Sigriya: The King’s citadel

Sigriya: The King’s citadel

Parts of the Water Garden.

A curiously-shaped rock, featured on the old Ceylon stamps, had fascinated me as a boy. I later found it was Sigriya (or the ‘Lion Rock’). We made sure it was part of our Sri Lanka itinerary, when we visited the place.

Sigriya is a 200 metre-high rock with near-vertical sides, towering over the surrounding forest, in central Sri Lanka. In 477 AD, the parricidal King Kashyapa assumed power, and having fled then capital Anuradhapura, chose Sigriya to be his stronghold. He made it a highly fortified place, but one which accorded him all luxuries.

The Sigriya complex is surrounded by two moats; the inner moat, which is 14 ft deep, is believed to have been stocked with 3000 crocodiles during the time of King Kashyapa.

There were four gardens on the western side of the rock for the King’s pleasure – the Water Garden, the Fountain Garden, the Boulder Garden, and the Terraced Garden. The Water Garden contains the swimming pools used by the King and his multiple wives.

 There are three entrances to the King’s Palace – the Elephant Gate, the Cobra Gate, and the Lion Gate (at the upper level). 

The Cobra Rock

Guard rooms were strategically located on the vertical rock face on the western side. These sentry points were positioned in such a way that falling down to death was the automatic punishment for any sentry sleeping while on duty!

 Visitors enter through the Elephant Gate, where a flight of steps, and a spiral staircase takes them to the frescoes on the western wall of the cliff. A few beautiful frescoes of semi-naked women are seen, in reasonably good condition.

It is a wonder that these frescoes, all done with natural colours, have endured more than 15 centuries. Another extravagant feature of the place is the Mirror Wall constructed almost around the complex, at an upper level, which allowed the King to see his own reflection, as well as those of his consorts at different points in his fort. The Mirror Wall retains a small fraction of its original reflecting capability even now.

 Midway up the rock we come to the Lion Platform, from where another flight of steps takes one up to the summit. Two huge lion paws sit on either side of the steps. It is thought that the full forepart of a lion was depicted on the rock face earlier, giving the place its name, of which only the paws now remain. The palace at the top is now totally in ruins, though the foundations are intact, and visible. The grand palace was constructed at three levels, and we were told that the top-most section was reserved for the King’s bedroom.

 A large swimming pool is seen in good condition on the top of the rock. The water for this pool is believed to have been brought up from the Sigriya Tank below with the help of wind power. We exit the complex through the Cobra Gate. A rock over the gate has a good resemblance to a cobra with a raised hood.

How to get there:

Location: Sigriya is located roughly at the centre of Sri Lanka, slightly off the highway between Anuradhapura and Kandy. Anuradhapura is 74 kms, and Kandy 90kms, from Sigriya. Colombo is 176 kms away.

How to reach: Taxi from Kandy, Anuradhapura or Colombo is the easiest way to reach Sigriya. Sigriya can be reached by bus also, but with a change of bus at Dambulla, 8 kms away. Autos can also be hired from Dambulla.


Resorts, homestays and lodges are available.

 (The author can be reached at

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox