Elahera Gal Amuna and Prakarama Inscription – ඇලහැර ගල් අමුන

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Elahera Gal Amuna

Elahera Gal Amuna
Photo by Senanayake Bandara

We met Vijitha Dissanayake of the Road Development Authority as we stopped to ask the way back to Elahera from Bakamuna. He was with a group of persons engaged in the construction of the road. It so happened that he was known to Aloy and Daya Ranasinghe who had initiated our drive to Elahera. It was a wonderful coincidence to meet a known party in an unfamiliar area.

We invited him to join us for a cup of tea in the nearby tea shop. The men got busy talking of politics in the area. But my mind was on the ‘Gal amuna’ (stone anicut) or the ancient irrigation wonder at Elahera. I asked him if he knew of the ‘Gal amuna’ across the Amban Ganga of king Mahasena’s time. “Yes, it is about half a kilometre inside the Wasgamuwa park”. Dissananyake was more than willing to show us the way.

Elahara Gal Amuna and Prakarama Inscription

This is called the ‘Parakrama’s Pillar’ (after the King Parakramabahu I [1153 – 1186 A.D.]) contains two verses, one in Sanskrit and the other in Sinhala. It records the fact that the irrigation canal on which the pillar stands is a work of King Parakramabahu I.
The pillar stands on a bund near the ‘Kongete Oya’ aqueduct in Elahera
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The new Aban Ganga anicut at Elahera was on the road side, just within the elephant fence separating the Wasgamuwa Park from the main road. The gate to the premises was locked. But as we stopped our vehicle, the guard whose quarters were on the opposite side of the road came out. We asked him if we could go to see the old Gal amuna. He told us that a footpath, discernible enough leads to it. Would we be safe from elephants? we asked. It was approximately 12 noon. “Usually at this time there are no elephants, but you can never say,” he said, confirming our fears. “Mahaththayo, kohomath pravesan wenna” (gentleman any way take care) he warned.

Historical evidence records that the Amban Ganga, a tributary of the Mahaweli Ganga was diverted by the construction of a stone weir across it and water channeled to paddy fields through the Elahara Ela by the reign of king Vasaba (65-109). Later king Mahasen (276-303) extended the Elahara canal to carry water to Minneriya and and the Kaudulla reservoirs. King Vijayabahu (1070-1110) and King Parakramabahu (1153-1186)  too had carried out renovations to this irrigation system. Elahera Ela (canal) is sometimes referred to as  Yodha Ela .

The British too had carried renovations and built a new weir near the ancient weir.  20 km away from this weir the canal branches off carrying water to Minneriya and Giritale reservoirs at a place called Diyabeduma.

The incredible relic of this original off take where the river was diverted is still to be seen. R.L. Brohier, scholar on our irrigation works says, “This remarkable relic of ancient irrigation is generally assumed to have diverted the waters of the Amban Ganga and to have conducted it ultimately to Thambalagam Bay, linking amongst others the major tanks of Minneriya, Kaudulla and Kantalai.” He further says, “It is today known that mingling its waters with those from other drainage lines tapped on the way, the Elahera canal provided a continuous lifeline to irrigation up to Tambalagam near Trincomalee, 85 miles from the intake.”

Brohier also writes how around 1845, the enthusiasm of three gentleman, Adams, Churchill and Bailey who literally cut their way through a wilderness to discover these abandoned remains of inspiring human skill and human industry.

Now we were on the same quest more than one-and-a-half centuries after, on a terrain much changed and in a time when infrastructure had gained better foothold.

We crossed the new anicut with its well defined concrete walls and boisterous water-rush and walked into the jungle. Very soon we were within the thick twilight of the jungle, with towering trees completely obliterating the brightness of the day. Here and there giant white tree trunks rose to great heights like ghosts in the dark.

Dissanayake stopped at a tree to break a small branch and hang it up on a bough, mumbling a prayer to the gods of the jungle for protection. The bundle of dry branches that already hung there told us that it was a custom of the area that was not taken lightly. Following jungle lore, we took care not to mention words like ‘elephant’ referring to the jungle giants, but instead as ‘our friends’. At one point I accidentally crushed a dry stick under my foot, which made those who were walking a little ahead turn back in terror. Then only I realized the tension that was within us.

Elahera Stone Anicut
Photos are copyrighted by their owners

From that moment I was almost paranoid, looking all around me at the thick jungle that surrounded us.

Suddenly right in the middle of the path was an inscribed stone column. Slender and a little over the height of a man, the inscription ran throughout on one side. This may be the pillar inscription relating to the diversion of the river by king Mahasena.

At last we came to an abandoned watch-hut which was perched on the bund of the dry river bed. A thick concrete wall was built across the width of the river. It was only further down stream that a dark pool of water could be seen hemmed in by boulders. We crossed along the top of the concrete wall to the other side.

The muddy banks held ample signs of recent elephant crossings. Beyond, the jungle grew thicker and blended into a motley mess of creepers, tall grass, scrub and trees.

From here onwards, there was no pathway. We walked along another portion of concrete wall that continued further into the jungle, and quite by accident discovered parts of a giant stone-dressed wall, well hidden in the scrub wilderness. It was the ancient stone embankment – part of the famed Gal amuna of yore, where stone bricks, dressed perfectly one over the other, still witnessed to its past.

Dissananyake was quite excited. There was no stopping him from creeping into the scrub and from time to time proclaiming ‘mayka balannako!’ (Look at this!). The wall made of perfectly cut gigantic stone bricks fitted flawlessly one on top of another and seemed to stretch to a considerable length and height. At some places huge trees growing close by had their manacle-like roots firmly rooted into its crevices and completely swallowing parts of the wall.

At other points the stones lay fallen in a humongous mess, buried in the jungle.

The exact situation of the stone bund was difficult to make out due to the thick wilderness around. Or maybe, I was disoriented to concentrate, as I saw again the fresh droppings and marks of elephants all around us. As we clambered down one rock wall and another to see a third wall, it made me wonder how the elephants negotiated these embankments, which today seemed to belong to them.

It was a sad scene to observe what remained of the great Gal amuna or rock wall seemingly choking and struggling to survive the jungle tide. A wall and a scheme which once had diverted a large river from its profitless course and thus diffusing wealth and prosperity through a previously barren waste. Many would have been its beneficiaries, sustained by its life giving waters. Generations would have sung its praises.

In fact, this was just one of the many schemes that caused Bailey, (who was Assistant Government Agent of the District of Badulla) to record in one of the ablest reports on irrigation published by order of the Ceylon Government in 1885.

“It is possible, that in no other part of the world are there to be found within the same space, the remains of so many works of irrigation, which are at the same time of such great antiquity and of such vast magnitude as in Ceylon. Probably no other country can exhibit works so numerous and at the same time so ancient and extensive, within the same limited area, as in this Island”.

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Map of  Gal Amuna (Stone anicut) in Elahera


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Driving Directions to Elahera Gal Amuna and Prakarama Inscription

Route from Colombo to Elahera

Route from Habarana to Elahera

Via : Ambepussa – Kurunegala – Dambulla – Galewela – Meewalapatana – Panampitiya – Naula
distance : 180 km
Travel time : 4-4.5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Via : Dambulla – Lendora – Naula
distance : 62 km
Travel time : 1 hour
Driving directions : see on google map

Route from Polonnaruwa to Elahara

Route from Kandy to Elahara

Via : Girithale – Bakamuna
distance : 60 km
Travel time : 1 hour
Driving directions : see on google map
Via : Matale – Naula
distance : 76 km
Travel time : 1.5 hour
Driving directions : see on google map
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