Sigiriya fresco paintings are Sri Lanka’s most iconic pieces of classical art. The fresco pocket is a depression on the Sigiriya rock flank. It houses 21 fresco paintings of voluptuous women who are popularly known as the Sigiriya damsels. Five hundred such painting is said to have adorned the stone walls flanking the stairway. Sigiriya damsels are women of various ages. Some are middle-aged and many are young. The central figures are painted with a female attendant on their side. Some are light-skinned while others are dark-skinned. All of them are elaborately dressed in colorful jewelry, flowers, and transparent silk. The artist has captured how silk interacts with skin color and the natural human form.
These paintings closely resemble the classical art schools of ancient Indian kingdoms. Notably, cave No.16 of central India’s Ajanta cave paintings are contemporaries of the Sigiriya rock paintings. The Sigiriya damsels are very similar to the human form seen in Ajanta paintings. However, a unique copper blue pigment and preservative coating used, show distinct technical differences between the schools of central India and Sigiriya in Sri Lanka. Sigiriya rock paintings also point towards a realist movement within the greater Indian classical art spectrum. As far as we know, this realist movement is sorely unique to Sigiriya rock paintings in Sri Lanka. A rare terracotta model of a Sigirya damsel was also unearthed during the Sri Lanka cultural triangle excavations at Sigiriya.