'Sigiriya Walk' controversy takes new turn
By Shanika Sriyananda
The Sunday Observer (Colombo) of 7 September 2003
Sigiriya declared as a world heritage has often been in the centre of controversy as claims and counter claims have been traded about the origin of this rock fortress and the findings there. The aura of mystery itself is sufficient to draw tens of thousands of visitors.
The popularity of 'Sigiriya' has prompted the Tourism Ministry to promote Sigiriya as one of Sri Lanka's prime attractions, like the Taj Mahal in India or the Pyramids along the Nile. But the enthusiasm appears to be overriding some of the concerns of the archaeologists, conservationists and Buddhist monks.
The plan to promote Sigiriya as a major tourist attraction has been on the cards since the 1970's. A few years ago the well known archaeologist Prof. Senaka Bandaranayake proposed a 'sound and light' show at Sigiriya. But it was kept under the rocks for several years before being dug out by the Tourism Ministry early this year.
The proposal has been modified and is now named 'Evening Walk' show to be held in the 'Jala Udyanaya' (Fountain Garden) area . According to the proposal which is yet to be finalised the show is to take place in the area opposite the main stairway to the rock-fortress.
One of the key in questions raised by concerned groups is whether the plan has been fully seen and approved by the government and the Central Cultural Fund (CCF). The Cultural Ministry's Media Secretary W.M.B. Wanninayake claimed the Sigiriya night show had been approved by the CCF.
But an element of mystery arises when the CCF's Director General A.P.A. Gunasekara says he is not aware of any approval being granted while a majority of other CCF board members say they are opposed to the location chosed for the Sigiriya show. The Cultural Ministry's Secretary in a statement said the project was approved by the government and he assured that the centuries old cultural identity of Sigiriya would be preserved and fostered.
The key question is the location. the Cultural Ministry claims the CCF has approved the location, but is that correct? Adding to the confusion the CCF quotes Tourism Secretary Dr. Ramanujan as saying that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has only told them to look into the proposal and the project has not been fully approved for implementation as suggested by the Cultural Ministry.
The Tourism Ministry also however makes it clear that though it is willing to reconsider the location it does not want to go too far away from the Sigiriya rock. " If we go too far we might as well have it in Colombo. They say there are abandoned tanks. Abandoned tanks mean they are not being used. These places can be used. It is a matter of finding the correct location," Dr. Ramanujan said.
Explaining the proposal he says no stages will be setup to enact the scenes from history and no damage will be done to the location. But crucial questions remain. Has the CCF been sidelined in maintaining the historic site? Dr. Ramanujan says a letter had been sent by Tourism Minister, Gamini Lokuge to the Cultural Minister in May informing about the project.
But at a subsequent meeting of the CCF the proposed location for the project and the decision to have night cultural shows close to the Sigiriya rock were strongly criticised. The critics ask whether it is suitable to have a night show where some 400 tourists are to be accommodated, whether the security could be guaranteed at nights when there is a large crowd, the impact of the sound effects and lighting systems on the artifacts and the proposal to use a coach top transport tourists within the area.
The Sunday Times learns that the scenes to be enacted include the activities of King Kasyapa, dancers, bathing women, and trades like pottery as practiced in those ancient days.
We learn that the Archaeological Department's Advisory Board has not been called in to discuss the controversial proposal. Former Archaeology Chief Raja de Silva, now a member of the Advisory Board says the present Director General had informed the Advisory Board about the proposal and fixed a meeting to discuss it but the meeting was cancelled. Now members of the board are calling for an immediate meeting to discuss the issue.
Meanwhile most residents around are not aware of the project, but one of the project's main critics is the chief monk of the area. Ven. Dhaniyagala Ananda, Thera, Chief incumbent of the Pidurangala Raja Maha Viharaya which has a close historic link with Sigiriya says if anyone wants to dramatise Kasyapa they were free to do it in a theatre but not on or near the famous rock.
"Can they ensure that ancient bricks are not damaged when the show is held in the Fountain Garden in Sigiriya and can they ensure tourists are not going to sneak through to other parts of the rock and damage historically valuable parts of it," he asked.
"Sigiriya is being made a source of dollars. They want to give a treat to tourists at the expense of our culture and traditions the monk charged. The Sunday Times learns fresh proposals are to be submitted by Norwegian Theatre experts who are involved in the project which is funded by the USAID and the Oslo based NORAD. The proposals are to be submitted by September 15
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