THE SIGIRIYA SAGA [ Part 2 ]
Before I proceed with part 2 of the Sigiriya story, I wish to go back to the previous article and the Persian embassy in particular. There is no record of such a mission in the Culavamsa, and for that matter there is very little information on diplomatic missions in the Mahavamsa & Culavamsa. It was not practical for the chronicler to record every diplomatic exchange in detail because there were so many. I included this to embellish the story and to enhance the prestige of Sigiriya which at the time was the capital of the country, and a royal city whose reputation had spread far and wide. BUT, in his masterpiece THE SIGIRIYA STORY, the late Professor Senerat Paranavitane refers to Zoroastrianism finding its way to the royal court in Sigiriya. Zoroastrianism is a pre-Islamic Persian religion and is still practised by the Parsees in India. It is thus possible that such a mission did actually take place, one of many, which is how Zoroastrianism was introduced to King Kasyappa's court.
Some notes on the Roman officials and also the daughters of King Kasyappa should be included here. Ancient Ceylon had links with the Roman Empire from the time of the Caesars. When Sigiriya was first excavated, over 2000 coins were found in the royal gardens. Except for twelve coins, all the rest were Roman. Subsequent excavations over the years revealed glassware from Meditteranean lands. Roman traders visited Ceylon down the centuries, and Sigiriya was no exception. King Kasyappa had two daughters. A rock inscription at the Vessagiri temple, half a mile from the famous Issurumuniya temple states that the king made a monastic establishment of the Issurumuniya and Vessagiri temples, and named them after himself and his two daughters, Princess Uppulavanna and Princess Bodhi. It was known as the 'Issurumenu, Bo-Uppulvan- Kasubgiri Vihara.
Sigiriya, one of the most magnificient archaeological sites in the world today, stands in sylvan solitude and eternal splendour. A mighty fabric of rock with a palace and residential quarters on its summit complemented by a royal city, it continue to evoke the admiration and awe of travellers who visit it, as it has done for the past 1600 years. Such is Sigiriya, which has the power to enchant and teleport the visitor back to the tragic and dramatic events of the 5th century AD. The story of Sigiriya has been told and retold times without number and I will not repeat it here. It is the man synonymous with Sigiriya King Kasyappa 1st , who is the focus of this article. Great historical events particularly those that erupt suddenly and violently build up slowly. Having begun, they never end. The effects linger like the tinkling vibrations of a bell which we sense, long after the bell has stopped ringing. King Kasyappa has passed into the realms of legend, but his name continues to reverberate through time down the ages. For me, the quest for King Kasyappa began as a schoolboy at St.Anthony's College, Kandy. Over the years it developed into an intellectual quest which grew in intensity. Each step in this search at times becomes personal and often deeply emotional. History has not been kind to King Kasyappa as he has been tainted with one word - PATRICIDE, having usurped the throne and then brutally murdering his father. This cast a dark shadow over his reign of eighteen years and I sometimes feel that if a layman and not a Buddhist monk had chronicled the story of Sigiriya in the Culavamsa, we would see King Kasyappa in a different light.
To him goes the credit for ushering in Sigiriya's golden age, and he went to extraordinary lengths to transform this royal garden city into a terrestrial paradise. He was shunned by the clergy and the people and the chronicler recording events of the time states "He betook himself through fear to Sinhagiri which is dificult of ascent for human beings....." But realising that he had to win favour with the clergy and his subjects, he set out to redeem himself with zeal and zest. He thus began doing many good deeds to win the favour of the people and the clergy. He cultivated the virtues of "Metta" - loving kindness, "Karuna" - pity, "Muditha" - joyous sympathy, and "Upekha" - serenity. He also kept the "Uposatha" festival and on these days he observed the eight Buddhist precepts. He also built many 'Alms Halls' which I interpret to be halls where the poor were provided with life's basic necessities. There is a rock inscription at the Vessagiri temple near Issurumuniya which states that he restored this complex and ensured the temple had a regular supply of water from the Tissaweva tank. The chronicler of the Culavamsa further writes " He built a Vihara in the Niyanthi garden near the mountain....." I presume "mountain' means Sigiriya rock. But to the best of my knowledge this Vihara and the Niyanthi garden have never been discovered. He also planned gardens, and planted mango groves all over the island. The circumstances leading to his rule as King will forever be dastardly, but during his reign there was peace in the land, no civil strife, and his vision in pursuing a vigorous trade policy with foreign lands specially China, ensured the country a prestigious and respected place among nations.
Look at Sigiriya and then imagine the bare rock surrounded by jungle BEFORE the palace on the summit and the city were built. To then conceive that a body of men would attack a mountain of rock and then transform it into one of the most beautiful garden cities in the world at the time, is beyond belief - a city of geometric and architectural perfection which has stood up to the indignities of time and survived the wear and tear of the centuries. The dynamism and energetic spirit of King Kasyappa is felt there even today. Having travelled to many archaeological sites in the world I never cease to wonder why Sigiriya was not declared a wonder of the world years ago. Like the clasical monuments of ancient Rome and Greece, and the Mayan and Aztec temples in Central America, Sigiriya is the emblem of a rich and proud civilisation. Archaeological excavations over the years have succeeded in revealing only some of her secrets. What has been discovered so far is a testament to Sigiriyas astounding vitality and longevity - and a tribute to a great King . Architecture, landscape gardening, water management, art, engineering perfection, mathematics, even the sciences are all embodied to perfection in this archaeological wonder. The identity of these ancient builders is unknown but the heritage of the past is the seed that brings forth the harvest of the future. (To be continued.....)
Written by : Bernard VanCuylenburg