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The Story of Sigiriya

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Hotels in Sigiriya

Prince Kassapa had always harbored a secret jealousy towards his half-brother Moggallana. Upon the demise of their father, King Dhatusena, the throne would surely pass to Moggallana, whose mother was the Royal Consort. Kassapa, on the other hand, had been born of a common concubine. But he was not the sort of youth to resign himself to his fate. “No”, he told himself in the palace at Anuradhapura one dark evening in 473 AD. “No, the throne must be mine“!

And so it came to pass. Kassapa secretly gathered the support of the King’s General, and then murdered his father by burying him alive. The next move was simple: dispose of the rightful heir. But Prince Moggallana, aware of the danger to his life, had fled with his men to Southern India, leaving the Kingdom of Anuradhapura in the hands of Kassapa.

Like most conspiratorial usurpers, Kassapa was a paranoid ruler who lived in constant fear of his brother’s inevitable return. He worried about low-lying Anuradhapura’s lack of natural defenses and resolved to move his royal city to a more secure place. A place which would be safe, even were Moggallana to return with thousands of men and hundreds of elephants. Kassapa found such a place 50 kilometers to the south, on the top of Sigiriya Rock.

Sigiriya-Rock

Construction on the King’s new home lasted seven years. Stairs were cut into the rock, whose face raises straight up for over a thousand feet, and the materials required for his royal palace were brought up piece by piece. From the top of Sigiriya, King Kassapa enjoyed a commanding view. In front of the rock, a breathtaking pleasure garden was installed, while his loyal subjects settled the land immediately behind. Here, from the top of his impregnable fortress, he waited for his brother’s return. “The Rightful King”, he sneered. He must return!

Moggallana didn’t keep Kassapa waiting for long. In 491, the legitimate heir to the throne returned from India, and strode into sight of Sigiriya Rock. Despite the effort it had taken to construct a palace safe from attack, Kassapa mustered his courage and, atop his war elephant, led his men into battle.

Unfortunately for him, Moggallana was a clever tactician. His men had softened the ground which the defending army would be crossing and, when Kassapa’s elephant reached the unsteady, muddy earth, it hesitated and began to back up. The King’s men saw him backpedaling and assumed that he had lost his nerve. They retreated for the safety of the rock, and left Kassapa alone. Seeing that his fate was sealed, the King dismounted his elephant, raised his sword, and brought it down into his own belly.

Sigiriya was the capital of Sri Lanka for fourteen years.

Sigiriya on our Sri Lanka Map

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March 18, 2012 at 1:11 pm Comments (7)

The Archaeological, National, and Elephant Museums of Kandy

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Just behind the Temple of the Tooth are a couple museums which might be worth a visit, depending on the degree to which looking at piles of old stuff turns your crank. The Archaeological Museum, hosted in the former King’s Palace, and the adjacent National Museum are stuffed to the gills with artifacts and treasures from days long gone by.

Kandy Royal Palace

We had just left the Vishnu Devale, which sits across the Temple of the Tooth’s moat. A hundred yards away, an old man was frantically waving at us. Curious and a little apprehensive, we approached him. With every step closer, the guy’s excitement level increased … at 50 yards, he started hopping up and down. At 25, he grinned and began directing us as though he were on a runway, holding glowing sticks. And when we were 10 yards away, I swear he started convulsing. As soon as we were within striking distance, he grabbed our hands and dragged us into the Archaeological Museum.

This museum is hosted in the former palace of the Kandyan Kings. Most of the palace has been destroyed, though the front door and some supporting structures remain intact. The museum displays artifacts found in and around the city, in a dusty and poorly-presented collection. If not for our guide, we wouldn’t have understood anything we were looking at — and even with him, it wasn’t all that interesting. Pots. Moonstones. Other, larger pots. Most of a statue. But, the museum was free (apart from a small tip) and we enjoyed the opportunity to step inside the former royal palace.

Sri Lanka Antigues

The nearby National Museum is far more compelling, though it costs 500 rupees to enter. Here, we found Kandyan-era weapons, like spears and bows, masks and ceremonial costumes, and a lot of information about the lives of the native people. There were ancient, but still legible, ola leaf manuscripts, as well as a copy of the 1858 Kandyan Treaty which ceded power to the Brits.

We should also mention the nearby Raja Tusker Museum, found inside the Temple of the Tooth complex. This is almost certainly the only museum I’ll ever visit which is dedicated to a single elephant. Raja Tusker was beloved by Sri Lankans and his death in 1988 sparked a period of national mourning. This bizarre museum is nothing more than a room decorated with photographs and, in the center, Raja Tusker’s enormous, taxidermied corpse.

None of these museums is essential during a trip to Kandy, but all are worth a peek if you have a few extra hours, or a deep interest in the history of the city.

Location of the Archaeological Museum
Location of the National Museum
Location of the Raja Tusker Museum
Travel Insurance For Sri Lanka

Photos from the Royal Palace
Kandy Dragon
Moon Stone
Old Writing Sri Lanka
Royal Palace Kandy
Sand Monster
Sri Lankan Pots
Sri Lankan Paintings
Photos from the National Museum
Kandyan Crown
Kandy Fashion
Kandy Jewelry
Ivery Comb
Beattle Boxes
Spears
Culture in Sri Lanka
Rotten Spider
Small Cobra
Calf Foetus
Water Monitor
The Raja Tusker Museum
Raja Tusker Museum
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February 29, 2012 at 6:29 am Comments (0)

A Concise History of Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka History Books

Originally settled about 36,000 years ago, Sri Lanka has one of the world’s oldest histories. So attempting to condense its long and turbulent story into a “concise” version is a fool’s errand. But then, we are the foolish children of a modern age, without the time for outdated concepts like thoroughness or nuance! Give the history of Sri Lanka to us in 140 characters or less, please.

Oldtimer in Sri Lanka
34000 BC Appearance of the Balangoda Man, the earliest evidence of humanity yet discovered on the island.
18000 BC Arrival of the Veddas, an indigenous people still extant in present-day Sri Lanka.
543 BC Prince Vijaya of India lands on the island, and becomes the country’s first recorded monarch. Sri Lanka would be ruled by native kings until 1815.
380 BC The capital is moved to Anuradhapura, where it remains for 1400 years.
250 BC Buddhism arrives to the island, and is thoroughly embraced. Sri Lanka remains one of the religion’s most important centers to this day.
47 BC Queen Anula of Sri Lanka becomes Asia’s first female ruler.
993 AD The fall of Anduradhapura marks the end of the island’s ancient history. The Cholas of India almost succeed in erasing Buddhism from Sri Lanka, and are only driven out in 1070.
1153 Parākramabāhu the Great rules over the greatest period in Sri Lankan history, initiating numerous construction projects and successful wars against India and Myanmar.
1505 Portuguese explorer Lorenzo de Almeida arrives on the shores of Sri Lanka, and establishes the port city of Colombo, initiating European colonialism on the island. The capital is soon moved inland, to Kandy.
1656 Sinhalese rulers sign an ill-advised treaty with the Dutch who, after booting out the Portuguese, immediately claim power themselves.
1796 The British arrive, and after two long campaigns, conquer the Kingdom of Kandy, bringing the entire island under foreign rule for the first time in history.
1824 Tea is brought to the island to replace a failing coffee trade, and quickly becomes one of the main export crops. Ceylon, as the British call Sri Lanka, becomes almost synonymous with tea.
1948 Independence returns to Sri Lanka. Almost immediately, Sinhalese majorities institute policies which marginalize other ethnicities.
1983 The Sri Lankan Civil War kicks off in earnest, pitting the Sinhalese government against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who eventually control most of the north.
2004 The Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami ravage Eastern Sri Lanka, with over 35,000 dead and over 500,000 displaced.
2009 After 26 years of fighting, the government finally defeats the Tamil Tigers, bringing an end to the devastating Civil War.
And on… Anxious for peace, the Sri Lankan people turn attentions to recovery and eco-tourism. Sri Lanka currently enjoys a high rate of growth, with one of the world’s fastest growing economies. As long as its different cultures get along, the future looks bright.

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February 6, 2012 at 2:09 pm Comment (1)
The Story of Sigiriya Prince Kassapa had always harbored a secret jealousy towards his half-brother Moggallana. Upon the demise of their father, King Dhatusena, the throne would surely pass to Moggallana, whose mother was the Royal Consort. Kassapa, on the other hand, had been born of a common concubine. But he was not the sort of youth to resign himself to his fate. "No", he told himself in the palace at Anuradhapura one dark evening in 473 AD. "No, the throne must be mine"!
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