Doubtlessly, Sri Lanka’s most iconic paintings are the “Cloud Damsels” in a natural rock shelter halfway up the Sigiriya Rock. These celebrated are frescoes from the late 5th century, besides the Ajanta paintings of India the only remaining and intact paintings from such an early period in Southasia. Sigiriy’s “Cloud Damsels” are only painted from the waist up, torsos emerging from clouds, this is how they got their modern name.
During the Sigiriya period, there must have beeen about 500 such potraits of ladies at the steep “Lion Rock” of Sigiriya altogether. This is indicated by traces of pigments at the entire rock surface, spanning more than 130 metres in length and 40 in height. But only twenty-one recognizable “cloud damsels” have survived till the present day, namely those protected by the overhanging rock that were not washed away by the rain in the course of the centuries or arbitrarily destroyed by prudish monks outraged by the nudity. The mineral colours of these remaining twenty-one depictions of ladies are surprisingly fresh after one-and-a-half millennia without restauration. Indeed the state of preservation can be called a minor miracle.
Another miracle is the stunning appeal of the “Cloud Damsels” or “Cloud Maidens” of Sigiriya. Almost every visitor, being an art lover or not, is fascinated by the sheer beauty of these paintings. Inscriptions of little poems at the so-called mirror wall are proof, that visitors fell in love with these murals already ten centuries ago. But seeing the original paintings yourself, you will agree that these maiden frescoes deserve to be admired and praised by poems to their beauty.
Today’s guides like to interpret some “Cloud Damsels” to represent different ethnicities. So some of the frescoes are called “Chinese Lady” or “African Lady”. Couples of ladies usually show one light-coloured lady who is richly decorated and one darker-skinned lady carrying plates of fruits or flowers for her. They are sometimes interpreted as Sinhalese queens or princesses and their respective Tamil servants. One of the “Cloud Damsels” will welcome you when you use an ATM or change your moneay after your arrival in Sri Lanka, since sh appears on the 2000 Rupee banknote.
There are many different interpretation what might be the meaning of these “Cloud Damsels”. Most probably, they are depictions of Apsaras, celestial nymphs. living at mount Kailash. In an interpretation asserted by Sri Lanka’s most renowned historian, Senarath Paranavitana, the entire Sigiriya Rock is believed to represent Mount Kailash, the abode of the gods.
all Sri Lanka blog articles
by region, by topic
and A-Z here...