Friday, May 24, 2013

The Ladies of Sigiriya

In the mid-1970s there was a lull between civil wars in the newly formed Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon. We grabbed the opportunity to explore the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.

Sri Lanka shares maritime borders with India to the northwest and the Maldives to the southwest. It has a rich Buddhist heritage; the first known Buddhist writings were composed on the island. There is speculation that the southern city of Calle was the ancient seaport of Tarshish, from which King Solomon is said to have drawn ivory, peacocks and other valuables.

In 1638 Dutch explorers arrived on the island and a treaty was signed with the Dutch East India Company to expel the Portuguese. This initiated the Dutch-Portuguese war, which ended in victory for the Dutch. In the ensuing period the Dutch assimilated and integrated with the Sri Lankans, creating an ethnic group named Burghers.

Sigiriya, the Lion Rock, is a fortified palace surrounded by an extensive network of gardens, rock-carved cisterns, moats, pools and reservoirs. The site was developed during the reign of King Kashyapa (477 to 495 AD) on top of a massive rock two hundred meters high. It is famous for its Ladies of Sigiriya frescos, painted on the rock surfaces. There are references that there had once been five hundred of these ladies. Upon the death of the king, the site was abandoned and it served as a Buddhist monastery until the fourteenth century. Unfortunately, most of the frescoes were lost during this time; they most likely stood in the way of meditation.

The painting style is considered unique, with the lines painted in a form that enhances the sense of volume. With sweeping strokes and more pressure on one side, it deepens the colour tone toward the edges. The frescoes are graceful illustrations of the beautiful female figure, and all point to the direction of Kandy temple, sacred to the Sinhalese.

Since my visit there four decades ago, I have often wondered whether these Ladies survived the following thirty years of civil war and chaos. I was delighted to recently discover that the site has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

No comments:

Post a Comment