King Agbo’s Kantale Wewa Reservoir

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Sri Lanka’s reservoir-building technology was at its peak during the mid Anuradhapura Kingdom era to  Polonnaruwa Kingdom Era ( 1017-1236) and most of the largest reservoirs in the country were built during this period. The Parakrama Samudraya is the largest,  constructed with a 14-kilometer dam encompassing 5 reservoirs it was built by King Parakramabahu the Great during the 12th century. But some other gigantic tanks such as Minneriya Wewa and Kaudulla Wewa are some of the earlier works that belong to the early 3rd Century. Though not as large as the giants, Kanthale Wewa lies on the way to Trincomalee and has been not short of attention from colonial times.

Kantale was known as Ganthalawa since the days of the kings. The British called it Candelye and Candelye, Tamils used to write and pronounce it as Kathalai due to the lack of letters and sounds in the Tamil language.

When the government was attempting to re-colonize Gantalawa in the early 1950s, a team of early settlers built a campsite inside the jungles that had only a small path from the main road to reach their camp. A team leader from that group had put up a small board at the top of this path with the name of “Ganthalawa Camp Road”. A Tamil politician called Wanniyasingam who was an MP representing Vavuniya District saw this piece of board and insisted that this name board should be removed and the transliterated Tamil name Kantale should be used in the parliament in 1952.02.28 according to the Hansard Records. With no one standing against this, the name board was requested to be removed immediately by the government and acted as a prelude to Ganthalawa officially being called Kantale.

The great chronicle of Sri Lanka, Mahawamsa records that Kantale Wewa which is referred to as ‘Ganthala Vapi‘ was built by King Agbo the II (608-618) and was rehabilitated and further developed by King. It is believed that King Agbo II built over a small reservoir which was already existing by that time. Many rich folklore are woven around this ancient reservoir situated in the Trincomalee district. Both the Dutch and English who governed the country before we gained independence are recorded to have carried out reconstruction and rehabilitation work on this reservoir.

During the renovation work in the year 1880, the capacity of the reservoir was 37,000 Acre feet (45.6Mn cubic meters) and in 1950 the capacity was raised to 87,000 Acre feet (107Mn cubic meters). Restoration of the ancient Vendrason Reservoir was also attended during the early 1950’s. Radial gates were installed in the Kantale spill as many large tanks were breached during the 1957 floods due to insufficient spill capacity. Reservoir capacity was increased to 110,000 Acre feet (136Mn cubic meters) in 1960 and to 114,000 Acre feet (115Mn cubic meters) during 1986 renovations.

The Kantale Wewa covers an area of 23 sq km and has a carrying capacity of 115Mn million cubic meters at full capacity. The dam is 16.75 meters high and 2.5 km long.  Next to Kantale Wewa is a smaller reservoir which is now called Vendarasan Wewa which also has been subject to a name change in the recent past by the politicians who are feeding the Tamil homeland concept. This reservoir has been known as Jayaraja wewa but its history is unknown. The general belief is that the Jayaraja Reservoir was built by King Wasabha (65-109 AD) and was donated to the Brahmin who was meditating in a nearby rock cave to heal his eyes. Today this reservoir is fed by Kantale Wewa through 4 large tubes with a diameter of 3 meters.

The Kanthale Wewa was built daming the Kantale Oya which begins from Hurulu Forest Reserve and falls onto the sea from Trincomalee.  The reservoir is also fed by the waters of Yodha Ela which brings water from the Elahera Amuna to Minneriya Wewa and Kaudulla Wewa.

A new sluice gate called Montana Gate was built in the 1950s with the colonisation effort of Kantale Valley. 

The worst tragedy that has been fallen reservoirs in recent times is the sudden collapse of the Kantale dam on the 20th of April 1986. This incident, which is still a major shock to irrigation officials, has left several unresolved issues. The death toll from this unforeseen incident was 68 while 59 went missing. The damage to public and private property was estimated at Rs 680 million (at 1986 prices) as revealed by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry. It can be described as an inland tsunami with an equivalent force of destruction. Damage to the environment and disruption to society had not been accounted for here as there was no methodology to assess those damages. Engineers believe that the immediate reason for the failure has been the vibrations that took place during pile driving for the pumping house of a drinking water project built near the ancient sluice. However, some say that the possibility of a terrorist attack cannot be ruled out. After this breach, a new radial sluice gate was installed at the breached location. Today only this sluice and the Montana Sluice are operational.

The 1500-year-old breached rock slice gate has been reconstructed at the top of the dam for the viewing of the public.


  • Sri Lankawe Iparini Wew ha Wari Karmanthaya – Yuraj Padmin Soysa
  • Deveni Gajaba Niridhunge Kantale Rajadhaniya – Kantale P. L. Sirisena
  • Kantale Aru that made ancient Panoa area fertile – Ms Badra Kamaladasa – Ex-Director General – Department of Irrigation

Also See

Map of  the Kantale Wewa

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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

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Traveling to Kantale Wewa

Route from Colombo to Kantale Wewa
Through : Giriulla – Kurunegala – Habarana
Distance : 225 km
Travel time : 5-6 hours
Driving directions : see on google map


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2 thoughts on “King Agbo’s Kantale Wewa Reservoir

  1. Yes, it is a “history lost” amazing Lanka.

  2. Hi dear, I understand your reasonable intention to disregard Tamil. No problem, enjoy it for now.

    “Mahawamsa records that Kantale Wewa which is referred to as ‘Ganthala Vapi‘ “- you said.
    Could you please explain: What do “Ganthala” and “Vapi” mean in Pali or in Sinhala or even in Sanskrit?

    These were Tamil words: “Kan thulai” and “vaavi”.
    Kanthulai: kan + thulai = eye + hole = opened + hole = an opening of a water hole.
    “vaavi” means water reservoir in Tamil. Vaa – come, and (v)i – stay (iri, iru).
    kanthulai became kanthalai and in Pali “Ganthala” – it has no meaning in Pali or even in Sanskrit.
    “vaavi” became “Vapi” in Pali “Ganthala” – it has no meaning in Pali or even in Sanskrit – the refined language.
    Obviously, wrong pronunciation by a foreigner! What is Vapi anyway?
    Simillar to saying “Jaffna” for “Yalpaanam” by the foreigner.

    All the names in the Mahavamsa are corrupted form of Tamil words.
    What does Agbo means?
    Sinhala was an offshoot of Tamil.
    examples: amma, appa, aiya, akka, malli, nanki. thaththa, and all the relaives names are of Tamil origin.
    Even the alphabets are in the same order, and are pronounced in Tamil as:
    ayanna = a ennu = “a” sollu = say “a”.
    aayanna = aa ennu = “aa” sollu = say “aa”.
    it is the same for the whole alphabet.
    Script is exactly he same look at Tamil “அ” and Sinhala “අ”, dont’ you see the similarity with some deformations.
    and the script is called “vatteluththu” in Sinhala too. and it was created by the Telugu rulers. Telugu is also “vatteluththu”. Don’t you see the similarity of Sinhala and Telugu script.
    It is a myth you call it an Indo-European language. It is upto you, you can call it any name.
    But its all Tamil 99%.
    Still the ruler are the Telugu origins.
    You can not hide “fire” with dried grass வைக்கோல் පිදුරු , it will burn, dear.
    I know you will delete this, but at least “you” will read it.
    But be brave to face a challenge dear, if you are really brave you wouldn’t delete this and would explain your stand.
    Thank you dear.

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