Se7en Stages of Defense at Sigiriya, Sri Lanka – Part I

Hey guys, today we are going to take a look at this giant rock called Sigiriya. On top of the rock, there are mysterious ancient ruins which have not been fully explained by archeologists. How did ancient builders create such extraordinary structures on top of a rock, which is 660 feet tall? But there is an even more important question: Why did anyone choose to build these structures on an impossible location? All experts agree that construction on such an isolated, inaccessible location means there was something verysecretive going on here. Whoever built this, clearly did not want anyone to come upeasily and find out what is going on.

In a previous video, we saw what was on top of the rock – in this video, we are going to see 7 stages of obstacles created by ancient builders to prevent enemies from reaching the top of the rock. Today, when we say Sigiriya we usually mean this giant rock, but Sigiriya actually stands for the entire ancient complex which consists of many lines of defense.The very first, outermost obstacle you face when entering the Sigiriya complex is the water gardens. This actually looks like a welcoming place and looks beautiful, and archeologists have named this as water gardens, but the truth is, this entire set up was designed to kill and destroy people who entered without permission. If you look at the ancient plan of Sigiriya, it is almost completely covered on all sides with water, like a fort with a moat, everything you see in blue is water.

In fact, even today, we enter Sigiriya only through bridges to cross over the moat. Of course, outside the moat, there is another line of defense, it is actually the first line of defense which is the brick wall. If you look at the aerial view of Sigiriya, we realize that an enormous outer wall, a rampart has been built for protection. I am not going into explain this wall because I have not studied it fully.

Now, going back to the Water gardens:  the water gardens, utilizes a very complex ancient hydraulic system. The water gardens can be flooded at will by manipulating the system, and even today, we can flood the water levels and completely stop everyone from entering this place. When you enter Sigiriya complex, you will see a series of tanks, brick walls, and strange constructions which look like a bunch of random structures which don’t make any sense. But when I went to the top of the rock, and then looked at the bigger picture, it is astounding because the area looks like a circuit board, built by the gods. There are 4 tanks, 2 on each side of the walk way. And there are four fountains symmetrically built, 2 on each side. These fountains still work today.  These fountains are connected to the moat.

Using the principle of gravity and pressure, water is pushed from the moat,  into the fountains, through underground channels. This will activate the fountains which will in turn fill the tanks, and these tanks are all interconnected at the base, so there will be uniform water level in all 4 tanks.  This snake like structure was also created to control the movement of water, water cannot flow straight, and will have varying speeds at different points because of the curves. Notice how everything is connected, and this is just a very small part of the water gardens, so you can imagine the complexity of this entire system.

Now, how did ancient builders flood this entire area? There are massive water tanks created all around Sigiriya complex and most of them are at an elevated position. There is a large artificial lake to the South of the Rock called Vava, which is connected to the moat and the fountains, and water can be released from it, at will. This will cause the moat’s water level to rise and cause flooding all around Sigiriya. We can also flood specific areas, without affecting the other areas, we can specifically flood this entrance alone.

If we push some small obstructions through the conduits to the water fountains, the fountains will not be able to close, and will continue to keep releasing water, and will flood the entrance. If we explore the ground level, we can see many tanks which collect rain water, and  they have conduits which can be opened for flooding the area. And each tank is different and has some extraordinary feature. Remember, in Sigiriya, ancient builders used nature as a part of their construction. Look at this octagonal tank with 8 sides, 6 sides have been built by placing rocks artificially, but 2 sides are actually made of natural rocks in their original position.

Releasing water from these tanks will result in slow and steady flooding, since the speed of water flow depends on elevation. The higher the tank, the faster the water will flow. So, the most important tanks are located on top of the Sigiriya rock, which are capable of holding enormous amount of water. There are at least 3 large tanks and several smaller ones on top of the rock. On the rock face, we can see these ancient channels carved for routing the water from the tanks to the ground level. In the center of this large tank, we can see something that is called the “Stairs to Nowhere”.

There are stairs which come out of the pool and lead to a chair, all cut out in granite, and no one knows why this seat is carved. What is the purpose of this seat? If you sit on the chair, it gives a view of the entire area and you can spot an army marching hundreds of miles away, and then all you have to do is  get in and open the drain to this massive tank, which will act as a signal to open all the other tanks and will flood the entire ground level in a matter of hours.

Now, what happens when the entire ground level gets flooded?  Human beings are capable of swimming, and if the attacking army is a cavalry, even horses swim very well, so both humans and horses can get through by swimming. However, the movement would be very slow, compared to how horsemen can march on the ground. When water floods, the crocodiles will emerge to the ground level. If anyone tries to swim, they will be torn apart by crocodiles which live in the moat. This is not just a theory, the crocs actually still live here today, and we see a dozen different sign boards warning us not to get into the water, because of crocodiles. Experts have not understood that the entire set up was created as a defense mechanism, and have been trying to explain the water gardens as a thing of beauty. But they are scratching their heads about some tanks which make absolutely no sense at all.

In random places, ancient builders have created tanks which are only few inches deep. They are very shallow, and their bases have been laid with polished marble and shiny stones. Experts have no idea why these were built, but these were built as defense mechanisms. These shallow tanks will appear as deep pools and confuse the enemies, it is a sort of a psychological warfare. The shiny rocks and marble were placed in, so they will reflect the sky and appear as though they are deep, and the enemy will definitely stumble, because some tanks, in this area, are really deep, and some tanks like these are actually shallow.

This is actually clearly explained in the Indian Epic Mahabharata, where a palace is built with deep and shallow pools side by side and makes the antagonist stumble and fall. The most interesting correlation is that the epic states that this palace was built by Mayasura, who is the Father-In-Law of King Ravana. And Sigiriya is more popularly known as Ravana’s Palace, and Sri Lankans believe he used Sigiriya Rock as a Fort or Palace.

Now, if enemies successfully passed through the first barrier, which is water, they would encounter something known as ‘Rock Gardens’ or ‘Boulder Gardens’ . This is the second level of defense system, a stone defense system. Here, ancient builders have made a brilliant blend of natural setting combined with artificial structures. The landscape design in this stage is completely in contrast to the symmetry and geometry of the firststage. The first stage has a lot of symmetrical structures, but this stage is full of random clusters of boulders. And these rocks appear to naturally make way for us, and you can see stairs have been built to go through them. The idea behind this defense system is this: These arches are so narrow that  only two people can walk through them at any given time. Even if you had an army of millions, you can only march in pairs through here, and you can be killed off easily.There are several pairs of rocks which are set up strategically, and I am not sure if they were already here naturally, or if they were put in place artificially.

Ancient builders definitely worked on them, here you can see the faces have been shaved off. Archeology reports tell me these are drip ledges, to prevent water from touching the rock face. All drip ledges are built to prevent water from touching what’s below them. But what is the need to protect the rock face? It doesn’t have a trace of painting, inscriptions or anything on it. And all these rocks have tool marks on them, which nobody has been able to explain. Is it possible, that these huge rocks were actually cut artificially and transported to this place and made into arches? I definitely think so, because otherwise there is no need for tool marks, shavings and I doubt if such a large number of rocks could occur naturally, in pairs, for ancient builders to construct stairs through them.

Even though archeologists believe Sigiriya was built during the 5th century, which is about 1500 years ago, they have examined the rock barriers set up all around this level. There are at least 30 different caves in this area, and excavation done at a cave called “Ahgala” revealed that people were living here 6,000 years ago. This has baffled experts and some are of the opinion that Sigiriya is the oldest surviving monument in Sri Lanka, which predates all historical records in the country. Now,  there are some rocks which are much more fascinating than these stone arches. All around Sigiriya, at high altitudes, there are strange, elongated, massive rocks placed at an angle.

For example, if we look at this rock, it at least 30 feet long and 15 feet tall and weighs a minimum of 1,000 tons.  Note how it has been placed on a slope using these small cylindrical rocks for balancing, there is no way this a natural occurrence. Ancient builders definitely cut this rock from the bottom half, lifted it up, and then placed small cylindrical rocks between them. These bizarre setups are called prison rocks, because locals imagine that people can be put through the crack, and will appear as though they are behind bars.

Sigiriya has several Prison Rocks set up all around it, but the question is why did ancient builders create these weird structures? Because, if enemies came past the water barrier and managed to get through the stone arches, these Prison Rocks can be easily moved out of their positions with minimal amount of force. All prison rocks are at an elevated level, so these massive rocks will drop from a height, and cause other rocks to drop as well, causing an avalanche effect, which will fall on the enemies and completely destroy them .  Ancient builders have clearly understood the concept of center of balance. Notice how, there are smaller stones placed on top of the rock, this was definitely done to alter its natural center of gravity.

These small stones, the angle at which the slope is made, the 30 degree angle at which these cylindrical stones are set up, were all done to make sure that the rock can be easily pushed down with just a little bit of force.  In fact, the archeology department understands that these rocks can be easily pushed down by tourists, which is why they have added these sand bags to make them immovable. Of course, the real question is how did ancient builders cut such a massive rock, and lift more than 1000 tons? How did they balance it on a slope with these stone bars, and how did they manage to balance these small stones at a 30 degree angle?

How did they calculate the center of gravity? Where did they test all these things? Today, it would be impossible to set this up  without heavy machinery and precise instruments.  And I have spoken only about 2 stages of defense, but as far as I know, I have never seen such an elaborate design created to protect any ancient site. I will talk about the other stages of defense in a different video.

Praveen Mohan

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