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 Post subject: Was Sigiriya a Mahayana Pabbata Vihara?
 Post Posted: Fri Sep 02, 2005 12:46 am 
Was Sigiriya a Mahayana Pabbata Vihara?

by Derrick Schokman

Early archaeological commissioners thought that Sigiriya was a fortress city of King Kassapa in the fifth century.

In 1950, Commissioner Senerat Paranavitana in a lecture to the Local Royal Asiatic Society, showed that strategetically Sigiriya would have been a hopeless fortress.

Based on a statement in the Mahavansa that Kassapa had built a splendid palace there and lived like God-Kuvera, he theorised that the King had done this with other intentions.

He had created this palace in accordance with the known features of Alaka, the palace of God-Kuvera on Mount Kailasa as described in Kalidasa's poem Meghaduta (Cloud Messenger), to enhance his dignity and power in the eyes of the people, who would see him as a God-King. The God-King concept was known in India and S.E. Asia.

Accordingly Paranavitana maintained, that Kassapa built the long gallery on the western face of the rock, and the massive lion sculpture (only the restored paws may now be seen) to match the Kraucha Pass or aperture in the mountain of Kalidasa's poem as the only access to the lion (Kesara-Simha) in the Red Arsenic plateau (Monosila-thala) of Kuvera's palace.

The paintings on the rock were the personification of clouds and lightning, to give the impression that the palace was up in the heavens way above the clouds.

Paranavitana's interpretation of Sigiriya as the city of a God-King held sway for a half-century, until a subsequent commissioner, Raja de Silva, challenged it in 2002.

Investigations, say Silva has shown no archaeological evidence of a palatial structure on the summit. There are no remains of stone bases or postholes for pillars, no cross walls or chambers, no windows or window sashes that befit a royal palace and no lavatory facilities. The asana (so-called pink throne) is 30 metres away and could not have been a part of the building that has been called a palace.

The supposed palace, says Silva, did not exist. What remains to be seen is a bare enclosed terrace lying cheek by jowl with the ruins of a dagaba suggesting that it was a place for meditation.

Silva also maintains that Paranavitana wrongly compared the Kraucha Pass as the only access to mount Kailasa so as to back his theory, when actually the Kraucha Pass was an entrance to another mountain.

The Sigiriya gallery anyway was not the only entrance to the lion and lion plateau. There was another entrance from the northern gateway, buried remains of which may still be seen, starting near the silted pond, called habavala. The gallery provided access from the South and Western sides of the rock.

These three entrances, Silva believes, were used by Buddhist devotees to reach the dagaba and meditation area on the summit via the lion.

The lion itself had nothing to do with Kuvera's Kesara-Simha. Rather it was a reminder to devotees going up to the summit that Buddha was Sakya-Simha whose voice was like that of a roaring lion enunciating the truth.

In respect of the paintings which Paranavitana likened to the personification of clouds and lightning, Silva states that there is no evidence of such motifs ever having been used in Sinhalese paintings.

He believes them to be representations of the Mahayana goddess Tara, who is associated with the popular Mahayana Boddisatva Avalokitesvara.

In the light of these criticisms, and others that space does not permit coverage in this article, Silva holds that Paranavitana's complicated explanation of Sigiriya as the abode of God-King is untenable.

Instead his interpretation is that Sigiriya was the site of a Mahayana Pabbata Vihara with landscaped gardens that served a religo utilitarian purpose in inducing reflection, contemplation, meditation and worship.

There were other Viharas on these lines in the Buddhist Centre of Nalanda in India. This Vihara could have had the patronage of king Kassapa who ruled from Anuradhapura. For a more expanded and detailed account of this alternative interpretation of the meaning of Sigiriya await the publication of Raja de Silva's forthcoming book Digging Into The Past.

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