Kasyapa of Sigiriya The king who built Sigiriya Rock Fortress


The story of King Kasyapa (Kashyapa), who built Sigiriya Rock Fortress in Sri Lanka 1600 years ago, reads like a Shakespearian tragedy. It is a tale of cruelty, intrigue, patricide, vision, grandeur, chivalry, betrayal and abandonment.

Kasyapa ruled between 477 and 495AD. He was the second monarch of the Moriyan Dynasty of the Anuradhapura Kingdom. He was responsible for the construction of Sigiriya, the most spectacular single construction project ever undertaken in Sri Lanka.


Early Years

Kasyapa was the son of Dhatusena. Dhatusena was youth of royal lineage who was being trained for the Buddhist priesthood. Seeing his true calling, he discarded the saffron robes of a monk and took up arms to free his people from twenty-eight years of foreign subjugation

Dhatusena then fought a grueling ten-year guerrilla campaign against the invaders. During this period Dhatusena took up a relationship with a woman of a lower caste and had a son by her who they named Kasyapa. After a ten year campaign Dhatusena succeeded in ousting the foreigners and installing himself as king. Dhatusena then married a woman of a royal bloodline.

Even though he was the eldest, as a consequence of his lowly birth, Kasyapa was overlooked as heir-apparent. His younger brother Moggallana, who was much younger than him but born of a royal wife, was next in line to the throne. Kasyapa was, however, accepted by his father and well regarded in the royal court.


Kasyapa Murders his Father

Dhatusena earned the wrath of the chief of his army Migara, who was his nephew and also his son-in-law, by murdering Migara's mother, who was also Dhatusena's own sister. Enraged by the gruesome murder of his mother, Migara estranged Kasyapa from his father by exploiting Kasyapa's deep felt resentment for being overlooked as the heir-apparent. Together they overthrew Dhatusena and Kasyapa seized the throne. Prodded on by a vengeful Migara, Kasyapa ordered Migara to rid him of his father. Migara relished the opportunity to finally get his revenge on Dhatusena for murdering his mother. After humiliating Dhatusena, Migara had him buried alive in the wall of his prison cell. The younger Moggallana, fearing for his life, fled to India.


Rejected by the People for his Crime

Even though Kasyapa did not personally kill his father, the mere fact that he ordered it meant that he had committed a cardinal sin in Buddhism. Unable to redeem himself with his people for this horrible crime he grew increasingly fretful. He tried to redeem himself by performing many good works and acts of repentance but all these were rejected by the Buddhist clergy and the people. Finally, wary of this rejection, he abandoned his majestic capital city of Anuradhapura and set out to build himself a new capital far away from the disapproving masses. Here he hoped he would find solace for his troubled mind.


The Inspiration for Sigiriya

The inspiration for Kasyapa's new city was the mystical city of Alakamanda. In Buddhist mythology Alakamanda was said to be the richest and most beautiful city imaginable. It was a city of the gods built amongst the clouds. Alakamanda was ruled by Kuvera the god of wealth and plenty. Thus inspired he set about creating his version of an earthly paradise.

It is for this reason that Kasyapa choose an area deep in the inhospitable forests of north-central Sri Lanka as the site for his new city. The most dominant feature of the area was a massive rock which rose vertically to a height of nearly 600 feet. Here he would build his city and a magnificent sky palace on top of this rock. Kasyapa found his inspiration and the perfect location for his new city.


Kasyapa Builds Sigiriya

Monarchs of Sri Lanka were usually constrained by their Buddhist faith from indulging in acts of self-indulgence. As a consequence there are no significant structures in Sri Lanka built in glorification of a king. Having being rejected by the religious establishment, however, Kasyapa no longer felt bound by these constraints. He had nothing to do with all his wealth. He chose therefore to use the vast wealth and resources of his kingdom to create an extravagant masterpiece to himself.

The centerpiece of the new city was the royal citadel with beautiful tropical gardens with extensive water features. He painted the once sinister-looking rock white and then created a spectacular multi-colored tapestry which we know today as the Sigiriya Frescoes. He built a giant gatehouse and staircase, the Lion Staircase to guard the final entrance to his gleaming white Sky Palace in the clouds.

Related Article: History of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka


An idyllic but Tormented Life

Surrounded by his royal court and his harem and far away from the hustle and bustle of the capital city Kasyapa lived an idyllic existence at Sigiriya. He encouraged the arts and enjoyed poetry. Being a sensitive man, he was however deeply troubled by his responsibility on the death of his father. We are told that he carried out his religious duties diligently no doubt hoping to find some salvation for his troubled conscience.


Confrontation between Kasyapa and Moggallana

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In about the fourteenth year of Kasyapa's rule, Migara angry that Kasyapa did not grant him permission to conduct a large religious festival, secretly switched his allegiance from Kasyapa to his younger brother Moggallana. On hearing of this news Moggallana, who had been languishing in India, clandestinely returned with a ragtag collection of friends and hangers-on and set up camp in a distant part of the country.

When Kasyapa got wind of his brother's return he decided immediately to confront Moggallana head-on. Ignoring the dire warning of his soothsayers who predicted disaster, he left the relative safety of his fortress at Sigiriya to confront Moggallana.

He had reason to be confident he had a large army controlled by Migara, his brother-in-law and accomplice.


The Death of Kasyapa

Mounted on his mighty war elephant the king led his army into battle. Migara followed close behind. Sensing a swamp ahead of him Kasyapa turned his elephant away to find firmer ground. At this very moment Migara put his defection plan into play. He signaled the army to retreat. The king's grand army broke and fled.

Abandoned and alone Kasyapa unsheathed his jewel encrusted dagger and places its cold blade against his neck. Quickly he drew it across his neck and slit his throat. All was quiet now. The royal elephant stood listless, its magnificent trappings strained crimson with the king's blood.

Moggallana, still respectful of his fallen older brother, accorded him a royal cremation. The stupa at Pidurangala is believed to mark the spot where Kasyapa was cremated.

Related Article: Pidurangala Rock Temple — Resting Place of the King who built Sigiriya?


Epilogue

Sigiriya Rock from Across the Lake

Kasyapa was a much maligned but gentle ruler. There are no records of any other transgressions committed by him. He was an artistic soul caught up in dynastic intrigue, deceit and betrayal.

We do not know if he found solace in the afterlife. We do know, however, that his masterpiece at Sigiriya has now stood for over a one thousand six hundred years and brought him immortality.


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