The Story of Sigiriya

Nadhira Lawrence

The following story of Kasyapa as obtained from the documents of Ananda-Sthavira, translated by Senarath Paranavitana, differs from the story that many learned as school children; that King Datusena had been plastered alive to a wall by his son Kasyapa who later died in battle facing his brother Moggallana. Perhaps this is the story accepted until later documents and literary works suggested otherwise.
King Kasyapa was the man who dared to hold the dream of his father of building a palace in the sky, despite the many obstacles he faced. Kasyapa was unfortunately called a parricide, owing to the earlier legend and later by his famed epithet 'God-King'.

The birth of a palace in the sky
King Datusena's reign saw 15 years of peace and prosperity in the land. He built the greatest tank in the ancient city of Anuradhapura, Kalaveva, which he considered as all the wealth he ever possessed. King Datusena now wanted to be the 'Bodhirajaya' a title which the monarchs of Sri Lanka had held as protectors of Buddhism in Asia. How- ever, King Sri Kundya of Java had assumed this title and stubbornly held on to it even after Datusena sent word to him saying that it was illegal for another ruler other than a Sri Lankan to hold this title.

Disappointed, Datusena sought the advice of the Abbot of the Mahaviharaya, head of the 'Theravada' sect of Buddhism, who advised the king to practise the 'dasarajadharma' (ten royal virtues) which would enable him to acquire the status of a 'Chakravarti', which was higher than a Bodhirajaya. Datusena, being quite human was unable to practise it and found himself in a state of great mental distress, when he came into contact with a 'Maga Brahmana' or Magian Priest of Persian origin, a Christian who had come to the Royal Palace.

This priest was to play a very in- fluential role both in Datusena's and Kasyapa's lives. Datusena confided in this priest and he counselled the king saying that it was impossible for a human being to practise the ten royal virtues and that even the ancient Persian Kings had tried and failed. There- after, they had tried to obtain imperial status by observing the ritual of 'Parvataraja' or Mountain King. To achieve this, the king had to reside in a palace built on the summit of a rock and rule from there.

The Maga Brahmana suggested that funds for building such a palace could be obtained if all the people in the kingdom gave a gift according to their ability to the king on his birthday as a token of their allegiance. They calculated that if they do so for seven consecutive years they could obtain the funds needed for building the palace. Meanwhile, the intrigues within the palace of Datusena began to grow. Samgha his second queen desired the throne for her son Moggallana whereas Kasyapa too wanted the same. Abroad too, the acts of fate began to intrude upon the rule of Datusena. Simhavarman, Datusena's brother-in-law assumes the title of 'Parvataraja' in India and declares war on Datusena. He sends Datusena's sister's husband, Migara as general of the army to invade Sri Lanka. Simhavarman had purposely sent him at the head of a small army so he may be destroyed because he resented Migara and his wife converting to Christianity.

In the same way Datusena had decided that the only way to stop Kasyapa making a claim to the throne would be to have him destroyed because he had already decided to give the throne to Moggallana. Datusena sent Kasyapa to war against General Migara at the head of a small army. Kasyapa realized that his father wanted him dead and he made a pact with General Migara to stage a mock battle and to have Migara and his army surrender to him. Migara gave his allegiance to Datusena and promised to serve him.

The rivalry between the two brothers grew, when after this battle, Kasyapa claimed the title of 'Yuvaraja'. Datusena made no commitment and Kasyapa assumed that the title will be given to Moggallana and decided to leave Sri Lanka. In despair, he went to see his mother for one last time and told her that he'd rather live in exile than be subservient to his younger brother. He had worshipped at her feet and had sobbed saying, "This may be the last sight that I may have of my mother." She too had sobbed and blessed him saying "May thy paths be propitious."

Kasyapa was informed shortly by General Migara that Datusena had brought a charge of treason against him because he had reportedly conspired with Simhavarman of India. This, in fact, was a false piece of information deliberately given to mislead Kasyapa and make him flee the country so that the people can confirm that if he fled then he must indeed be guilty of treason. Kasyapa fled to Madras and sought refuge with his uncle Silatisyabodhi. After seven months he gathered an army and prepared to invade Sri Lanka. He landed at Chilaw and proceeded to the Kurunegala District where he set up camp near the village of Sri-Pura. Datusena ordered his troops to set up camp in the village itself, that is in the rear of Kasyapa's army, and thus he forfeited the claim to immunity when setting up camp because he was doing it at the rear of Kasyapa's army instead of in front. Datusena's army was thus attacked while they were setting up camp and they were badly defeated. Kasyapa had no idea that it was his father who was at the head of the army. He was under the misconception that it was Moggallana. Datusena not wanting to see the outcome of this battle, cut off his head with his own sword.

Thus Datusena's reign came to a tragic end, indirectly caused by his first born. He died without the impe- rial title of 'Parvataraja'. Kasyapa, stricken, paid last respects to his father and ordered that a stupa be built at the site where he was cremated.

Kasyapa takes over the sovereignty
After this battle Kasyapa marched to Anuradhapura and took over the reins of power without any opposition. He magnanimously offered friendship and the title of Regent to Moggallana who turned it down and fled abroad with his mother. Kasyapa tried to intercept them but he was too late. Returning from Batticaloa, he camped for the night at Habarana. Rising at dawn he had seen in the southern direction a solitary mass of rock looming high over the horizon. He had inquired about this rock and was told that it was called Aksa-paravata and that his father had begun to build a palace on its summit. He had climbed the rock from the northern side with a few others and observing the outline of the construction had said that it was too large and that it would be difficult to remain at the summit right throughout the year and ordered a small edifice to be built there. Kasyapa employed a Sinhalese architect named Sena Lal to execute his designs for Sigiri.

Raising funds for building Sigiriya
On the advice of the Maga Brahmana, Kasyapa issued and regulated a gold coinage. For this to be accepted by overseas merchants he was told to proclaim himself as 'Kuvera' or God of Wealth. Further- more, if the merchants were to accept him as Kuvera, he had to reside and administer his kingdom from a palace on the summit of a rock. Though the Abbot of the Abhayagiri Viharaya had accepted his new imperial status, the Abbot of the Mahaviharaya who was not consulted by Kasyapa before embarking on this new venture, chastised him saying, "Kuvera was the chief of the 'Yakksa' or demons and it would take a long time for a Yakksa to acquire human status again." Proclaiming himself Kuvera, Kasyapa earned the animosity not only of the Mahaviharaya but also of other overseas rulers.

Kasyapa also established free ports to attract more merchants to the ports of Sri Lanka. By this, other trading nations too suffered. Ship chose to sail to Suvarnapura (Palewbang) from India, even after the Maharaja too issued a gold coinage. Angered by the loss of trade for his nation, he summoned Kasyapa's brother Moggallana and told him that he would sponsor an army to fight his brother if he promised, in the event he succeeded to defeat Kasyapa to discontinue the use of a gold coinage and abandon Sigiri and rule once more from Anuradhapura. Moggallana agreed to do this.

An ancient description of Sigiri
An ancient Sinhalese guide book called the 'Sihigiri Vihara' found in the library of the Maharaja at Suvarnapura describes this rock and its palace in great detail. It describes the edifice constructed at the summit to have been made only for the use of a couple. No one was allowed to climb there other than King Kasyapa and his Queen. This edifice is described as a mansion with several landscaped gardens and a beautiful pond called Dharani with aquatic flowers. It was always full of water even in the dry season as a mechanism conducted water there.

It also gives a wonderful description of the lion figure. The forepart of a lion had been there but now only the massive paws exist. The rock above the lion figure had painted images of Kasyapa and his father. The plateau in front of the lion figure was known as the plateau of Red Arsenic.

This guide book also mentions the gallery and its protective mirror wall whose shining surface was obtained by the use of some mineral which only Sri Lanka possessed at that time.

Above the gallery were the beautiful frescos or 'Sigiri Apsaras' painted in the form of cloud damsels and Lightning Princesses.

The western and southern slopes were divided into terraces with dwelling places for the maids, members of the body-guard and concubines of Kasyapa, supposedly 500. On the western slope there had been two flights of stairs to climb the Sigiri rock, one which passed a cave which was believed to have been a shrine for the goddess Abhrasthita (Aphrodite). A figurine had been discovered there in the time of King Parakramabahu.

There had also been a theatre with seats carved on to the rock. Tradition says that many ancient Sinhalese plays were first performed here during Kasyapa's reign.

A cave below a boulder of stone which has the appearance of the hood of a cobra, had the paintings of Kas-yapa's biography which were eventually erased by his brother Moggallana.

There had also been fountains for the use of the harem. According to legend, Kasyapa used to watch them bathing from his mansion. There had also been a pavilion where these damsels used to leave their clothes before bathing and sometimes dried themselves there naked.

Ananda-Sthavira in his essay 'The two sons of Datusena' says that "King Kasyapa brought honour to the Sinhala Kingdom. Though the mercantile undertakings initiated by King Kasyspa were discontinued by King Maudgalyana, they were again started and continued by Sinhala Kings after King Maudgalyana. Vast wealth accrued to the Sinhala Kingdom through these mercantile undertakings."

Kasyapa also renovated the ancient monastery named Isirimana (sometimes called Vessagiri) and bequeathed it to the Mahaviharaya, even though he himself was an adherent of the Mahayana doctrines. The Mahavihara was endlessly opposed to Kasyapa not only because he had proclaimed himself as Kuvera but also because he followed the 'Mahayana' sect and not the 'Theravada' sect.

The role of Moggallana in King Kasyapa's death
The son of the Maga Brahmana and Kasyapa fell out and after the death of his father, he left the palace and went abroad. There he conspired with Kasyapa's brother Moggallana. The Maga Brahmana (Jr) obtained a promise from Moggallana that if he ever assassinated Kasyapa, then he must convert to Christianity. He returned to Sigiriya and told General Migara about Moggallana's promise. He then told Migara that his sister, the wife of Kasyapa must be the one to kill him. Migara's sister agreed to kill Kasyapa if she was assured of never being accused of his murder.

She had then persuaded Kasyapa to climb to the summit where they were to spend the night alone together. In the night the king's attendants were summoned by her and was told that the king was ill. They carried Kasyapa down to the plateau of Red Arsenic where the physician proclaimed him dead. The queen may have poisoned him.

Ananda-Sthavira in his narrative says that "There was a great commotion at the city of Simhagiri on the death of King Kasyapa." Kasyapa passed away after 18 years on the throne, in the palace in the sky that he had built. In his book of verse titled "The Sigiriyan King" (1973) V. Ariyaratnam makes the following to be the dying words of the God-King Kasyapa.

"Oh Sigiri, my sanctuary in the sky."
After the king's death the commander-in-chief of the garrison at Sigiri, General Sulaksmana, installed the son of Kasyapa, Datusena, on the throne and administered his kingdom in his name. Eventually this General was defeated in battle by Moggallana. He died like Kasyapa's father by beheading himself. Moggallana seized Sigiri and abandoned it as the capital. He later administered the kingdom from Anuradhapura, as in keeping with the promise made to the Maharaja of Suvarnapura. Moggallana later married Kasyapa's widow. Kasyapa's son fled to India, where he died in exile.

The tales surrounding King Kasyapa have been passed from generation to generation and still have the power to instill respect and admiration. Perhaps this is why Sigiriya is such a major tourist attraction right throughout the year. If you ever climb Sigiriya you will definitely see at least one young mother cuddling an infant or a toddler to her and scaling the steep climb to the top. Maybe these young mothers hope to instill the essence of Kasyapa into the lives of their young children by showing them the greatest monument to his memory the remnants of his palace in the sky.