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Sigiriya Mirror Wall

Sigiriya Mirror Wall

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The Sigiriya Graffiti were written on the surface of the Mirror Wall at Sigiriya in Sri Lanka between 600AD and 1400AD. Scribbled on the wall are over 1800 pieces of prose, poetry and commentary written by ancient tourists. These graffiti offer a fascinating insight into the history of Sigiriya and the evolution of language in Sri Lanka over a period of 800 years. The majority of the graffiti refer to the beautiful paintings of semi-nude females, the Sigiriya Frescoes, that once covered most of the western surface of Sigiriya Rock.

These graffiti confirms that this site was the residence of King Kasyapa who ruled from 477 to 495 AD. The texts also suggest that the females depicted in the frescoes are the ladies of the king’s royal court – the ladies of the harem.

The graffiti range from statements of awe, declarations of love, commentary, curses, laments, diary entries, or mere statements of visit (“I was here”). Many demonstrate a very high level of literacy and a deep appreciation of art and poetry.

Written in a Sinhala, Sanskrit and Tamil, these early scribblers have left us priceless insights into the past. Of the six hundred and eighty-five individuals identified so far, twelve were women, over half identified themselves by name, many noted their social rank, and some even mentioned where they came from—towns like Weligama and Ritigala. The majority of these visitors appear to have been from the elite of society: royalty, officials, professions, and clergy. There were also soldiers, archers, and even metalworkers. Over 1000 unique words have been identified.

Sigiriya was the royal capital city of King Kasyapa for only about ten years. It was abandoned soon after the king’s death and the royal citadel was converted into a monastery. There are no graffiti on the Mirror Wall prior to the sixth century. This suggests that visitors did not have access to the site for about a hundred years after Sigiriya was abandoned and converted into a monastery. As the monastery fell into hard times, it may have supplemented its income by allowing visitors and pilgrims to see the rather titillating Sigiriya Frescoes.

On the opposite side of the belt of the paintings, halfway along the western side of the rock surface, there is a pathway to climb up to the rock summit. The outer edge of the path is protected with a two-meter-high brick wall. This wall is plastered with a special lime mortar and the inner surface is polished to a reflective mirror finished in such a way that the painting on the opposite rock surface is perfectly reflected creating special scenery. This wall is known as ‘Katapath Paura’, meaning mirror wall, due to this reflecting surface. Today, after all these years later, the shine on this wall can still be seen. Among thousands of visitors who visited Sigiriya from the 6th Century to 14th Century, inspired by the wonder they saw, they transferred their thoughts into poetry and wrote on the Mirror Wall which are preserved up to date. These are known as Sigiri graffiti and there are over 1800 pieces of prose, poetry, and commentary written by ancient tourists. This graffiti offers a fascinating insight into the history of Sigiriya and the evolution of language in the country over the period. A total of nearly 1500 writings have now been deciphered by scholars, especially Prof. Paranavithana.

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