Giritale Wewa Reservoir (ගිරිතලේ වැව)

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Travel brochures are not generally expected to tell the truth. They do tend to exaggerate perhaps in keeping with their own professional ethics or non-ethics.

The other day I came across a glamorous one flashing with eye-pleasing colors that read, “Walk along the golden sands of Lanka’s Southern coast and witness its alluring beauty. Visit the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Mahanuwara and savor its fascinating history.”

It is almost a message dishing out the fact that Lanka’s beauty is limited to its Southern coast and history to the aforesaid cities. No. Beauty is all over this Pearl of the Indian Ocean and history too lurks all over not only in royal cities but in temples musty with age but on majestic mountain ranges and their foothills, deep inside caves and even around reservoirs, those vast expanses of spangling water that the island is famous for.

Giritale Wewa does not aspire to No. 1 and No. 2 nor (maybe) to subsequent reservoirs, by way of the area covered, leaving those priority places to reservoirs as Minneriya Wewa and Parakrama Samudra but if one were to give it a priority place by way of fabled history that could turn out to be factual too, Giritale Wewa comes somewhere among the top.

The history of this reservoir of which a magnificent view can be got from Giritale Hotel, runs back to the pre-Buddhist era, to the reign of king Pandukhabaya (437-367 BC), or even earlier times. Mahavamsa chronicles the sensational events that led to the birth of this prince, woven around the life story of Unmada Chitra, the “Maddening Beauty” born after six uncles.

Tragedy got webbed into her life when a soothsayer predicted that a son born to her would kill the uncles and usurp the throne. Politics being dirty then as now, Chitra was locked up in a tower after she advanced to womanhood so that no man could impregnate her.

The story itself is yet to expand. A cousin of Unmadachitra begins to scale the tower at midnight and a child is born – a son. Plots are staged and now again very sensational times, the son is abducted no, not exactly.

A girl of a maid replaces the son to deceive the brood of uncles and the boy is swished out and grows up in all sorts of adverse environs to escape identification. When the time is up, he proves the soothsayer correct by killing all his uncles except one and becomes king, one of the greatest in Lanka’s line of monarchs.

What has this story to go with the Giritale Wewa or Giritale at all? Has the writer withdrawn into a storytelling mood, you may wonder leaving behind the topic at hand. No Giritale is aligned to the prince’s hide-and-seek days.

He hovers in and around the Polonnaruwa area avoiding the dangerous Anuradhapura terrain and Girikande becomes one of his famous haunts. Girikande – the Mountain of the Rock that still glorifies the landscape.

According to legend, it is here that he meets his future partner, Swanrnapalee taking food to the fields. She was a lass of noble birth with regal connections and accompanied by her maids she is trekking to the fields in mid-afternoon when Prince Pandukhabaya sees her. Playfully he asks for food from her and she tears off a plantain leaf to offer him food but the leaf itself turns to gold. Perhaps she with the Midas touch, was named Swarnapalee after that.

According to some sources, this princess was the daughter of the uncle whose life he had spared. Anyway, the two wed and lived happily ever after with the husband however busy demarcating Lanka’s villages and turning the city of Anuradhapura into a grand city on par with the then ancient cities of the world. Mahavamsa gives a glowing account of it.

The district of Girikande hands over formally to his father-in-law, who earns the title of Girkande Siva.

He himself was attracted to the area’s geographical layout for he was our first reservoir building king, creator of Abhaya Wewa today also known as Basawakkulama. The hollow at the base of Girikande attracted him, the Mahavamsa reads “He had the hollow deepened and abundantly filled with water.”

However, there is no specific evidence to conclude that he gave the final touches to Giritale Wewa in that long-forgotten age before the coming of Buddhism too. Agbo II who ruled long after in the 7th century is credited with this feat.

Certain documents in the hotel, if I remember correctly (as I visited this hotel many years back), testify to this.

Very careful planning of this reservoir is apparent as not only rainwater but the water that cascades down the mountain to fill it.

It is further fed by a tributary of the Mahaweli revealing a very intricate network of reservoirs tanks and canals based on this River of Great Sands. The design included a strong embankment of stone that crosses the hollow at the base of the hill and plummets to level ground dampening the outlying forest.

It is a thick forest but those who had braved the nettled jungle cover talk of exquisitely hewn stonework carved spouts and masonry work of rare quality. One can surmise that during the Polonnaruwa period, Giritale grew around a carefully designed reservoir that had been a prosperous suburb of the capital.

The reservoir is not the only sightseeing venue in the area our second capital Polonnaruwa and the Sea of Parakrama built by Parakramabahu I is only a few kilometres away. King Kasyapa’s rocky Sigiriya fortress cum Palace with its famed Mirror looms in the distance.

Except for a very few, gone are the nearly five hundred queens of the harem on whose beauty many a visitor gushed with his poetic talents. Did they jump from the rock and commit suicide? Some assert that they did so at the sight of the impending army of Mugalan.

But their frescoes themselves disappeared at the hands of vandals and due to the passage of time.

Sit in the hotel lounge, a monkey may perch on the half wall and smirk in a friendly way or an eagle may make a grand sweep up above.

Foreign tourists of various hues may walk past you along with local tourists. But just close your eyes and go back.

Go back to an era when our kings reigned, when this part of the island was the country’s granary, and when in the jungle just opposite flourished a suburban city.

Within the shadows made by the wicks of the ancient-looking lamps lit along the hotel’s corridors linger many a phantom of the past – wicked uncles, imprisoned princesses, baby princes changing from one woman’s hands to another to escape murder, royal rendezvous by paddy fields.

It is an amazing and mind-boggling recipe indeed provided by an area now lapsed into oblivion.

by Padma Edirisinghe
Sunday Observer,

Also See

Map of Giritale Wewa

Please click on the button below to load the Dynamic Google Map (ගූගල් සිතියම් පහලින්)
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The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites

Zoom out the map to see more surrounding locations using the mouse scroll wheel or map controls.

Traveling Directions to Giritale Wewa

Route from Colombo to Giritale Wewa
Through : Kandy Road – Ambepussa – Kurunegala – Dambulla – Habarana = Minneriya
Distance : 215 km
Travel time : 5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map

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