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Sigiriya:

An aesthete's tribute to its enduring greatness

Reviewed by M.B. Mathmaluwe
"That kingdom's now a soltitude;
But still stands there alone,
An in the ancient days it stood
That proud cold mass of stone."
- From: "Sigiri" : R.L. Spittel (1933)

That Sigiriya and its story, its gardens and its lasting enigma, ever since the rock was casually sighted in our times by a British military officer, Jonathan Forbes (1830), have inspired those gifted with a modicum of literary talent to write about them, is well known: right from those who were moved to scribble their thoughts on the mirror wall, book after book has been written--some, on the rock and its environs, some, on the paintings on the rock wall, others, on the graffiti and, yet others, on the probable human drama that would have led to this creation whose wonder and mystique have never ceased to grow. Yet, Dr. Siri Gunasinghe's (Dr. S.G.) book, "Sigiriya, Kassapa's Homage to Beauty" will, no doubt, remain a landmark contribution on the subject, for a long time. This book is no small achievement, to gather its material apparently, he has gone to great pains, reading the Mahavamsa (Mv) as he says, between the lines, meticulously sifting the meagre available scraps of material with a fine comb peering through the mists of time, to piece together events and personalities, to write this most plausible story, which this paper hopes to discuss.

A perspective reader would notice that though Dr. S.G. has not said so anywhere, his book, really is in two parts, each complementary to the other combining smoothly to make the well knit work of history/aesthetic evaluation it is, covering all aspects of the marvel that is Sigiriya. In the first half this is advisedly said for, in a book of 106 pages, he devotes 52 pages to this section where he unravels the history component of Sigiriya, the events and persons involved in this vast tragic drama. That this has not been an easy task,is clear, time and again he laments the paucity of information forthcoming from the Mv, this is because of the Mv author, Mahaname's utterly prejudiced manner of writing history, he follows a one-track course and obstinately refuses to admit other views or interpretations, some of his views, subjected to reasoned judgement, are patently unfair and untenable. The second half os devoted to a wide-ranging discussion of the famed Sigiriya frescoes, that would be discussed later in this paper.

The text in the Mv relating to the Kassapa episode is found in two chapters, 38 and 39: in Ch. 38 the last 35 verses and in Ch. 39 the first 28. In a limited work like the Mv., 63 verses on one king cannot be considered too little, but the besetting trouble with Mahaname is that the areas, events and persons he chooses to elaborate upon, and those he glosses over, to a modern day reader, are grossly misplaced, areas on which a harried reader is desperately looking for a little more information, are often blacked out. The opprobrium he resolutely attaches to Kassapa right from the beginning, he carries to the very end, and so, every judgement of his is vitiated by it.

Dr. S.G. patently prepares a well-agreed case in his effort to apportion the responsibility for the murder of Dhatusena between Migara and Kassapa, picking out the nuances of meaning, reading between the lines of the MV., with a fine-comb, he makes his inferences, at times he speculates, but such speculations are always supported by information pieced together, dug up from the Mv. The reader is made to judge who the bigger culprit was. The cause for this unholy episode could be traced to a family squabble triggered by the raging human passions of a few royal personnel.

Those involved are, the father (King Dhatusena), son (Kassapa), Nephew (later to be son-in-law) Migara, sister and daughter of Dhatusena. This habit of personal ambitions, domestic disputes and carefully nursed vendettas of ruling families, spilling over to politics and drastically affecting the course of history of countries is not anything new, it transcends time, place and frontiers. So it was with Dhatusena's family. A matter that is dealt with in this section is, how early Kassapa could have commenced work on the stupendous building programme he launched at Sigiriya; whether it was after he secured the throne or whether while he was still the Maha-adipade of the Southern country. On this question, Dr. S.G., going to great lengths to consider every aspect of it, concludes that it was while he was the governor of the Southern Country that he could have started work at Sigiriya, remember, the territory adjoining the Sigiriya Complex is called Mapagala: this cannot be by accident. Such a massive work as at Sigiriya, on the summit of the rock and around it, could not have been completed in a short-reign of 18 years.

There is one more matter the author unravels.... whether it was from Sigiriya he ruled, absconding, as Mahaname wants us to believe, afraid to live at Anuradhapura. Again, Dr. Gunasinghe assures, it was from the ancient Capital Anuradhapura, that he ruled, retiring from time to time, to Sigiriya to relax and enjoy himself amidst beauty and pleasure at the epitome of beauty created for himself and for all time, of water-gardens, fountains, summer-houses, pavilions, perfume laden soft winds and of course, harem beauties! All in all, what Dr. S.G. wants to tell us is that Kassapa was no cowardly fugitive running away from Anuradhapura in fear of Moggallana, to entrench himself inside a fortress, behind moats, walls and ramparts. Also he says that the battle between Kassapa and Moggallana was fought, not anywhere near Sigiriya, as has always been believed, but somewhere close to Anuradhapura. Again, as one would be led to infer, after Kassapa's death it need not be assumed that Sigiriya was abandoned to the wilderness; judging from the numerous epigraphic records around there, dated after Kassapa, it seems Sigiriya, as capital of the South Country, remained a busy, heavily populated place. The author says:

"... it seems Perfectly reasonable to assume that the centre of administration of the Southern Country was at Sigiriya for many centuries after Kassapa." (P.47).

Dr. S. G.'s book attains even greater stature as he enters its second half, where he is entirely preoccupied with the famed frescoes found in a small cave situated fairly high up on the western face of the Sigiri rock. While showing a national identity of their own, they belong to a locally founded tradition that had been evolving over a period of centuries running into antiquity far anterior to Sigiriya, just one more link in the chain of prestigious murals stretching from the relic chamber (though not seen by modern eyes) of Ruvanveliseya, of Mihintale and Mahiyangana and in the caves of Vessagiriya and Karambagala and later in Polonnaruva in the Tivanka Pilimage.

This tradition of Murals had continued unbroken retaining a unique style, making allowances for possible personal idiosyncrasies of individual artists.

Relevant to this matter too, is Dr. S. G.'s reference to the origin of this book; he says it is an extension to a paper he had read before an audience of learned persons at Baroda in 1991, titled,

"The Art of Ajanta New Perspectives," which Paper, fortunately, is included at the end of this book as a Code. In this book, as in the Paper he had read, he refutes conclusively, H. C. P. Bell's theory that these paintings at Sigiriya have been strongly influenced by Ajanta frescoes, to advance which theory, Bell had invoked the cultural affinity that had existed between India and Sri Lanka. Dr. Gunasinghe disagreeing with Bell with all the strength of his convictions, he says:

"...that such affinity affected all artistic activity at all times, is admittedly untenable... as for as Sigiriya is concerned, one is hard pressed to find any line of communication, direct or indirect between it (Sigiriya) and Ajanta." (P.90).

And now, to the question of the identity and interpretation of the damsels, so captivating in the eyes of those who see them as could be judged by the sentiments expressed by them in their graffiti on the Mirror wall: It is well-known that opinions cast upon the significance of these charming ladies, have led to raucus and tedious controversy and, Dr. S. G. too, plunges headlong into this melee! He summarily rejects everyone of the previous theories on this subject, no matter how prestigious their stature as scholars or as men of erudition they have been; thus, Bell, Paranavitana, Raja de Silva, Senake Bandaranayake, everyone of them, either an Archaeologist, a Historian or a Connoisseur of Art, are ignominiously demolished and, for very good reasons too, which he convincingly advances He takes them up individually and refutes their views.

Having done that, he presents his own interpretation: simple, straightforward and uncomplicated, convincing and acceptable... that, these female figures have been created only for the joy and delectation of those who view them: as simple as that! They neither narrate a story nor signify a hidden meaning. He concludes:

"They form, in a general sense, that Art is a symbol of human creativity." (P.72).

That is all! Next, he devotes some time and effort to deal with the materials used in the preparation of the wall prior to painting, the paints used, and the technical skills, the aesthetic sense and the creative talents of the artists who executed them:

"What emerges is that the Sigiriya women have no real counterpart at Ajanta."

"... it is expressed in two different ways: dramatic and dynamic at Ajanta and, lyrical and gentle, at Sigiriya." (P.105). In every way, they are original creations. That, finally, as it emerges from Dr. Gunasinghe's book, is the crux of his thesis on the significance and interpretation of these immortal Sigiriya Ladies.

Finally, a word on the book itself, its looks and get-up and, not the least, its stunning photography that given a new dimension to the book which leave nothing more to be desired; the hard-cover copy particularly, is designed apparently, to be a book-lover's delight. The publishers have done a marvellous job; it speaks volumes for the calibre of the minds behind this amazing creative venture.


A full-pouched guide book to Australia

"Rajaman's Guide to Australia (Second Edition)

by G. K. Samarakoon, co-edited M. T. K. Samarakoon

Reviewed by Carl Muller

So you think the kangaroo's pouch is meant for the baby. But what else is in it? Hard to tell, isn't it? I mean to say, if I wanted a room with a view, I wouldn't like people asking if I have any Brussels sprouts in there. But this handy guide is not only one of the most lively and whacky I have come across, but it is so down to earth that one wonders how well the writer has assembled both wit and wisdom in bringing within covers a full pouch, brimming with information that serves up, for migrants and visitors, a full platter.

As it is said in the Foreword (do the Aussies say "Forward"?) it all began with a sort of "reasoning things out." And it is asked: "Why should everyone who goes there fumble and falter at this new life business when the author has already done the necessary fumbling...?"

Yes, that's the beauty of it all. Rajaman has stuck to the nitty-gritty and has his say in his own extraordinary way. To begin with, I have always wondered what our Sri Lankans in Australia think of the cricketers. There is Professor Michael Roberts, who gave an in-house talk recently on "Ramblings on the History and Sociology of Cricket" at the ICES auditorium in Kandy on August 21. He was pretty hard-nosed himself. He had a lot to say about cricket, the ethnic warp, the culture, and in passing, said that the Aussie cricketers were a bunch of something. I couldn't quite catch the word but it did sound like those feathered creatures we call "bustards."

Oh well, let that pass, shall we? The guide book does not drift to sports (if we can really call cricket a sport nowadays) so we are spared much that would have no bearing anyway.

Since the author is telling us of Rajaman (who calls himself cross-bred) and what that matey has to say, let's listen to him, shall we? Some extracts are in order.

"Don't get me wrong, mateys. We all bleed and poop much the same way, and as such, basic functions are the same. But... knowing about the little differences can make a big difference."

"You (don't) jump across a highway to run after a bus, because the driver wouldn't stop however red-faced and pitiful you (look)."

"...in Aussie... people are almost always guided by maps, signals and signboards. Learn to read maps, signals and signboards..." (in this country either you know where to go or you don't. All signboards are plastered over with politicians' faces or announcements of Isspoken English Classes!)

(Driving around Australia?) "Melbourne to Sydney - 10 hours. Sydney to Brisbane - 12 hours... Flying could be a cheaper and quicker option..."

The book is crammed with a lot of vital information:

. All houses have gas-pumped hot and cold water. No need for "geezers" (Boy, these Aussies can't spell. Never heard of geysers?)

. Settle for a good real-estate agent. Rental rates may vary between States - from pricey Brisbane to cheaper Adelaide. What is more, look for rentals without bond or lease agreements - and don't forget, there are caravan parks, youth hostels, houseboats, student halls. Generally you'll pay A$250 per week at a motel, but a home stay with food, only A$190. A furnished one-bedroom apartment per week, A$260; unfurnished A$190.

You are given the lowdown on buying your own home, and naturally, you need to eat. Rajaman suggests you "get adventurous with it." The supermarkets have it all, but of course one banana costs A$1.62 and a 500g packet of pasta A$2.28. Think that steep? You'll pay A$28 for a kilo of big prawns and A$13 for two kilos of chicken breasts, while a kilo of fresh fish fillet is A$12. Potatoes are cheap: A$1.50 per kilo.

Rajaman suggests you munch on apples (1 kilo organic only A$5.89) His maxim is "stay healthy, eat well and drink lots of water" (There are usable loos everywhere!)

The book gives you recipes for a tuna chunk, tomato and unsalted butter sandwich; a chunky beef pasta; and points you to a weekly website with more than 12,000 recipes. He also reminds that supermarket outlets give away recipes for free.

You are told where to go for clothes, and if you have just moved in and with no furniture, call the Salvation Army. They deliver basic furniture free to help you get along. As for clothes, there are the thrift shops like St. Vincent de Paul Stores that offer clothes of all types for a dollar or two.

You are told how to drive, and take public transport, ticket prices and buying a validated ticket before boarding a bus or train. As for air tickets, always read the conditions.

Perhaps an important segment of this guide is in the matter (and manner) of getting a job. As Rajaman says:

"You arrived in Aussie in one piece, you got a good enough place to stay, bought food and cooked pasta and bought undergarments and towels and hopped on a bus for the first time to go on the job-hunt - so that you can continue to pay the rent, buy food, travel, and be happy..."

There are plenty of casual jobs - but there are the recruitment agencies and he suggests you register with as many as possible and read the fantastic on-line job directory.

All details on the Australian Migration Process are also included - very valuable indeed - and include visa processes and the category you apply for. Don't migrate illegally. It will result in years in confinement before your case is heard.

Coming to sex life in Aussie, it seems to be pretty rampant. As he says:

"Females think about it 30 per cent and males 70 per cent, so that's a neat round hundred. This involves the pub culture, nightclubs, plenty of drugs and alcohol. This is Aussie free-spiritedness - booze, sex and rock'n'roll. Naturally, we are given points on 'safe sex' and 'sexually-transmitted disease' HIV and Hepatitis."

Beautifully enough, this guide also carries a poem by G. K. Samarakoon that you simply must read. This is a guide book extraordinaire, and it brings Australia to you in so many ways no other does.


Have your own idea book!

I was rather apprehensive about the contents of this book purely because of the title, as it gave the impression of a book with many suggestions of little practical value. Yet, the lack of frivolity in the cover design and the very subtle silver letters on black for a cover evoked my enthusiasm beyond just curiosity. The Foreword did the trick, it simply convinced me that the book must be read in detail and in detail I did as page after page provided unbelievable insights into life, culture, people behaviour, management and a host of other areas.

The author, Fredrik Haren apparently a well known writer in Scandinavia but a little known entity here, has been able to extract the reader's absorptive interest page to page. He draws on ancient history, arts, theatre and culture as much as he competently draws on contemporary management, corporate philosophy, inventions, etc. I've heard he is an excellent speaker and given by the style of his writing I am inclined to believe it must be so. If he has been able to write in this manner to keep one absorbed in the book, I am sure he must be tremendously skilled to deliver a talk with varied voice control and body action.

At first glance I did not believe that there will be many management insights in this book. The abundance of these intermixed with family life, people management and the comprehensive coverage of inspiration, innovation, motivation, loyalty, etc. make this book a truly valuable asset to the young and the old in every sphere of life. If I reflect on my life's multiple roles and experience as an employee, a manager, a parent, a teacher or an employer, I will begin to realise that this book has catered to each role I have been in. This too, explained through very valuable real life examples, narrated experiences and authoritative statements.

Fredrik has drawn on many examples from international history. Einstein to Jobbs he brings to life for the reader their thinking, their curiosity, their enthusiasm, their desire, evoking that interest in the content. I was particularly absorbed in the following quotes from the book.

Under the curious creature of habit he goes on to explain the human being's desire to repeat, keep a habit. This avoids a newer thinking process taking root. "The idea is not necessarily to find a new solution to everyday tasks, but to help identify all the things in life that we do out of pure habit", the book states.

In Think again he articulates the need to keep evolving ideas continuously. He encourages the proliferation of ideas to come out with one that is a winner. "It may seem depressing to come up with masses of ideas that are too bad to use, but if you want to come up with that one really good idea, then you have to have the courage to think of lots of bad ideas too," states Fredrik.

Ideamations is a word coined by the writer which has a deep meaning and a meaning that embodies many of our failures. It is the king of apathy, the queen of complacency and the one that makes us renowned ME TOO thinkers!

Knowing that you do not know anything, is interesting reading as it just provides us the thought that there are always millions of things we do not know. Quoting Bertrand Russel, he writes "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." How apt is this statement still.

Some of his statements could go misunderstood, but reading through those sections one sees the authenticity and the value of the writer's arguments. Just read, Be an upstart. Those who are upstarts by nature may revel with this quote, but they still need to deliver their success.

He harps on the value of newer knowledge and in the process coins the word Newlede..He encourages the reader to acquire newer knowledge for doing better in whatever pursuit you are in.

Among his parting words in the book Do not give up, sets the final tone for the reader, encouraging him/her to think different, the Apple way.

This is not only a book for reading and absorbing, but it is also given in the style of a workbook with blank pages after every episode/statement. This practical approach by the writer enables the reader to jot down thoughts, any consonance or dissonance with the writings and even go to the extent of writing in a visionary manner on how that what has been printed becomes relevant to the actual reader. This blank paging in the book is an excellent idea, the writer living up to his writings.

The book copiously revolves around innovation, creativity, thinking differently, which is what makes the book so absorbing and valuable. It will be absorbing to the young and old and valuable to them too. Fredrik Haren is undoubtedly such an individual. He has gathered inspiration from a number of people (whom he acknowledges in the book) used his innovative thinking and creative ability to deliver a book that one cannot resist reading. After reading it once, I am simply motivated to read it again. It is not just an Idea Book but, in my opinion an IDEAL BOOk, for all.

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