Ancient Reservoirs and Irrigation Systems of Sri Lanka – ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ පුරාණ වාරිමාර්ග

Parakrama Samudraya

Parakrama Samudraya

Irrigation systems of ancient Sri Lanka consist of a large number of village tanks, gigantic reservoirs and a intrinsic network of water cannals connecting these tanks while supplying water to farming land. There about 30,000 tanks in Sri Lanka of which the majority was built form 3rd century BC to 12th century. This compared to the Sri Lankan dry zone land area of about 40,000 sq. kilometres (where almost all the tanks are located), is almost equivalent to one reservoir for each sq. kilometre.

The first large tank to be built in recorded history is Abaya Wewa in 3rd century BC. From that day onwards Sri Lankan tank builders developed a remarkable expertise on controlling large bodies of water which allowed them to built massive reservoirs which no other civilisation ever could have dreamt of.

The breakthrough which made the Sri Lankan Irrigation Engineers build such massive tanks was invention of the “Biso Kotuwa” of valve pit as early as 3rd century BC which could easily regulate the out flow extremely large water bodies. Europeans stared using the valve pits in their resoviors only in the mid 18th centuary, 2100 years later according to H. Parker, an Irrigation Engineer who was in charge of restoring many ancient iIrrigation tanks in late 1800’s, in his book ‘Ancient Ceylon’

He goes on to say,

……..At first, only the simplest works of the smaller class, with very low embankments, would be undertaken; but when a better knowledge of the art of raising such banks of earth to hold back greater depths of water was acquired, schemes of a more comprehensive character would be attempted, until at last no reservoir was looked upon as too great to be constructed, and the lengths of the embankments extended for any distance up to a maximum of nine miles, while their heights in a few instances rose to more than fifty feet…………..

……… It may appear to be such a simple matter to raise a long bank of earth in order to hold back a certain quantity of rain water for bathing purposes or for watering an adjoining rice field after the rains have ceased, that any people living in hot countries where the rains are only seasonal and are followed by several almost rainless months might be expected to be struck by the idea of making these little reservoirs for themselves, without its transmission from another country ; but as a matter of fact the notion of reservoir-making appears to have been originated in only one country, and never to have been invented independently elsewhere, at any rate in the Old World. …………

Another development of the ancient irrigation systems is the remarkable instrumentation precision. When king Dathusena (459-477 AD) built Yodha Ela, also known as Jayaganga, the ancient irrigation engineers first found out that the Kala Wewa in Pollonaruwa was built on a slightly elevated ground compared to Tissa Wewa in Anuradhapura. Then he built the 54 mile ( 87 Km ) Yoda Ela with a gradient of 6-12 inches per mile ( appox 10 to 20 cm per kilometre) to carry excess water in the Kala Wewa to Tissa Weva. How these engineers could achieve such precision still baffles experts today.


001 | Ancient Reservoirs of Sri Lanka
002 | Ancient Sinhalese Hydraulics
003 | Ecosystem based indigenous water management
004 | Sri Lanka’s Reservoirs and Irrigation Canals

Ancient reservoirs and other irrigation marvels in Sri Lanka

001 | Angammedilla Gal Amuna (Rajabemma) at Polonnaruwa - අංගම්මැඩිල්ල ගල් අමුණ
002 | Angamuwa Wewa - අංගමුව වැව
003 | Bandagiriya Tank - බඳගිරිය වැව
004 | Basawakkulama Wewa (Abaya Wewa) - First Reservoir to be in the recorded history of Sri Lanka - බසවක්කුල මවැව
005 | Bathalagoda Wewa - බතලගොඩ වැව
006 | Debera Wewa in Tissamaharama - දෙබර වැව
007 | Giritale Tank - ගිරිතලේ වැව
008 | Haththota Amuna - මාතලේ හත්තොට අමුණ
009 | Kala Wewa and Yodha Ela (Jaya Ganga) - An irrigation wonder of Ancient Sinhalese - කලා වැව හා ජය ගඟ
010 | Kalinga Yodha Ela - Mapping of Sri Lanka's Ancient Navigation Channel - කාලිංග යෝධ ඇල
011 | Kandy Lake (Nuwara Weva) - නුවර වැව
012 | Kantale Wewa - කන්තලේ වැව
013 | Kaudulla Tank - කවුඩුල්ල වැව
014 | Kondawattuwana Wewa and Monastic Ruins - කොණ්ඩවට්ටවාන වැව සහ බෞද්ධ නටබුණ්
015 | Kotmale Reservoir - කොත්මලේ ජලාශය
016 | Kuda Vilachchiya Wewa and its Ruins inside Wilpattu - කුඩාවිලච්චිය වැව හා නටබුන්
017 | Mahagala Wewa Tank - මහගල වැව
018 | Mahakanadarawa Wewa - මහකනදරා වැව
019 | Mahavilachchiya Tank of Anuradhapura Kingdom - මහවිලච්චිය වැව
020 | Minneriya Tank - මින්නේරිය වැව
021 | Nachchaduwa Tank - නාච්චාදූව වැව
022 | Nuwara Wewa of the Ancient Anuradhapura Kingdom - නුවර වැව
023 | Padaviya Wewa and ancient Inscription - පදවිය වැව
024 | Panda Wewa - The First man made Reservoir in the World - පාන්ඩ වැව
025 | Parakrama Samudraya (The Sea of Parakrama) - පරාක්‍රම සමුද්‍රය
026 | Rambakan Oya Ruins of Ancient Granite Canal - අම්පාර රඹකැන් ඔය ගල් ඇල
027 | Sorabora Wewa with a Unique Natural Stone Sluice - සොරබොර වැව
028 | Tabbowa Tank - තබ්බෝව වැව
029 | Thuruwila Tank in Anuradhapura - තුරුවිල වැව
030 | Tissa Wewa at Tissamaharama - තිස්සමහාරාම තිස්ස වැව
031 | Tissa Wewa in Anuradhapura - අනුරාධපුර තිසා වැව
032 | Urusita Wewa and the Seven Hooded Cobra Guard Stone - ඌරුසිටා වැව
033 | Usgala Siyambalangamuwa Wewa - සියඹලන්ගමුව වැව
034 | Vavunikulama Tank - වවුනිකුලම වැව
035 | Weerawila Tank - වීරවිල වැව
036 | Wilpita Wewa / Lenabatuwa Wewa - විල්පිට / ලේනබටුව වැව
037 | Yoda Wewa at Mannar - supporting the rice bowl of Sri Lanka - යෝධ වැව
038 | Yoda Wewa at Tissamaharama - යෝධ වැව
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