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A traveller's appeal ...

Siyova Aami
Sihigiri balleemi
Belu Belu Boho dana
Gee liya lu heyin,

This is one of about 685 poems scribbled as 'kurutu gee' that remain intact on the Mirror Wall of Sigiriya up to this date. A creation of an unknown traveller dating back anywhere between the sixth and thirteenth Centuries AD, this to me is the single most expressive exposition of the grandeur of this holistic heritage site of ours, by a dreamer of a traveller. While its English translation will not do its creator's simplistic intent, poetic licence and depth of imagination justice, I will nevertheless make an attempt to present it to you with an excuse for my inadequacies and with grateful gratitude to the likes of late Prof. Senarath Paranavithana.
I am Budal...
Came on my own
to see Sigiriya
Since many others
before me,
wrote verses of
their own...
I chose not to.

Today what we witness is not only the grandeur of what is cited as the eighth wonder of the world at Sigiriya. The artistry of simplicity that runs like the blood on the veins of the great heritage of our nation is to acquire a modern interpretation and information centre at its foothills.

The Sigiriya Museum File photo

On behalf of all travellers and tourists of Sri Lanka and from shores beyond, we must thank our friends in Japan for providing us this very modern and impressive facility. Yet, we must remember that there are some things around us that are simply unexplainable through interpretation and must be experienced and absorbed by oneself and only by oneself ....

That I believe is the message that was left to us by the ancient traveller Budal, who refused unlike others before him to externalize his experience. He chose instead to internalize it in a most profound way.

Given the nature of the modern traveller for whom, travel is more than a pursuit of exploration of places and sites, an interpretation centre will serve mealy as a supplement and an externality. For the tourist on the other hand, such a centre will provide a good pad to base ones understanding of the why, the when and the context in which leaders and the people of ancient Sri Lanka pursued their artistic endeavours as part of their lifestyle activities.

No amount of tastefully provided interpretation and information can substitute the experience that is Sigiriya.

What Budal and his contemporary compatriots have left behind for us is this realization of the difference between travel and tourism and that of creating external expositions as against internalized experiences.

This traveller's earnest appeal is for us never to forget this difference as we approach them both.

The writer is former Chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism, writer and social activist for sustainable development on the occasion of the opening of the new Sigiriya Museum and interpretation centre.


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