THE SIGIRIYA SAGA - Part III
The two armies faced each other on a plain somewhere near present day Habarana. The rightful heir to the throne, Prince Moggallana son of the late King Dhatusena by the royal Queen, had returned after years of exile in India to claim his rightful inheritance, and settle a personal score - to avenge his father's murder. The army he led comprised of loyal Sinhalese soldiers plus mercenaries from South India. King Kasyappa on the royal elephant led an army of crack disciplined troops and veterans of the palace guard. Full credit to King Kasyappa for descending from his palace in the sky in a defiant act of bravery to confront the army facing him, rather than seek refuge, in which case it would have been almost impossible for Prince Moggallana to meet his opponent in open and fair combat. There is a school of thought that King Kasyappa was so confident of winning the day that he decided to face his half brother honourably. What happened next is known to every student of history and I suppose is still being taught to students of history today. Coming across a large stretch of swamp in his advance, he attempted to find another opening and turned his elephant around. Seeing this, the troops got the impression that he was trying to flee, and the moral courage and discipline of his army collapsed like a sand castle when the tide comes in. It is hard to imagine that an army of elite soldiers would thus break up in disorder on a perception. On perceiving the sudden change in fortune, King Kasyappa had no intention of being taken prisoner. He committed suicide by cutting his own throat with the dagger in his sheath. He thus died as he had lived - dramatically. The chronicler of the Culavamsa wrote "....The King with his dagger cut his throat , raised the knife on high and stuck it back in its sheath....." Make a note of the words "Raised the knife on high...." because this was no empty gesture. He raised the dagger swinging it in the air to call Prince Moggallana's attention to his suicide. Even in dying he made it known to his brother that his was not the death of a coward. In his mind, he paid the supreme sacrifice. Prince Moggallana, relieved that he was spared the necessity of meeting out justice to his half brother, carried out the necessary funeral services and so ended the life of one of the most controversial Kings that ever sat on the throne. He then abandoned Sigiriya and shifted the capital to Anuradhapura. The year was 496 AD.
History at times has some amazing surprises, and Sigiriya features in one of the biggest of them all. In the year 1400 AD - 904 years after King Kasyappa's death - a sensational discovery was made not in Sri Lanka, or ancient Ceylon at the time, but in the library of the Maharaja of Palembang. Palembang is a state of Sumatra, in Indonesia, and the ancient name of this state was Suvarnapura. The discovery was of an ancient Sinhalese tract called "The Sigiri Vithara". It contained information on Sigiriya which was previously unknown. Unknown because this information was never recorded in the Culavamsa. What remains a tantalising mystery to this day is how this priceless tract found its way to the state of Palembang. Who took it there ? Why was it deposited in the library of Palembang ? What has been established however is that this tract was written during the reign of King Aggabodhi the 2nd around 610 AD, just 114 years following King Kasyappa's demise. We owe a debt of gratitude to a Sumatran Buddhist monk , a scholar named Ananda Sthavira.
Ananda Sthavira was also a historian, and when he translated this document its contents fascinated him. He was so excited about what the "Sigiri Vithara" revealed, that he visited Ceylon in the year 1415 AD during the reign of King Parakramabahu the V1. The King was so impressed with this scholarly monk that he afforded him every facility and assistance for his archaeological studies. The"Sigiri Vithara" revealed information on Sigiriya never found in any document or rock inscription in Ceylon. There are fascinating details about the rock and about King Kasyappa himself. It states that the entire royal city and palace complex were completed in seven years. If this is true, then I humbly aver that it is an engineering and architectural miracle. It mentions the swimming pool on the summit of the rock called "Darani" stating that this pool remained full every day of the year, and that during the dry season water was brought upto the summit by means of machinery. This really is no surprise because water management was a technological triumph and speciality of the ancient Sinhalese engineers. I recall that only eighteen years ago, four symmetrically placed fountains fed by subterranean canals were discovered in the royal pleasure gardens. In June 1994 the area was flooded by unseasonal monsoon rains. Due to the extra pressure of the water, three of these fountains began working - as they had done during Sigiriya's golden age over 1500 years ago.
There is also a reference to an enclosure on the summit of the rock which exhibited the movement of the seven planets and of the earth around the sun. An excellent source of information about the "Sigiri Vithara" is found in the book titled "Alien mysteries in Sri Lanka and Egypt" written by the well known author and historian, Dr.Susantha Fernando. There were scholars of astronomy in King Kasyappa's court familiar with the planetary movements of the solar system. In the 64 verses of the "Sigiri Vithara" the word "Dura Dharshana" is mentioned indicating some form of telescope or lens. The late Professor Senerath Paranavitane stated that a type of telescopic lens was known to ancient Sinhalese scholars. A few years ago, on a flight to Mexico via Tokyo I had a pleasant surprise. Prior to boarding my flight at Narita International airport I purchased a book at one of the bookshops in the airport titled "Return to Sodom and Gomorrah" by the acclaimed American scientist and author Dr.Charles Pellegrino. My flight which was on Japan Airlines was going to be a long one since it was going to Mexico via Vancouver, and I thought a good book would help pass the time. Imagine my surprise and amazement when on perusing the book at random I came across a reference to King Kasyappa ! The author writes that "King Kasyappa of Sigiriya stood at the window of his citadel on the rock watching through a telescopic glass........"
Some of the information gleaned from the "Sigiri Vithara" by Ananda Sthavira was written down on palm leaves. Some of these still survive on stone inscriptions indited during the reign of King Aggabodhi 2nd (568 - 601 AD.) In previous articles I have referred to the world famous Sigiriya frescoes and the techniques used by the artists in King Kasyappa's court. Timeless as dreams these beautiful women gaze at us as they have done for over 1500 years, a testament to the immortality of the artists who gave them life in colour. The Mirror Wall has many inscriptions left by visitors to Sigiriya between the 8th and 12th centuries. These verses were composed extempore and are a tribute to the frescoes. I have seen similar verses in Rome, Pompei, and Egypt. Even King Parakramabahu the great ( 1153 - 1186 AD) visited this site as cofirmed by an inscription . The late Professor Senerat Paranavitane translated over two hundred verses from the Mirror Wall - a priceless labour of love. Venerable Ananda Sthavira who became well versed in Pali , Sanskrit and Sinhalese later became an advisor to King Parakramabahu V1 (1410 1468 AD). There is a stone slab in the Anuradhapura museum marked M 111 which contains information from the "Sigiri Vithara". Today, Sigiriya with her extraordinary history and stupendous engineering and artistic achievements takes pride of place on the World Heritage Listing. For fifteen centuries it has stood as a symbol of one man's dream fulfilled. I sometimes wonder if King Kasyappa was more concerned with his achievements as an "artist " than with his functions as a head of state. For this reason, I have borrowed and paraphrased - lets say given a different twist - to a verse by the Roman poet Martial, who penned these lines in the year 80 AD .
He wrote :
"Let not barbaric Memphis tell the wonders of her pyramids
Nor Assyrian toil vaunt its Babylon - Let not the Ionians be
extolled for trivia's fame......"
Paraphrasing the last two lines of this verse, I substitute the following lines : ALL LABOUR YIELDS TO KING KASYAPPA'S SIGIRIYA.
(To be continued)
Written by : Bernard VanCuylenburg