“Save a prayer at Sigiriya rock, Sri Lanka”, an epic discription of the grandeur and historical significance of the ancient rock fortress
Story & photos by Marky Ramone Go
Despite missing out on Duran Duran’s peak of popularity, their music videos still left a valuable mark in my consciousness.
One of it was their song “Save a Prayer,” shot on location in Sri Lanka, it features intoxicating scenes of temples, golden beaches and ancient ruins. One particular part of the video stood out for me; it’s the scene where Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes are performing the song on top of a massive boulder surrounded by what look like a set of ancient ruins.
Postcards, magazine covers and travel narratives keep reminding me of Sigiriya until the day came; when I finally able to pencil a date for a trip to this fascinating teardrop-shaped nation.
A few days before I fly out to Sri Lanka, I made a rough itinerary that left room for episodes of spontaneous detours. The only places I listed are Colombo—my inbound and outbound city—and Sigiriya. Anything else in between to fill my 2-week solo backpacking trip are open to sudden wanderlust whims.
I ended up circling the Unesco World Heritage loop covering Galle, Polonnaruwa, Kandy, Dambulla and Sigiriya—missing out only on Anuradhapura.
The Lion Rock
Right from the onset of planting my first step, I feel my pulse racing with excitement at the thought of setting foot at the ruins of on olden Ceylon civilization atop a 600-feet massive rock column. It certainly is a dream about to happen. Sigiriya was chosen as the capital of King Kashyapa’s kingdom during his reign from 477 to 495 CE. The place which they call as Sīnhāgiri or the “Lion Rock” (an etymology likened to Sinhapura or the Lion City—the Sanskrit name of Singapore) represented the peak of his rule both literally and figuratively.
Abandoned after his death, it became a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century. Evidence of the ruins found on Sigiriya suggests the Buddhist Monks occupied this as early as the 3,000 BC. Historians had a hard time tracing the origins of Sigiriya. According to the Palm Leaf Book of Ravana Watha (which detailed the story of Ravana—the great king of Lanka), Sigiriya was built more than 50 centuries ago upon the order of King Visthavasa (father of Ravana) and was designed by Maya Davana (an ancient king known for his architecture brilliance).
The passing time have hidden the grandeur and historical significance of Sigiriya Rock until in 1831, when members of the 78th Highlanders of the British Army led by Major Jonathan Forbes stumbled over a “bush covered summit.” Since then, the renaissance of Sigiriya came to light to the world, as antiquarians and archaeologists converged on top of the Lion Rock to conduct extensive research.
Ancient graffiti, frescoes and water gardens
Reaching the halfway point of my climb, I reached the Mirror Wall, which at the time of King Kassapa appears almost like a looking glass due to its smooth texture made of extremely polished white plaster and masonry brick wall. Fading as centuries passed, the wall today appears bare but upon closer look, one could see some of the oldest graffiti known in the world, as scribbled poems dating back to as early as the eighth century can be read.
A renowned Sri Lankan archaeologist Dr. Senerat Paranavitana interpreted a total of 685 verses believed to have been written between the eighth and 10th century CE on the mirror wall. One of the verses, apparently inscribed by a lovelorn soul, reads (as translated from Sinhala): “The girl with the golden skin enticed the mind and eyes. Ladies like you make men pour out their hearts. And you also have thrilled the body. Making it stiffen with desire.”
As I negotiated the spiral staircase, I came inside a small cave housing impressive fresco art works. Known as “The Maidens of the Cloud,” the impressive paintings of 21 women partaking in various religious rituals left me in astonished state with its smooth color tones and the retention of its fine rich details after the passing of many centuries.
Heaving a torrid series of deep breaths I drank the last portion of my bottled water and made my way to the ruins of the lion’s mouth, where two gigantic lion paws sandwich the last stairway leading up to the summit.
A few more dozen paces and I find myself rising slowly at the top summoning the unearthly views of the Sigiriya gardens from below. Spinning my neck I see the rest of a palatial ruin forever lost in the passage of time.
As I sat and took a much-needed rest, I savored the sense of grandeur associated with this Unesco World Heritage Site. Trudging my right feet over a mound of soil on the very same ground where Buddhist worshipers stomped theirs as early as the third century BCE, left me with a deep historical awareness. That moment, elation filled my mind. I dare not wish to be somewhere else.