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