Friday, September 05, 2008


What does this name invoke in you? Is this picture about a place or about a person? A heritage or a human? For me it brings an eternal sense of awe, a silent marveling, curiosity and a breathless freeze on time. I shut my eyes and I can see this paradise from a time long ago.
Quite, for a moment the din of vehicles, media and bustling Sri Lankans caught in this modern frenzy of activity , and please switch off your mobile phone.
Sigiriya will take you back in time, if you still your racing soul and let the orange afternoon scenes take a hold of you. Haunting earth colored pools, sunlight slanting across flat green gardens and an atmosphere thousands of years old. Can you hear the princesses laughing and playing in the water?
Remove for an instant the paraphernalia of modern civilization, your plastic bottles, gadgets, denims, IPods, Nike, Nokia or whatever; lead your mind gently back through the ages to a time when life was enjoyed at a slower pace; you have heard about this so called God- king who built a wonderful fortress on a rock a thousand feet into Ceylons light sapphire sky….think, every inch of its architecture fitted to a complex logical plan of breathless esthetics and practicality ,a breathtaking union of science and art, two thousand five hundred years ago.
This is what your ancestors accomplished.
Sigiriya was constructed using only Ceylon’s bountiful natural resources, there were no imports, no foreign consultants, no bribery and corrupt contract deals, no electronics, no computers, no construction equipment and no animals (or people) were harmed in the production of this paradise on earth. Or anyway that’s what I like to think…
Time for me, warps gracefully, around Sigiriya.
Yet I have a thousand timeless questions ….
What was the king like, and his Queen? Did she poison him or was that just defamation? Did he kill his father or was it because his father was trying to kill him that things happened like this? Are there descendents of his walking, driving and cycling around Dambulla, and do any of them resemble him even remotely (after all, he was supposed to have had 500 women and there was no “family planning”those days added to which birth control was probably not high on his agenda) (and anyway what is it with successful men and their drive to accumulate so many women in the first place ?) and lastly, if he reincarnated ,and I do believe in reincarnation, is he walking among us? Was this really about brother killing brother and are they still involved in that perpetual conflict?

I first climbed the rock twelve years ago with my daughter who was an infant and came tripping and tumbling happily along in a frilly white cotton dress. We dragged her to the top, her father and I , each holding a hand when she stubbornly insisted on not being carried, and allowing her to swing gleefully in the space between us, like a small primate. Predictably we were accompanied by relations, my in laws, her cousins , impish, skinny twelve year olds and I was a harried young housewife of mid twenties, those were what should have been the best years of my life.
So much has changed
My daughter is now taller than me, and sometimes looks after me, her cousins, the cheerful tomboys who argued their way up the steps clicking with complicated Japanese digital cameras, are now doctors, and one is married,; I have changed from a naïve, insecure young housewife , to an independent and self confident adult; I think, watch, appreciate and note life around me the way I have never seen it before.
I have learned so many lessons in life, they have changed who I am. Like a river which from moment to moment changes its composition, there is almost nothing in me of the girl twelve years ago, not even the physical features.
But the Rock Citadel somehow, remains the same doesn’t it.
Thousands of feet attack the steps each day , possibly more than King Kassyapa ever thought possible, and the steps are just as strong and stony now as they were then.
Hair rising accounts of bright ideas of turning the Rock Citadel into a Disney style theme park have thankfully been quashed,(for now anyway) and citizens mercifully have had to stop writing on the mirror wall, an old form of self expression resorted to in a time before internet blogging…so the Rock Citadel will have more time.
I don’t know how long this treasure will remain unchanged in this our modern atmosphere of smoke, pollution , global warming and mindless greed.
But I feel very privileged to have been there, seen it as it was.
I also feel I’ve been there before, sometime long ago….