Sigiriya frescoes paintings, the technique of foremost wall paintings of any period in any part of the world…Lovely maidens that reside in the Sigiriya fresco paintings 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
Sub-topics in this lengthy blog post about Sigiriya fresco paintings
- Analysis into 5th century Sigiriya Paintings
- Discovering Sigiriya rock and paintings
- Graffiti of Sigiriya mirror wall
- Sigiriya paintings
- Early writings of British visitors about the paintings
- The extent of the remaining frescoes
- Vandalism of frescoes
- Nature of Sigiriya paintings
- Subjects of the Sigiriya frescoes paintings
- Techniques of Sigiriya frescoes paintings
- Style of Sigiriya frescoes paintings
- How to reach Sigiriya fresco paintings?
- Wall paintings in the terrace garden
- Special note for the visitors of Sigiriya paintings
- Entrance ticket to the Sigiriya fresco pocket
The lofty rock of Sigiriya lies about 9 km to the north-east of the turn at Inamaluwa, Matale District, between the 97th and 98th-mileposts on the Colombo-Habarana main road. The approach is a good tarred motorable road, and the convenience of visitors is catered to by a large number of hotels. The closest rail terminus is Matale, Central Province, from where a bus service plies the distance of 61 km to Sigiriya. The direct route from Colombo to Sigiriya via Kurunegala and Dambulla is a distance of 166 km, which can be conveniently covered in about 4 hours of comfortable driving.
Sigiriya is on the stage of Sri Lankan history only to play a short-lived part as the capital of a parricide prince (King Kashayapa), before receding to the obscurity whence it emerged. The dark deed that led to the founding of the fortified capital at Sigiriya was the killing of his own father by the prince Kashyap. Kashyap fearing the inevitable return of his half brother Moggalana, seeking revenge on the on his crime, decided to seek refuge in the inaccessible stronghold of Sigiriya.
Sigiriya, a popular UNESCO 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 among the travellers. 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.
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.
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.
In the above picture, a tourist is looking at the beautiful maidens at the Sigiriya fresco pocket, these maidens owe their existence to the skilled artisans of ancient Sri Lanka, the figures are still in very good shape. However, a large number of paintings had been destroyed over the last centuries at the wrath of nature as it was fully uncovered to the rain, wind and sun.
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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 remains of the paintings referred to in the Sigiri graffiti are to be found high above the gallery sheltered from the heat of the sun, the wind and rain that has assailed Sigiriya for centuries, to arouse wonder and admiration of visitors to this day. Many of the verses scribbled on the gallery wall refer to as many as five hundred figures painted on the rock and some even speak of the deterioration of the paintings that had set in by about the 13th century.
From these early writings, from the records left by 19th-century British visitors, and the remnants of patches plaster in protected areas on the western side of the rock, it is evident that there were in earlier times far more paintings on the Sigiriya rock that can be seen at present. In fact, the western surface of the main rock, below the drip ledge cut at a high level, was once covered with paintings.
All that remains of these paintings in a good degree of preservation is found in a pocket about halfway up the rock and extending to a length of 67 feet, cut in the steep face of the western side some 44 feet above the gallery. Nineteen figures and a fragment depicting women were to be seen in this pocket to which access is gained by a spiral staircase constructed in 1938.
In mid-October, 1967, vandals had hacked away a major part of two of these paintings and daubed paint on a total of the fourteen figures which included the hacked panels. Since then these paintings (excepting the two damaged portions) have been cleaned and restored to what is generally accepted as being in a better condition than obtained before the vandalism.
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.
The maidens of Sigiriya frescoes
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.
What does Sigiriya fresco paintings depict?
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.
According to bell, the paintings represent goddesses
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.
According to Coomaraswamy, the paintings represent 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.
According to Paranvitana, the paintings represent the clouds and lightning
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.
Are maidens heading to Pidurangala temple?
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.
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.
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.
The marked similarity ib style of paintings, pose and ornament between the Sigiriya and paintings of Ajanta caves belonging to the same period was referred to by H.C.P Bell who was of the opinion that artists trained in the same school were responsible for both the Indian and Sri Lanka paintings.
Bell had drawn attention to the Mongolian cast of features in the faces pf the painted figures. Regardless of the subject of the paintings, be they personified clouds and lightning, goddess or apsaras, or mortal ladies of the King Kashyapa’s court, it is clear that in the eye of beholder many of the paintings now extant can, with reason, be called portraits.
It is evident that in the commission of this task the painter had drawn likenesses of people he had seen E.g the matrons whose stern face is all that remains of the fresco pocket in the northern part of fresco pocket, and the dowager depicted as the penultimate figure in the southern and larger pocket, both of which bear the stamp of maturity and individuality.
The main approach to the summit of Sigiriya was by the Gallery built of brick and paved with limestone flags. This ambulatory, punctuated by short flights of steps was made to run along the western face of the great rock and continued on the north as a rather steep stairway. The western part of the gallery was set along a collar-like declivity so that it was protected from the rain by the overhanging rock (on which was also cut a drip-ledge) along the greater part of its length. Grooves (for woodwork) cut in the rock where flights of steps occur suggests that these areas, at least, were covered by roofing in ancient times.
A breach at the north-west corner of the rock where gallery followed its curvature was restored in the early days of the archaeological Departments with an iron bridge constructed to meet the flight of steps hugging the north face. Similar to the northern breach, at the southern end to the gallery has suffered a complete loss of its portion from the guardhouse on the plateau where the Northern and Southern stairways converged in ancient times.
All the remains of this part two parallel ledge cut along the rock one below the other.the method of construction of the gallery and the wall on and around these ledges is a marvellous piece of engineering skill. Course upon a course of brickwork was laid on the sloping irregular surface of the rock and upon the keys provided by the ledges until a flat surface was built up to serve as the gallery and later paved. The outermost course of brick laid on the lower ledge was continued upwards with a batter to from the gallery wall which was then plastered.
Sigiriya fresco pocket is a part of the Sigiriya ancient city and can be found on the rock face towards the eastern side of the Sigiriya rock. A spiral staircase is set up by the archaeological department to reach the fresco pocket. Same times an iron platform with a railing has been set up, allowing the guest to have a closer look into the fresco paintings. You need to hike at least half of the rock in order to witness the fresco paintings, and the fresco pocket is halfway down the track on the way to the top of the rock.
Ther is a large number of granite caves scattering in the Sigiriya terrace garden and almost all of them were decorated with paintings. E.g remnant of paintings from 5th century AD still can be seen at Deraniyagala’s cave.
On the first terrace as you march from the main entrance (western gate), there are remains of a dagoba (stupa or pagoda)on a rock outcrop with a flight of limestone steps leading up to it from the west. On the terrace above, to the north of the modern pathway leading upward from the pleasure garden, is the interesting cave Deraniyagala’s cave on the account of his discovery of paintings of the three-quarter-length female figure on the plastered surface within.
The visitors need to buy the entrance ticket before entering the Sigiriya fortress complex. when you buy the entrance ticket to the Sigiriya rock, the same ticket can be used to get access to fresco paintings. The cost of the entrance ticket is $35 for foreign travellers.
Please refrain from taking photos of the fresco paintings as it is prohibited now. It had been allowed to take photos in the past without flash, however, now it is not allowed to take photos at all. Please respect the rule, after all, it helps you to avoid unnecessary troubles.