Curtains for Sigiriya Rock Concert
The Sunday Times (Colombo) front page of 24 August 2003
A Tourism Ministry proposal backed by the US and Norwegian governments to be implemented in the garden at the entrance to the Sigiriya fortress has run into a storm with strong protests from the Archaeology Department and the Central Cultural Fund (CCP).
The proposed project known as "Sigiriya Evening Walk" ran into controversy this week after the protests and has prompted two Norwegian theatre experts to call off the study programme and return to Colombo. They are due to leave to their country today.
The USAID was supporting the study on behalf of the US Government and NORAD was supporting the programme on behalf of the Norwegians. The project was aimed at boosting tourism in and around Sigiriya by introducing an "Evening Walk" where tourists were able to witness enacted scenes on how Sigiriya operated in the ancient days.
"There were to be scenes of people working, bathing, and getting about their normal work at the rock-fortress and girls and boys in the village were to be given employment ," One of the members in the committee which studied the project said. But strong objections have been raised from the Archaeological department and the Central Cultural Fund against the project.
The Sunday Times learns that the Tourism Ministry early this week attempted to push through the project, despite these objections. Earlier a group of experts including conservationists which discussed the Tourism ministry proposal had cited their reasons against the project.
CCF Director General A.P.A. Gunasekera told The Sunday Times that a series of valid points had been brought up by the experts against the project. Maintaining security at nights, the disturbance to the night atmosphere, the possibility of disturbing hornets, the movement of coaches to transport tourists at night were among the reasons against this project.
The Chief Incumbent of the Ruwanseliya Seya and chief Sanganayaka of the Nuwara Kalaviya, Ven. Pallegama Hemaratana who was among those consulted on the proposal also objected to it on the grounds that Sigiriya had served as a monastic centre for various Buddhist sects and some of the scenes to be enacted cannot be accepted.
Mr. Gunasekera said that after the initial objections raised by the experts the tourism ministry had agreed to appoint a committee to study the possibility of moving the project outside the garden area situated at the bottom of the rock-fortress.
The Tourism Ministry at a meeting summoned early this week said it was going ahead with the project, but representatives of archaeological department and the CCF had raised objections and left. The Sunday Times learns that the archaeological department and the CCF had not been consulted when the latest proposal was prepared. A proposal prepared by the tourism Ministry was sent to the CCF.
Archaelogy Commissioner General W.S.Wijepala told The Sunday Times that his department which is the custodian of Sigiriya was strongly opposed to the project taking place in the original site.
He said that they also believed that the scenes to be enacted would not properly depict the history of Sigiriya. Acting Public Affairs officer of the US Embassy, Ms. Cdy Taylor told The Sunday Times that the USAID moved into provide technical assistance to the projects following a request from the Tourism industry and the Ministry of Tourism.
She said that in mid-2002 USAID provided technical assistance in which consultants made recommendtions to the tourism industry, including the Sigiriya site. Ms. Taylor said the USAID technical mission had consulted the Archaeological Department and the CCF on a range of options including the "Evening walk" at Sigiriya.
The Tourism Ministry's Additional Secretary George Michael said that they would be forced to think of a new project plan to boost the tourist industry in the Sigiriya area.
Cultural Minister Dr. Karunasena Kodithuwakku told The Sunday Times that he has summoned a meeting between the Archaeology Department, CCF and the Tourism Ministry next week to discuss the issue.
Article originally published in The Sunday Times (Colombo) front page of 24 August 2003.
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