The Apsara Paintings

One of the most famous features of Sigiriya are the 5th Century paintings found in two depressions on the rock face some 100 metres above the ground. These paintings are a merely a fragment of an immense backdrop of paintings that once extended in a wide band across the Western rock face measuring some 140 meters long and 40 meters high.

All that has survived are the female figures preserved in the two depressions known as apsaras (or celestial nymphs), often found in religious and royal art in Asia. As so little of the mural has survived, the entire composition is left to ones imagination. The mural could well have depicted a devotional procession of the ladies of Kasyapa’s court or an expression of the cult of divine royalty with vijju kumari (lightning princesses) and meghalata (cloud damsels) at the abode of the god Kuvera.

This last image is a closeup of the centre of Sigiriya’s rock above, clearly showing the location of the Apsara paintings. There are two narrow spiral staircases leading up and down to a closed off viewing platform from the hidden traversing walkway partway up the rock face.

A scary climb, especially if you suffer from vertigo, but it is well worth it. The Apsara paintings are absolutely superb and without a doubt a must see for anyone visiting Sri Lanka.

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