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Was Sigiriya a Mahayana Pabbata Vihara?

Early archaeological commissioners thought that Sigiriya was a fortress city of King Kassapa in the fifth century.

In 1950, Commissioner Senerat Paranavitana in a lecture to the Local Royal Asiatic Society, showed that strategetically Sigiriya would have been a hopeless fortress.

Based on a statement in the Mahavansa that Kassapa had built a splendid palace there and lived like God-Kuvera, he theorised that the King had done this with other intentions.

He had created this palace in accordance with the known features of Alaka, the palace of God-Kuvera on Mount Kailasa as described in Kalidasa's poem Meghaduta (Cloud Messenger), to enhance his dignity and power in the eyes of the people, who would see him as a God-King. The God-King concept was known in India and S.E. Asia.

Accordingly Paranavitana maintained, that Kassapa built the long gallery on the western face of the rock, and the massive lion sculpture (only the restored paws may now be seen) to match the Kraucha Pass or aperture in the mountain of Kalidasa's poem as the only access to the lion (Kesara-Simha) in the Red Arsenic plateau (Monosila-thala) of Kuvera's palace.

The paintings on the rock were the personification of clouds and lightning, to give the impression that the palace was up in the heavens way above the clouds.

Paranavitana's interpretation of Sigiriya as the city of a God-King held sway for a half-century, until a subsequent commissioner, Raja de Silva, challenged it in 2002.

Investigations, say Silva has shown no archaeological evidence of a palatial structure on the summit. There are no remains of stone bases or postholes for pillars, no cross walls or chambers, no windows or window sashes that befit a royal palace and no lavatory facilities. The asana (so-called pink throne) is 30 metres away and could not have been a part of the building that has been called a palace.

The supposed palace, says Silva, did not exist. What remains to be seen is a bare enclosed terrace lying cheek by jowl with the ruins of a dagaba suggesting that it was a place for meditation.

Silva also maintains that Paranavitana wrongly compared the Kraucha Pass as the only access to mount Kailasa so as to back his theory, when actually the Kraucha Pass was an entrance to another mountain.

The Sigiriya gallery anyway was not the only entrance to the lion and lion plateau. There was another entrance from the northern gateway, buried remains of which may still be seen, starting near the silted pond, called habavala. The gallery provided access from the South and Western sides of the rock.

These three entrances, Silva believes, were used by Buddhist devotees to reach the dagaba and meditation area on the summit via the lion.

The lion itself had nothing to do with Kuvera's Kesara-Simha. Rather it was a reminder to devotees going up to the summit that Buddha was Sakya-Simha whose voice was like that of a roaring lion enunciating the truth.

In respect of the paintings which Paranavitana likened to the personification of clouds and lightning, Silva states that there is no evidence of such motifs ever having been used in Sinhalese paintings.

He believes them to be representations of the Mahayana goddess Tara, who is associated with the popular Mahayana Boddisatva Avalokitesvara.

In the light of these criticisms, and others that space does not permit coverage in this article, Silva holds that Paranavitana's complicated explanation of Sigiriya as the abode of God-King is untenable.

Instead his interpretation is that Sigiriya was the site of a Mahayana Pabbata Vihara with landscaped gardens that served a religo utilitarian purpose in inducing reflection, contemplation, meditation and worship.

There were other Viharas on these lines in the Buddhist Centre of Nalanda in India. This Vihara could have had the patronage of king Kassapa who ruled from Anuradhapura. For a more expanded and detailed account of this alternative interpretation of the meaning of Sigiriya await the publication of Raja de Silva's forthcoming book Digging Into The Past.

Edvard Greig:

Bergen's romantic composer

Edvard Greig (1843-1907)

As good as any other well-known composer, Edvard Greig had been under-played by most recording companies and in concert halls. A genius of a composer, Greig descended from the line of Greig who settled in Bergen in the mid 18th century.

He was known as Greig but once he had established himself at Bergen and twice married two Norwegian girls, he changed his name to Greig to the convenience of Norwegians and rose to be the Consul for Britain. Edvard Greig was his great-grandson and by the time he was born, the Greigs had become a prosperous and well-to-do clan. They also became closely involved in the performing arts of Bergen, patronising and participating in classical musical events.

It was in this highly credible atmosphere that Greig was born on 15th June 1843. During those formative years, it was an accepted notion that many famous composers cut their first teeth under parental guidance. So, Greig was no exception when he had his first piano lessons from his mother. She was an accomplished pianist and a soprano too.

Greig’s musical variations were used in excerpts, especially for Romantic ballet where the ballerinas had the freedom to dance. This Corpse de Ballet is to his music.

Thereafter, his parents were persuaded by the Norwegian violinist, Ole Bull to send Greig across to Lipzig to commence his musical studies. Here, he suffered a setback due to ill-health and also to his horror he discovered the syllabus at the Conservatoire platonic and dull. They never gave him the impetus he was looking forward to.

Then the happy break came his way to work in Copenhagen under the Danish Romantic composer, Niels Gale (1817-1890). He found Gale highly influenced by the works of Rokard Nordraak and Mendelssohn who was the composer of the National Anthem of Norway. Mendelssohn became a close friend of Greig and came to appreciate the finer points of rural life, folk songs as well as the rhythms of the native dances.

This was something he had never cared to appreciate nor noticed before. He found his personal idiom as a composer in their strong and vibrant music which he used in his later scores. He set his mind and succeeded in creating an Independent Norwegian School of Music along with Nordraak and while this was taking shape, Greig received the sad news of the death of his close friend, Nordraak who was writing their score in Rome.

This was a blow that left Greig shattered and many of his friends feared for the life of Greig because of the trauma it had on him. Much time was taken for him to recover and when Greig was prepared to leave behind the shattered memories, he returned to Scandinavia to resume his work; though on a sombre note. His music was less vibrant and melancholy.

He decided to marry again and this time it was his cousin Nina Hegerup who was an established soprano and with whom he had frolicked around in their younger days during the idyllic years at Copenhagen. Pleasantly, the marriage was to prove a great success and they formed a lifelong musical partnership that spanned over forty years.

Greig found it a pleasure to work with his high talented wife and he went easy on his Romantic scores as she inspired interpreted them to perfection. He had only to run his fingers across the bars and there she was humming score. They travelled together throughout Europe, giving concerts and many classical symphonic recitals.

Greig became a national figure owing to his tireless work that involved arranging concerts, scripting new notes with Norwegian identity, conducting symphonic orchestras as well as teaching and examining seniors, undertaking foreign tours and done with his wife.

His endless dedication to classical music was admired by other composers such as Liszt, Brahm, Tchaikovsky etc. They all met him in person and showered their appreciation upon him and Greig being the unspoilt and humane, was described by all as a charming man with a clear conception of music in his heart. As years went by, he met yet another crop of composers, this time the young ones on their way up on whom he had made a deep impression. They were none other than Sibelius, Neilsen, Dellus and Percy Granger.

Luckily Greig's music had not been hyped by recording companies for commercial gains and he remained above hacked treatment. Like Tchaikovsky, years had to pass to appreciate the deep meaning of his spectacular scoring. Yet, one of his minor sonatas was played at classical concerts with his wife rendering soprano.

This piece was first performed at Copenhagen on 2 April, 1869. The lyrical quality and the spontaneous rendering, enchanted the audience and continue to do so even today. This delighted Greig who by nature was a humble man in glory or achievement. He was a composer who allowed his own melodies to take shape which led his scores to possess a close affinity. He scored heavily for folk songs and dance and became the Norwegian National composer to be firmly rooted on his soil.

Some of Greig's scores were used by choreographers in excerpts for ballet because of the Romantic style and songs but mostly confined to classics.

He had also set music to some German poems and its inventiveness and clarity braced the poets to gain recognition who earlier were not known. But much is left to discover in Greig's music and those who dare to explore the neglected aspect of this great composer's repertoire, will certainly come up with magnificants rewards for their research.

Some of Greig's scores
Siguard Joselfar
Peer Cynt
Holberg Suites
Olav Trygvason (Opera)
Norwegin Dances
Piano Concerto in A minor



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