Sigiriya or Sinhagiri (Lion Rock Sinhala: සීගිරිය) is an ancient rock fortress located in the northern Matale District near the town of Dambulla in the Central Province, Sri Lanka. The name refers to a site of historical and archaeological significance that is dominated by a massive column of rock nearly 200 metres (660 ft) high.
According to the ancient Sri Lankan chronicle the Culavamsa, this site was selected by King Kashyapa (477 – 495 AD) for his new capital. He built his palace on the top of this rock and decorated its sides with colourful frescoes. On a small plateau about halfway up the side of this rock he built a gateway in the form of an enormous lion. The name of this place is derived from this structure — Sīnhāgiri, the Lion Rock (an etymology similar to Sinhapura, the Sanskrit name of Singapore, the Lion City).
The capital and the royal palace was abandoned after the king’s death. It was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century. Sigiriya today is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site. It is one of the best preserved examples of ancient urban planning.
John Still in 1907 wrote, “The whole face of the hill appears to have been a gigantic picture gallery… the largest picture in the world perhaps”. The paintings would have covered most of the western face of the rock, an area 140 metres long and 40 metres high. There are references in the graffiti to 500 ladies in these paintings. However, most have been lost forever. More frescoes, different from those on the rock face, can be seen elsewhere, for example on the ceiling of the location called the “Cobra Hood Cave”.
Although the frescoes are classified as in the Anuradhapura period, the painting style is considered unique; the line and style of application of the paintings differing from Anuradhapura paintings. The lines are painted in a form which enhances the sense of volume of the figures. The paint has been applied in sweeping strokes, using more pressure on one side, giving the effect of a deeper colour tone towards the edge. Other paintings of the Anuradhapura period contain similar approaches to painting, but do not have the sketchy lines of the Sigiriya style, having a distinct artists’ boundary line. The true identity of the ladies in these paintings still have not been confirmed. There are various ideas about their identity. Some believe that they are the ladies of the kings while others think that they are women taking part in religious observances. These pictures have a close resemblance to paintings seen in the Ajanta Caves in India.
Subjects of the Sigiriya frescoes paintings These damsels have high foreheads shaping their faces with enticing doe eyes, a rose coloured blush on their cheeks and lips as lotus buds look down from the gallery where they reside. These lovely maidens wear blouses of the gossamer veil, the texture of which is silken cobwebs woven in the wind, seven layers of this diaphanous material is like evening dew on the grass and similar to running water.