The Technique of Foremost Wall Paintings of Any Period in Any Part of the World

Sigiriya frescoes paintings

Analysis into 5th century Sigiriya Paintings

Sigiriya, a popular world heritage site in Sri Lanka is known to the world as one of the greatest inventions of ancient engineers and artisans of Sri Lanka. Sigiriya holds reputation being one of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world and Sigiriya frescoes paintings is another reason for its popularity in the world. The mystery of World-renowned Sigiriya frescoes paintings (5th Century AD) is not solved until today and it is not clear who painted the beautiful maidens, despite the many archaeological research at the site.

Take part in the Sri Lanka cultural triangle tour to explore Sigiriya paintings

Sigiriya is one of the most popular world heritage sites on the island and included in most Sri Lanka road trips due to its historical and artistic value. Sigiriya lies within the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka and it is only 15 km from Dambulla golden cave temple.

sigiriya fortress

Murray an Englishman was the first one to take on the arduous task of climbing the precarious rock in the late 18th century and was successful in making drawings of the frescoes. From then onward, there was no stopping the archaeologists and historians who climbed the rock to know more about the intricate designs. Even at present, the work is going on.

Sigiriya frescoes paintings are exquisitely painted in brilliant colours and these paintings resemble the Ajantha painting in India. The fresco does not show any religious influence and they represent King Kashyapa’s court. According to the inscription found at the site, which suggests that there had been five hundred such paintings on the site. But at the time of discovery, most of them were destroyed and only twenty-one of them were re-discovered. The dark ladies were referred to as cloud maidens and the light-skinned ones as the lightning princess. These figures look very sensuous and have aroused inflicting emotions in visitors down the years.

These damsels have high foreheads shaping their faces with enticing doe eyes, a rose coloured blush on their cheeks and lips as lotus buds look down from the gallery where they reside. These lovely maidens wear blouses of the gossamer veil, the texture of which is silken cobwebs woven in the wind, seven layers of this diaphanous material is like evening dew on the grass and similar to running water.

Lovely maidens have dressed their hair piled up high to show their oval face of lustrous complexions.  They have heavy breasts and their eyes express moods from vivacity to serenity. They wear elaborate jewels on their hair, ears and arms. Large hooped earrings dangle from their ears and they wear armlets as well as bangles. Numerous necklaces, some having large pendants too are worn. They are standing in a row carrying flowers, trays of flowers bestowing the most enigmatic of smiles.

Subjects of the Sigiriya frescoes paintings

The female figures were shown as if moving in the same direction (north) and that some of the ladies were accompanied by females of a darker complexion and probably of a different race. The flowers carried by the females were suggested as indicating that they were setting forth to worship at the temple of Pidrangala built on the hills situated a mile to the north of Sigiriya. Archaeologists opine that the fair-skinned ladies represented queens or princess who were accompanied by their ladies-in-waiting or maid-servants depicted by the dark-skinned figures.

Sri Lanka Itinerary 5 Days with the inclusion of Sigiriya paintings

According to Bell, a British archaeologist who examined the figures during the latter part of 18s, opine that the reason for the half-figure portraits cut off by cloud formations was to economize space due to the concavity of the surface of the rock support. Alternatively, bell suggests that the clouds from which the upper portions of the figures appear to emerge may indicate that these figures are goddesses.

While Bell did not press the alternative proposal that the paintings depict divine beings, A.K Coomaraswamy, a pioneer historian lived early 19s, was a protagonist of this view and proposed to identify the subject of the paintings with such apsaras. Paranvitana, a past commissioner of archology Sri Lanka, on the other hand, propounded a theory to account for the figures painted over the plastered rock surface at Sigiriya. He showed that it is quite possible that the ladies of these paintings are personifications of clouds and phenomenon associated with clouds-lightning.  The dark-complexioned ones were thus cloud  damsels (mega latha), and fair-skinned ladies were a lightning princess (Viju Kumari), which is in accordance with the symbolic representation,  as Paranavithana was it, of Sigiriya as Alaka in the Himalayas and Kassapa as a Devaraja or Lord of Alaka, that is Kuvera, or his representative on earth. this is an ingenious theory which connects the cloud borne figures with many other structural and topographical feature at Sigiriya.

Maidens stand looking on one side as if they are going to a nearby temple Pidurangala. These maidens have been in their eyrie heights of half up the 180-meter rock face. At the time a rock face of about 150 meters in length with full of paintings, would have formed one of the largest picture galleries of the world.

Tours to explore Sigiriya and paintings- Sri Lanka 2 days tour

Greatly inspired by the Sigiriya beauties many viewers had inscribed verses to them on the walls below the mirror wall and walls of the caves below. They are known as Sigiriya graffiti and are dated from 6th Century AD to the 14th century. Nearly 700 of them have been identified and recorded.  Such revealing comments of the paintings provide an insight into the cultivated sensibilities of the time and its appreciation of art and beauty. A male admirer had scratched his verse as “the ladies who wear golden chains on their breasts beckon me, now I have seen these resplendent ladies, heaven has lost its appeal for me”.

The technique of foremost wall paintings of any period in any part of the world

Sigiriya frescoes paintings are dating back to the 5th century AD. Centuries past, these frescoes are still the same as it had been many centuries ago. A large amount of painting has disappeared on the wrath of nature, through the rain, wind and strong sun rays. But the remains of the Sigiriya frescoes paintings are still in very good condition, largely due to the advanced techniques of the ancient artisans.

Techniques of Sigiriya frescoes paintings

The ground of the Sigiriya frescoes paintings is in general laid in three layers, clay reinforced by paddy husks and other organic fibres, clay mixed with lime and sand, and a plaster richer in lime than the previous layer. A final overall coating of lime was applied and towelled smooth to receive the colours which are the three traditional earth colours of the ancient painter’s palette- red ochre, yellow ochre and green earth. the technique of painting has been shown to be an oil emulsion tempera with gum. This is the earliest example, adequately dated, of a painting which is known to contain a drying oil in the binding medium both in the laying of the ground as well as in the paint layer.

The extreme perilous conditions under which the western face of the enormous rock was painted, the high quality of the technique adopted as such an early period, the clear and beautiful line work, the mellowness of the shading, all contribute to placing the Sigiriya paintings the foremost wall paintings of any period in any part of the world.


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