The Boulder Gardens of Sigiriya
The main path
from the Fountain Gardens leads to the next level of the Sigiriya
Complex, the Boulder Gardens. In contrast to the symmetrical layout of
the Water Gardens, the Boulder Gardens are asymmetrical, as they were
built around the existing rock formations. The Boulder Gardens also
constitute a much older phase of the Sigiriya Complex; much of the
artifacts and artistry here predates King Kasyapa by centuries and is
the work of the monks who first built a monastery at the base of the
Sigiriya Rock. Not much remains of their handiwork, save the remains of
a few prominent buildings. These shelters feature sketches, cave
paintings, and indentations in the rocks where wooden posts were once
fitted to secure buildings long since erased by time. Our tour of the
Boulder Gardens follows the southerly route through the old monastery
and winds its way to the base of Sigiriya Rock, where the Terrace
Gardens are found.
Preaching Rock (photo to the left) marks
the boundary between the Water Gardens and the Boulder Gardens. The
rock, which abuts the Octagonal Tank in Water Garden 3, contains tiered
platforms, believed to have been used by orating monks. From this
entrance most of the artifacts are to be seen on the southern side of
the road that leads from the west gate to the Sigiriya rock. The first such
example is an old monastic cave that was part of the early Buddhist
monastery. The photo to the right shows the cave, which was created by
walling up the open face of an rock overhang.
Heading due south from Preaching Rock brings visitors to a terraced lawn that marks the entrance to an undated Buddhist monastery. (photo to the left) The primary structure is a bodhigara, shown in the photo to the right, which would at one time have held a sacred bodhi tree, the type of tree under which Gautama attained enlightenment. There is a basin at the entrance to the bodhigara, where monks would cleanse themselves before offering devotionals. The monastery is surrounded by large Hamilla Trees.
Continuing south past the bodhigara brings one to the end of the boulder garden. At this point the trail forks, climbing upward toward the Terrace Gardens or descending down to the Water Gardens. It is worthwhile to wind westward just a bit, descending the stairs shown in the photo to the left, to reach the Asana Chapel. Another building built from a rock overhang, this structure served as a meeting hall for the monks. The photo to the right shows the interior of the Asana Chapel. Also visible at the lower left of the photo is another of the rock overhangs that comb the boulder garden and which first served as shelter for the monks.
Retracing your steps back up the stairs and heading back toward the base of Sigiriya Rock, the majority of the sights in the Boulder Garden lie on this southerly route. The first stop on the ascent to the Terrace Gardens is Cobra Hood Rock. (photo to the left) So named because the top of the natural rock formation resembles a cobra with its hood enlarged, it is another rock overhang expanded into a religious and artistic space. A drip ledge inscription indicates that this rock shelter was an early Buddhist monastic residence, while its painted ceiling dates from the 5th century A.D. These pictures are decidedly less secular and provocative than the nearby Sigiriya Maidens frescoes. Continuing on the same path takes one to The Audience Hall and Ritual Bath or cistern, both dating from the days of King Kasyapa. The Audience Hall is located on a flat area atop one of the boulders. (photo to the lower right) It is here that the king would hold court and conduct the business of state. It is a wide area with a single stone throne at the far end. Just below this is another, smaller throne area, (shown in the photo at the lower left) while above the Audience Hall is a Ritual Bath, a cistern carved from the rock that was most likely used in ceremonies associated with the proceedings of the audience hall. (photo at lower right). There is some disagreement as to how much of this area was created by King Kasyapa, and how much was the work of the Buddhist monks over the centuries. In any event, the construction of these structures using only basic tools remains an impressive feat.
The split boulder archway shown in the photo to the left marks the boundary between the Boulder Gardens and the Terrace Gardens. There are two such arches in the Boulder Garden, and the myriad of pathways in the garden lead to one of these two entrances and exits. This particular split boulder arch is located on the southern end of the Sirigiya rock, and is intended as the exit route for visitors coming down from its summit. Many people, however, prefer this route for their ascent, as it offers a tour of the Boulder Gardens prior to the strenuous climb up to the Sigiriya Rock.