Within a grotto on Sigiriya's sheer west face, beautiful bare-breasted maidens still smile from incredible fresco paintings. No one quite knows whom the seductive beauties, painted in tempura in brilliant colors on the rock wall, represent. It is easy to think of them as apsaras,
heaven-dwelling nymphs from a realm of radiant light -- above whom, perhaps, lived the "god-king" in his rock-top palace. Perhaps they were only ladies of the court on their way to the temple. The graffiti speak of 500 "damsels"; there are but 18 today, protected from sun, wind and rain erosion in this sheltered grotto.
In 1967, a vandal obliterated several of these priceless treasures. Fortunately, they were restored by Dr. Marenzi, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute.