The Sigiri Graffiti

Sigiri graffiti. The rock fortress of Sigiriya rises upfront the low jungle-clad regions of dry-zone Ceylon about 40 miles south-east of Anuradhapura, which was the site of the capital city of Ceylon for over a thousand years beginning at least as early as the third century BC. Sigiriya was temporarily a capital city in the time of King Kassapa I (477—485), and many traces have been excavated, both on the summit of the rock and below it. One of the most notable features of Sigiriya is a series of well-known paintings of female figures which are found in a rock-pocket at a spot halfway up the western face of the rock, and not now accessible except by ladder. It seems that these paintings are but a few survivors of a much greater number which formerly adorned the face of the rock, for below the paintings there runs a pathway round the rock, which ultimately leads to its summit through the claws of an immense brick-built lion; and a portion of this pathway is enclosed on its outer side by a wall coated with highly polished lime plaster.


This wall, known as the Mirror Wall, is covered with little scribblings in ancient script, a large number of which have now been deciphered and published in two large volumes (S. Paranavitana, Sigiri Graffiti, Oxford 1956). These scribblings were done at intervals during the four centuries or so following the reign of King Kassapa. They nearly all seem to concern the

rock-paintings, and to imply the existence at that time of a far greater number of paintings than now survive.


While the actual interpretation of many of these verses is still to some extent provisional, it is impossible to pass over the earliest recorded examples of Sinhalese poetry, especially as it is poetry of such a different genre from anything that followed it for a very long period (see introduction). The excerpts given here are quoted from the Unesco album: Ceylon, Paintings from Temple, Shrine and Rock (1957).


Pictures on pp. 80, 144-5


11 Their bodies’ radiance

Like the moon

Wanders in the cool wind.

Does it pull them?

Alas, it keeps them where they are.


17 We spoke

But they did not answer.

Those ladies of the mountain,

They did not give us

The twitch of an eye-lid.


19 She answers no one

For her king has died.


50 Your eyes are jewels.

They remain still.1

If they had stirred even a little,

I would have known you were of this earth.


51 Your beauty charmed the heart.

My eyes lingered and were lost.

You took them to yourself.

If you had not accepted me as your lover,

I would have known you had never been in love.

You have repulsed a king and taken the hard rock as your lover.

Travellers come and go.

Stay where you are, watching them with your cold gaze.


52 Sweet girl,

Standing on the mountain,

Your teeth are like jewels,

Lighting the lotus of your eyes.

Talk to me gently of your heart.


60 Are they frightened

The ladies with the golden skins

That they stand so silent?

This long-eyed2 girl

Says nothing

But a flower flaunts in her hand.


61 ‘I shall die and go to the next world,’

Said the king;

So he died.

Having had these ladies painted.

‘May you make love to the rock,’ he said

‘And long remain.’


65 Seeing these beauties with their golden skins,

How can they set their hearts at rest?

Though their faces smile,

Their lips are silent.

Is it for secret ends

They linger on the mountain?


69 Ladies like you

Make men pour out their hearts

And you also

Have thrilled the body

Making its hair

Stiffen with desire.1


89 On their breasts are golden chains

And still they beckon.

Seeing these lovely ladies,

I want no other life.


91 ‘Her lover is dead:

Then why does she hold a tender sprout?’

‘You thought I had enjoyed her

But there are none who gain her love.’


106 Dry as a flower

That has fallen on a rock

Are the hearts of those beauties

Whose golden skins

Have caught my mind.


124 The long-eyed women

Are parted from their lover,

Are grieving for the king.

Their eyes are blue lotuses.

The song sung to the painting.


126 The girl with the golden skin

Enticed the mind and eyes.

Her lovely breasts

Caused me to recall

Swans1 drunk with nectar.


140 Having heard of you, I came to see.

I spoke but you said nothing.

It was because your word had been given,

Your honours plighted.


212 The golden-coloured ones

Sign to me with their flowers.


216 Who is not happy when he sees

Those rosy palms, rounded shoulders.

Gold necklaces, copper-hued lips

And long long eyes?


278 When you come to mind, the heart aches,

The blood boils and I cry aloud.

Your waist makes me bound to you in my heart.


514 The king is angry with us.

So thinking,

The long-eyed ones

With tender lips

Stand in the sky

Of the summit of the rock.

569 All who wrote have said

‘Having climbed this rock,

This lady tarried

Because she was parted from her lord.’

She does not go away

For another lives there

In the rock.


642 Since she held flowers in her hand,

My passion was aroused,

Her body catching my eyes

As she stood in silence.


665 Seeing you posturing on the mountain

My heart delighted when it saw

That flowers were in your hand.