Ancient Minipe Amuna (Manimekhala Amuna) over Mahaweli (පැරණි මිණිපේ අමුණ)
The ancient Minipe Amuna (Manimekhala Amuna – මනිමේඛලා අමුණ) is considered one of most ancient dams build across a large river in the hydro history of Sri Lanka. The artificial canal, Minipe Ela to which the water was diverted is a wonder of its own, flowing for many kilometers up to Polonnaruwa. This gigantic work which excites the wonder of the modern engineer consists of a scheme which turns the Mahaweli river, at a bend in the river where a large body of water enters a narrow channel formed by an natural island contiguous to the bank, partially closed by two rocks which intercept the water on its return to the main stream.
These rocks, when united by masonry became a dam, raising the waters in the natural channel to a great height. The Minipe Ela, emerging from the base of this reservoir, received this precious supply of water and carries it northwards at a much higher level than the river.
Minipe was part of ancient Binthanne area. The name Minipe came about due to abundant gems found in area meaning “mine district” or “gem district”. Its populous prosperity and renown was disclosed at the time Spillberg, the Dutch Admiral, passed through on his way to see the King in 1602, and on this occasion, great quantities of gems procured from the Minipe district were sold to his men by the people (Brohier, 1980).
The Pabbatahata Ela now identified as the Minipe Canal is the product of the the great reservoir builder, king Mahasen (276-303 CE). According to chronicles he has built 16 large scale reservoirs out of which 8 has been already identified. However the Minipe Dam has been built later by king Aggabodhi I (575-608 CE) who is also credited with extending the Minipe Canal for about 17 miles (Arumugam, 1969).
The Minipe Ela Scheme was extended to a total length of 47 miles (75 kilometers), during the reign of King Sena II (853-887 CE), when an augmentation scheme was also provided to Mahakandarawa reservoir by a dam near Maradankadawela.
According to the 13th century Minipe Slab Inscription now preserved under a shed at the site, the dam is called Minibe. the inscription says that its original builder was the Minister, Mekit-Na that it was breached in the 20th year (1173) of Parakkamabahu I, and that it was restored by the General Bhama in 1208. In the reign of the invader Magha (1214-1235) a Sinhalese chieftain built a fortress in the Manimekhala district on the Gangadoni hill, present Gamdeniya about 15 miles south of Minipe, and kept the invaders at bay (Nicholas,1963).
Mr. Charles Erskine of Survey Department of Ceylon provides a fairly detailed description of the amuna and the canal as seen in 1903. He states “The anicut, or what remains of it after many hundreds of years wash, is still to be seen in the shape of some loose stones below the surface of the river, and the intake of water even now is considerable.”
“I visited the headworks, ” he goes on to say, ” on the 28th and 29th August, 1903, when the river was rather low. I made a careful survey of the headworks, and I now submit two large scale plans, the A plan is a vertical section showing the stonework, height of earthwork, breach, &c. I also submit plan C on a scale of one mile to the inch from the topographical surveys carried out by my Assistants. This shows what portions of the channel are now to be found, and gives a general idea of the lay of the whole channel. The out stonework at the base of the anicut and near the mouth of the channel is in fairly good repair.
A peculiarity here is the stones being placed at right angles to the channel instead of parallel to it. The water overflows here when the river is flooded, and it has formed a channel through the middle of the Island. Next to the stonework comes the earthwork, and then again some stonework in good repair adjoining a natural rock and close to the breach. The largest stone I measured was 10 ft. 5in. long and 8 in. high, all the others ranging from 6 ft. to 3 ft. in length.
The breach, as I have already mentioned, begins at the natural rock, and is about 60 to 80 ft. wide. This must have been the site of an ancient flood spill, for there are nine holes 6 in. to 10 in. square and 6 in. deep in the rock bed where the supporting pillars of the spill must have been built. There is a. good flow of water even now along the channel up to this breach; where it flows through and rejoins the Mahaweli-ganga. From this point the channel follows closely the course of the river, and for over 2 miles it is never more than a few chains
away from it, as the foothills there extend almost to the bank of the river. If the breach above-mentioned was repaired, the water would flow along the channel for 10 miles, the other breaches being only very small ones where the small streams have forced their way through the channel.
I walked along the channel for some miles taking measurements of the bund in several places. Soon after leaving the main breach at the headworks, there is a retaining wall on the lower side of the channel extending for about half a mile. This wall is built of cut stones, the same as at the headworks, and in some places where the channel is close to the river it is 6 ft. high, and is evidently constructed to prevent the channel being washed away by the river, or it may be to raise the channel to the required level. All this stonework must have taken an enormous amount of time and labour to build, for it is put together with great skill. In one place I measured the embankment, which was 37 ft. high and 6 ft. wide at the top. It looked like the bund of a huge tank.
The bed of the channel here was 15 ft. wide, but in many places it was 20 ft. wide. About 2 miles along the channel the bund was only from 3 to 6 ft. high. The channel appears to be traced most carefully, very deep cuttings being avoided wherever possible, and tho winding course of the channel can be seen on the plan. The guide who accompanied me along the channel told me that about forty years ago Ganegoda Ratemahatmaya of Harispattu restored the channel in a sufficient manner to take the water as far as the Handaganawa fields, a distance of about 10 miles, and that these fields had been cultivated three times only when Ganegoda Ratemahatmaya died and the channel fell again into ruin.
The guide also pointed out to me the patch-work of Ganegoda Ratamahatmaya here and there along the retaining wall already described by me.”
The Minipe Ela Canal scheme was restored in 1941, as a colonization project when anicut Head Works and 17 miles of Minipe Channel were constructed. Large scale extension of the scheme was however commenced in 1949,when the anicut was raised and Head Works improved and the channel widened and regraded, to be extended over thirty miles. The new Minipe Yoda Ela augmented by inflow from Hassalaka Oya and Heen Ganga and other streams.
According to Brohier, based on legend, a group of Vedda’s belonging to the Yaksha tribe lived in place called Handagamawa on the slopes of Dumbara mountain range. The king has invited this clan to help the build the canal and the anicut across Mahaweli river. Therefore Minipe Canal is also known as Yaka-Bendi-Ela (canal constructed by Yakas) and the ancient anicut was called Yakkundawa (Brohier, 1980). However according to other folklore, this weir is also called Yakini-Bendi-Amuna or Yakinna-Bendi-Amuna (canal constructed by a female Yaka) with a similar background tale.
- Brohier, R., 1980. Ancient irrigation works in Ceylon (1934). Colombo: Ministry of Mahaweli Development.
- Nicholas, C., 1963. Historical Topography of Ancient and Medieval Ceylon. Journal of the CEYLON BRANCH OF THE ROYAL ASIATIC SOCIETY, New Series, VI,(Special Number).
- Arumugam, S. (1969) Water Resources of Ceylon: Its Utilisation and Development. Colombo: Water Resources Board, Sri Lanka.
- Abhayawardana, N. (2019) The Tank Systems in the Dry Zone Sri Lanka: Evolution, Management and Traditional Knowledge. thesis.
- Silva, E.I.L. et al. (2014) “Environmental flow in Sri Lanka: ancient anicuts versus modern dams,” Sri Lanka Journal of Aquatic Sciences, 19, pp. 3–14.
- Wijayasuriya, W. (1990) “සිංහල කෘෂි වාරි කර්මාන්ත ඉතිහාසයේ නොවිසඳුණු ගැටළු කීපයක් (මිණිපේ ලිපිය ඇයුරෙන්),” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka New Series, 35, pp. 131–159.
- Hydro Heritage of Sri Lanka
- Ancient Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka
- Other Places of Interest Within Close Proximity
Map of Ancient Minipe Amuna (Manimekhala Amuna)
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Travel Directions to Ancient Minipe Amuna (Manimekhala Amuna) Ruins
|Route from to Ancient Minipe (Manimekhala) Amuna|
|Through : Hasalaka|
Distance : 110 km
Travel time : 2.5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
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