Padaviya Wewa and ancient Pillar Inscription

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In the northeast part of the North Central Province, there are 2 large ancient irrigation tanks – Padaviya Wewa and Vahalkada Wewa. Of these Padaviya has commanded more attention, perhaps because of the traditional belief that it was the largest of the ancient tanks.

Many colonial administrators undertook the arduous journey to see this tank and were duly impressed by the ruins of the ancient work. Governor Sir Henry Ward  (1797–1860) described it as the “most gigantic of all works” and estimated that “its construction must have occupied million people for 10-15 years”. Sir Emerson Tennent (1804–1869) who had written several books on Ceylon was so impressed with the sluice for he reported: “The existing sluice is a very remarkable work, not merely from its dimensions but from the ingenuity and excellence of the workmanship”. It was however Henry Parker who was attached to the Irrigation Department from 1873 to 1904 carried out a detailed inspection of the work in 1886 and to record his findings.

There are no records to indicate who built the tank but historians have ascribed the original construction to King Saddhatissa (137-119 BC) and King Mahasena (276-303). Excavation carried out in the mid-1900s by Mr D.T. Devendra, Assistant Archaeological Commissioner, has supported the view that King Mahasena was the original constructor of the tank. But Pujavaliya, the ancient text, credits King Saddhatissa for building ‘Padi’ and several other tanks. There are strong indications that ‘padi’ refers to the current-day Padaviya Tank.

An ancient pillar inscription on the bund of Padaviya Tank proudly proclaims

“By Sri Parakrama Bahu, th Sovereign Lord of Sri Lanka, who is concerned with doing good to the world, has this been constructed”

Although this pillar proclaims that King Parakramabahu I (1153-1186) was the builder, it has been concluded that the tank is much older and King Parakramabahu probably would have carried out extensive renovations or expansions to the existing tank.

Padaviya tank is formed by an embankment across Ma Oya. The ancient Bisokotuwa is situated 2000 feet east of the spill. It consists of a stone tower of  10.5 sq. feet with 2 inlet openings 2 feet long and 5 feet high on the tank side leading it to a twin conduit with tapering barrels 160 feet long. At the end of the barrel is a five-hooded cobra rock carving which is usually found on most tanks. The upstream wall of the Bisokotuwa has several boundary stones with projecting parts sculptured to be in the form of Elephant Heads. A 1000 foot long solid rock outcrop on the western side has been used as the spillway. The tank has been designed in such a way that the rock bed lies approximately at the full supply height of the tank.

Primary Source : Padaviya Reservoir Project
H De S Manamperi

Padaviya: the Eastern Capital of the Rajarata Kingdom

Padaviya situated in the North-Eastern corner of the North Central province, bordering the Northern and Eastern provinces; about 96 kilometres away from Anuradhapura was devoid of settlements in the early centuries of the Christian era. That explains why there aren’t many early Brahmi cave inscriptions in and around Padaviya. But gradually the region developed as the centre of the Eastern Division (Pacinadésa) of the Rajarata kingdom. One of the earlier names of Padaviya was Padinnoru which is derived from the Pali form Pacina-nagara or the Eastern city. It also came to be known as Padirattha or Padavi country.

The Padaviya reservoir which has a gross water capacity of 85,000 acre feet is the second largest tank in the Anuradhapura District. Built by King Moggallana II (531-551), it was initially known as Dhanavapi and later as Padavapi. The bund of this beautiful tank is in two segments divided by a rock formation known as the Deiyanne Kanda, 350 feet above sea level. The present irrigation circuit is located on Deiyanne Kanda and presents a marvellous view of the gigantic reservoir.

Agricultural development

The Eastern bund of the reservoir has been constructed by utilizing many thousands of people for at least 10 to 15 years. About 592,000 cubic yards of sandy clay soil had been brought to the site from a distance. This section of the bund of the reservoir is about 1.6 kilometres long and the Western, about two kilometres. These bunds and the high ground formations have impounded the waters of Makunu Oya on the West and the Mora Oya on the East to ensure a ready supply of water. The reservoir receives water also from a diversion structure of stonework below the confluence of two rivers Kivul Oya and Ma Oya. The diversion structure was referred to as ‘Vannathi Palama’ in the first half of the 20th century. But presently it is known as ‘Gal-Bamma’ – stone bund. Most likely this diversion structure had been built before the construction of the Padaviya reservoir to divert water for agricultural development in the region. At present the area is called Padavi Parakrama Pura – the name given to the settlement scheme after the restoration of the reservoir in mid 1950s. Its ancient name is not known.

On the Eastern bund of the reservoir near the modern main sluice stands a pillar inscription by King Parakramabahu I (1153-1186) of Polonnaruwa. Although the inscription states that Parakaramabahu constructed the reservoir, what really happened is that he had extensively renovated it.

Archaeological sites

According to the Mahavamsa, Padaviya was one among many reservoirs restored by Parakramabahu I. Along with other reservoirs, the Padaviya tank had fallen into disuse after the decline of the Rajarata civilization in the middle of the 13th century.

Padaviya was also an important religious and commercial centre. Its archaeological sites are hidden in the jungles around and near the reservoir. One of these sites is now known as ‘Puravidya kele’ – Archaeological forest – and is located below the Eastern Bund. This may be the region known as Moragoda in the early part of the 20th century. The other sites are Asvaya Bandi Kanda – the mountain on which the horse was tied and Buddangala, formerly known as Buddannehela.

The inscriptions and ruins of monuments in and around Padaviya indicate that the region had grown into a large town of commercial and religious importance by the 11th century. The ruins of a dagoba with steps leading to it flanked by balustrades; a standing figure of the Buddha and a mutilated sedant Buddha in dhyana mudra or meditative posture are found among the ruins below the tank bund. The Moragoda inscription of Kassapa IV (898-914) records the grant of immunities to a tract of land belonging to a Buddhist monastery irrigated by the reservoir.

Rajarata civilization

There are also structures of Hindu temples. As Brohier has noted, among the ruins of the Hindu temples are at least two lingams and a figure of a kneeling bull, the vehicle of the god Shiva. A Tamil inscription of the 26th year of the Cola King Rajaraja I records some endowments, namely 12 gold lamps, a number of cows and some gold made to a Saiva temple by officials, military personnel and mercantile guilds. Presumably, the officials and military personnel were those who administered the Pacinadesa or Eastern Division during the Cola rule (1017-1070) basing Padaviya as headquarters.

The commercial importance of Padaviya had reached its height by the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. This commercial centre had as its nucleus a walled enclosure of about eight acres in extent with well laid out streets. R. L. Brohier has noted traces of three buildings in this enclosure, at least two of them of the size 60’ x 50’ and another a little smaller but with sculptured pillars. A Tamil inscription in situ referring to South Indian mercantile communities such as Cettis, Nanadesis and Ainnurruvar indicates that the South Indians played an important role in the commercial centre of Padaviya.

During the later period of the Rajarata civilization, Padaviya had served as a point of intersection between two different levels of commercial activity, long-distance trade and regional trade. One of the Tamil inscriptions datable to the 11th or 12th century refers to a representative of a ‘guild of boatmen’ or cargo shippers at the Padaviya Nakaram. This would mean that the traders engaged in long distance trade in carrying commodities for shipment through ancient Gokanna port (present Trincomalee) or bringing in commodities from the port to the interior had connections with the Padaviya commercial centre. According to another Tamil inscription of the 12th century, a periodic fair or tavalam had links with the city. The tax collected from the tavalam had obviously gone into the coffers of the city administration.

Restoration of Great Reservoir

This important town had been abandoned around the middle of the 13th century along with major cities such as Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa as a result of the decline and fall of the Rajarata civilization. In the subsequent centuries, the bund of the reservoir had breached in several places. Until about 1931 Padaviya remained desolate.

According to the census of 1931, Nuvarakalaviya in which areas around Nuvara Weva, Kala Weva and Padaviya Weva were included had a population of only 21 persons per square mile. From about the middle of the 1950s new life was blown into the region with the restoration of the great reservoir and the establishment of Padaviya, Padavi Parakramapura and Padavi Sripura colonization schemes. The area once again developed mainly through the cultivation of paddy and other cereal crops and cattle husbandry until about 1982 but thereafter the development was stalled due to terrorist activities and on account of the North-Eastern war. After the end of the war in 2009, once again settlements in and around have begun to increase with new hopes.

Daily News

Also See

Map of  the Padaviya Wewa

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Traveling to Padaviya Wewa

Route From Anuradhapura to Padaviya Wewa
Through : Medawachchiya – Kebithigollawa
Distance : 89 km
Travel time : 1.45 hours
Time to spend : 30-45 mins
Driving Directions : see on google maps


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