buddhist traditions in ancient Sri Lanka.
The earliest evidence of human habitation at Sigiriya was found from the Aligala rock shelter to the east of Sigiriya rock, indicating that the area was occupied nearly five thousand years ago during the mesolithic period.
Buddhist monastic settlements were established in the western and northern slopes of the boulder-strewn hills surrounding the Sigiriya rock, during the third century B.C. Several rock shelters or caves had been created during this period. These shelters were made under large boulders, with carved drip ledges around the cave mouths. Rock inscriptions are carved near the drip ledges on many of the shelters, recording the donation of the shelters to the Buddhist monastic order as residences. These have been made within the period between the third century B.C and the first century CE.
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