Basawakkulama Wewa (Abaya Wewa) – First Reservoir to be in the recorded history of Sri Lanka (බසවක්කුලම වැව)

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King Paduwasdeva ( 504-474 BC ) whose capital was at Vijithapura took a princess called Subaddhakacanna from North India in marriage. Following her came six of her seven brothers who established their own villages through out the country. The area of which prince Anuradha established himself was called Anuradhapura. According to Chronicles he built the first tank in the country close to his city. Later this tank was enlarged by king Pandukabhaya (437-367 BC) , the son of Panduvasudeva’s daughter to provide water for his enlarged capital. The tank was called Abaya Vapi in memory of one of his uncles called Abaya who ruled the country before him. This tank ( now known as Basawakkulama Wewa) was the foundation stone of a great irrigation network not second any ancient civilization of the world.

A description of this tank from the H. Parkers book ‘Ancient Ceylon’ published in 1909 is given below ;

…. It is sometimes mentioned casually in the early part of the histories, in the time of Pandukabhaya and subsequently always as a reservoir in working order ; and it appears to have remained unbreached as long as Anuradhapura was inhabited; that is, for more than 1500 years, a respectable record for a work of such early date. Of no structures can it be said more truly than of reservoirs, that the most successful works have no history. Decade follows decade, century succeeds century, and while the work is performing its functions satisfactorily there is nothing in its life that is worth recording, except the levels of the water in it year by year. Naturally, therefore, we find nothing noted regarding the state of this tank.

Compared with Panda-wewa its area is insignificant; when full it only covers 255 acres, although it appears to have been a little larger originally. Yet it was well designed to fulfil its purpose, the storage of rainfall close to the town, for the water-supply of the city and for bathing purposes. It made the best of a very poor catchment area ; had it been supplied with a higher embankment it would have failed to secure much more water in years of ordinary rainfall. Owing to the small area from which the surplus rainfall flowed into it there would be no difficulty at it, like that experienced at Panda-wewa, from very high floods, either during its construction or afterwards. ………….

…….. The embankment is 5910 feet long, or 1.12 miles. As now restored, its crest is 22 feet above the sill of the sluice; but originally it appears to have been six feet higher, judging by the levels of its more elevated portions. It was considerably eroded, and for a great part of its length the top was below the level adopted at the restoration. The width of its crest was only from six to eight feet, but the slopes on both sides were flatter than at Pan Ja-waewa, being at the rate of 3-1 feet horizontal to one foot vertical. The slope adjoining the water was protected by a layer of small boulders (Fig. 138).

A single sluice was built near the western end ; it consisted as usual, of a stone-lined rectangular well near the water-level, and a stone culvert for discharging water. This was a work of later date than the embankment, a number of pillars and other stones removed from pre-existing buildings being used in its construction, After it was built a small rice field was formed on the low side of the embankment.

Floods were allowed to escape round the west end of the embankment, through a slight hollow 22 feet wide, the level of which was 19 feet above the sill of the sluice. The present flood-escape is 3 feet 8 inches lower. The original area of the reservoir was about 330 acres, and its capacity about 133 million cubic feet.

There is nothing in the design of the embankment which is indicative of its antiquity. The slopes of the sides were similar to those of many later works, and the weak section which appears to be a primitive characteristic pf Panda-waewa is thus absent. At a little later date it will be seen that it became the custom to make them still flatter. In view of the general features of the design, I am of opinion that several other embankments of considerable size had been constructed in Ceylon before the works at Abhaya-waewa were undertaken …………..

Today the tank carries 174 hectares of water at the surface and even after 2500 years, the tank still continue to supply water to Anuradhapura.

Also See

Map of  the Basawakkulama Wewa

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Traveling to Basawakkulama Wewa (up to Anuradhapura)

The Basawakkulama Wewa lies in the city of Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura can be reached through many routes from Colombo. The two main routes are through Puttalam (Puttalama) and though Kurunegala. Traveling from Puttalam you will pass scenic Wilpattu area. the From Kurunegala there are two main routes to Anuradhapura. The most common route is through Dambulla. The other route is though Galgamuwa. Out of all the routes, the commonly used is the Kurunegala – Dambulla route (Route 2).

Route 01 from Colombo to AnuradhapuraRoute 02 from Colombo to Anuradhapura
Through : Negombo – Chilaw – Puttalam
Distance from Colombo :210 km
Travel time : 4.30- 5.00 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Katunayake Expressway – Central Expressway – Kurunegala – Dambulla
Distance from Colombo : 223 km
Travel time : 4.30- 5.00 hours
Driving Directions : see on google maps
Route 03 from Colombo to AnuradhapuraRoute from Kandy to Anuradhapura
Through : Katunayake Expressway – Narammala – Wariyapola – Padeniya – Thambuthegama
Distance from Colombo :2o3 km
Travel time : 4.30- 5.00 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Katugastota – Matale – Dambulla
Distance from Colombo :136 km
Travel time : 3.5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map


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