This story is republished with the kind permission of Meredith Hinchliffe and the Friends Review (of the Australian Federation of Friends of Museums).
In 1980 the Director-General of UNESCO launched The Cultural Triangle Project in Kandy, Sri Lanka. The Sinhalese government gave a high priority to the project and set up the Central Cultural Fund administered by a Board of Governors with the Prime Minister as ex-officio Chairman.
During the next ten years many achievements were made including two hundred people becoming highly skilled specialists in archaeological excavation and conservation. The project continues, but I suspect has wound down its major activities.
From the third century BC, successive Buddhist kingdoms flourished within a triangular area bounded in the north by the ancient capital of Anuradhapura, in the east by the medieval capital Polonnaruva, and in the south by Kandy, the hilltop capital of the last Sinhala king. In this area there is an astonishing concentration of monuments and sites, including monastic settlements, royal palaces, gardens and vast irrigation works, rock paintings and sculpture – all testifying to the artistic and technological achievements of those ancient kingdoms.
Near Polonnaruva, Sigiriya – a massive monadnock or inselberg – rises about 200 metres above the surrounding plain. It is the centre of the 5th century AD royal capital with elaborate pleasure gardens, fountains, extensive moats and ramparts, a palace complex on top of the rock, and rock paintings on its western face. The paintings – representing apsaras or celestial nymphs – are in a depression on the rock face more than 100 metres above ground level. They are fragmentary remainders of a backdrop of paintings that once extended in a wide band, nearly 140 metres long, and 40 metres at its highest point. While there are many interpretations and suggestions as to how the figures relate to the rest of the painting, it seems most likely they express royal power.
The relationships of the three great kingdoms are complex and all demonstrate the advanced engineering capacity and foresight of the rulers. From the beginning of written history, they all built irrigation reservoirs, or lakes, and by the 12th century Sri Lanka was a flourishing agrarian economy, self-sufficient in food. In contrast with the ancient solemnity, coming over a mountain, we bumped into a pageant, with elephants, and vibrantly dressed families many playing musical instruments and carrying platters of food. Later, in Galle we came across another spectacle, with similarly dressed people, elephants – who were also brightly garbed in both cases – and were told this was a wedding parade.
Sri Lanka offers visitors serendipity – a combination of beautiful, wild landscapes, national parks with elephants, leopards, sloth bears and other animals, precisely planted tea gardens, and historic temples and monuments. Sri Lanka is a dreamy destination that one should definitely visit in their lifetime.
(Reference: The Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka, UNESCO Publishing/CCF, Eighth Print, 2011)
© Meredith Hinchliffe January 8, 2014
See our range of Sri Lanka tours here.