Sorabora Wewa with a Unique Natural Stone Sluice – සොරබොර වැව
The famous Sorabora Wewa, the massive irrigation reservoir of ancient Bintanne lies about 1 km from the current Mahiyangana town and a must see destination for visitors of Mahiyangana Rajmaha Viharaya.
Sorabora Wewa which was called the Sea of Binthanne in the ancient past, is unique to all other ancient reservoirs a this is considered the only existing reservoir which does not make use of a Bisokotuwa, the heart of all other large reservoirs of the country. This ground breaking invention was the single factor which enabled the ancients to build massive reservoirs since 4th century BC.
Generally all the reservoirs have the sluice gates which regulate the water flow out of the reservoir on the massive embankments. It was the Bisokotuwa which regulated the water pressure at the sluice gates inside the tank and protected the embankment from erosion.
The builders of the Sorabora Wewa didn’t place the sluice gates at the embankment but used a strategically located natural rock away from the embankment and cut a deep canal which acted as the sluice for the tank. Since the rock was not subject to erosion by the pressure of water, the ancient builders had decided to do away with the tried and tested Bisokotuwa for this creation.
The Sorabora Tank is built damming the Diyawanna Oya with a 1590 feet (485 meter) embankment. The tank covers 1100 acres ( 4.5 sq km) and holds 11800 acre feet ( 14.6 Mn sq meters) of water at full capacity. The slice gates are expertly cut in to the natural rock and is about 5 feet wide.
The tank is believed to be built during the 2nd century BC when the warrior prince Gemunu was warring with the Tamil invader Elara by a relatively unknown general called Bulatha. When army of the prince Gemunu with his 10 generals (giants) was marching towards Anuradhapura, the army is said to have camped at the village called “Kadali Pathra” (today known as Keselpatha) near Mahiyangana, It was at this time a strongman called Bulatha (Balathirala) from the village of Kiripattiya in Ududumbara joined the army of the Gemunu.
The task which was assigned for Bulatha was to collect Treacle from Meemure, milk from Kiripattiya, betel leaves from Kevulgama, arecanut from Puwakpitiya ( today known as popepitiya)daily and deliver these to the kings castle. With all these villages separated by mountains his route was treacherous including the Kosgolla mountain pass which which connected the Ududumbara and Minipe area and also used by thousands of pilgrims visiting Mahiyangana Rajamaha Viharaya.
While making this daily trip, Bulatha noticed the a stream of water passing between two hills and released that if be could dam this stream, this could be an ideal location for a water reservoir which could provide water for thousands of paddy fields. So everyday after his daily trip to the palace with the supplies, he started building the embankment across two hills by himself.
Tradition says that Bulatha was so strong that this mamoty was 10 times bigger than the average mamoty and the basket to remove earth was equally large. His wife living at Kiripattiya too was a woman with a strength of 20 women. She used to travel daily to Mahiyanganaya over the Kosgolla mountain pass bringing Bulatha his meals while he was working on the dam.
Traveling over the treacherous Kosgolla twice a day and seeing thousands of young and old pilgrims travelling the same path, she decided to build a flight of steps over this path to help the pilgrims of Mahiyangana Rajamaha Viharaya. While carrying food to Bulatha, she started adding few stone steps everyday to this path.
When Bulatha completed the reservoir with a 40 feet tall and 11 feet wide embankment which stretched to about 500 meters complete with a unique slice gate away from the embankment cut through a solid natural rock, the wife too has completed her herculean task of adding 2000 stone steps to ease the crossing of Kosgolla pass. Around the same time the King Dutugemunu had completed the renovation of the stupa at the Mahiyanganaya Rajamaha Viharaya after defeating Elara.
On the day of King Dutugemunu ceremoniously opened the Mahiyangana Stupa after renovations, Bulatha invited the king to see his secret project which was carried out during his free time. He also showed the herculean task of his wife and Queen Viharamahadevi sent her a special invite to the ceremonial opening of the tank by the king.
After ceremony, king Dutugemunu is said to have taken off his royal cape and dressed it on Bulatha making him a general in the army and given him a village called Udathwewa for the contribution he alone has made.
Queen Viharamahadevi too had taken off her neckless and given it to the wife of Bulatha and appointed her the chief of the queens security.
The village donated to Bulatha called Udathwewa is today known as Udaththawa and lies about 8 km north of Hasalaka town. There are ruins of a large reservoir at Udaththawa with a sluice gate built similar to Sorabora Wewa and without the use of a Bisokotuwa. Using the natural rock to build the sluice gate seems be unique to Bulatha and these two tanks are the only 2 known reservoirs in the ancient irrigation history of Sri Lanka to use this technology.
The remains of the stairway over the Kosgolla mountain built by Bulatha’s wife too exists today and this historic route is known as “Galpadipela” today.
by Dharmasena Mahawela
Map of Sorabora Wewa
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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Travel Directions to Sorabora Wewa
Route from Colombo to Sorabora Wewa at Mahiyanganaya
|Though : Kelaniya – Ambepussa – Kandy|
distance : 200 km
Travel time : 6-7 hours.
Driving directions : see on google map
Mystique of man-made Sorabora Wewa
Sorabora Wewa by mighty woods are bound, through cloven rock her waters feed the ground, in Aluthnuwara’s faces her lotus blooms are found, behold this wonder and your anthem sound’.
Translated by Dr. R.L Spittel from the many fascinating Sinhala folk songs sung of the idyllic man-made Sorabora Weva.
In ancient times, Sorabora or Horabora, was named the ‘Sea of Bintenna’.
Sorabora was once upon a time a veddah settlement when Dr. R.L.Spittel was on the trail of vanished trails in the early 1920s, says writer Gamini Punchihewa. Today to the traveller it is a mere kilometre of a drive away from Mahiyangana town.
Here, one can learn of an abundant display of the engineering feats of ancient Lanka still retaining its picturesque charm.
Sorabora Weva’s fame lies in the marvellous engineering feat in the ancient sluice cut out of a huge boulder creating a narrow gorge through which the mighty waters of the Sorabora wewa ram into the stone cut sluice. And then in a mighty boisterous mood roars along a channel also cut of stone out towards the thirsty fields lying below it.
Such Herculean feats carved out of solid stone boulders bears ample living testimony to the stupendous skills of our ancient hydraulic engineers.
The legends and folk tale that surround the evolving of this wonder are as magnanimous as many.
Today the Sorabora Wewais fringed with wooded shelters as in ancient times but the vast expanse of lotus flowers for which it was famous one time is no more.
The bund is also home to a massive kohn tree of gigantic girth in trunk said to be rounded by five or six able bodied persons by stretching their hands around it.
Standing on the bund of the Sorabora Wewacan be an unforgettable experience of fascinating serenity and magical beauty, as Brohier observes, though the pattern remains unchanged it would be rare to find any two tanks alike.
When we approached, it was a cloudy afternoon. The heavy rain had seized temporarily leaving behind a moist glowing green luxury reflected in silver sheen waters.
There was no one except William sitting under his umbrella against a massive tree selling a mix of village ware including bottles of bees honey and fresh Wewafish. From almost the opposite side of the Wewawe watched a tiny figure making its way towards us. As it got close we identified it to be of a woman with a sack balanced on her head. This was Jukki Menika from a village across the weva. She was on her way to buy some rice by selling divul fruits plucked from her village.
We obliged her gladly while she talked of Bulatha the yodaya and of the crocodiles that lived in the weva. There was the bright orange oruva from which two men laid their nets for the night catch. The shady tree groves which held immense potential of bird life were unfortunately silent.
And then unexpectedly and swiftly, the rain once again began to sweep towards us from the far end of the weva. Sheets of silver travelling towards us as we stood and watched, captivated and mesmerized with this thrilling spectacle.
Hidden beauty of Sorabora Wewa
Sorabora Wewa is a picturesque tank located in Mahiyanganaya of Sri Lanka. This tank is believed to have been built during the reign of King Dutugemunu by a giant named Bulatha. The tank is set between two natural stone sluice gates. These gates however, are often ignored or missed by visitors. Most of the visitors visit only the first sluice gate at the entrance of the route. The other gate is ignored due to the lack of publicity. It is located further up at the other end of the tank.
Sorabora Wewa is also famed as a birding area. Many birds, particularly raptors seeking fish in water lurk in the area. Small boats, operated by the neighbouring communities offer boat rides to the middle of the tank. They provide splendid views of plants and animals, otherwise less visible to the shore.
The folklore behind the Sorabora Wewa is quite interesting. The tank is set between two natural stone sluices. This strategic sitting is believed to have been a brainchild of Bulatha. Bulatha is actually a man who provided the King with ‘bulath’ or ‘betel leaves.’ He took orders from the king to build the tank between the two stone sluices. Quite taken up with his work, the King is believed to have gifted Bulatha the villages on the catchment of the tank in appreciation of his mammoth task. The King is believed to have said “Weheragam Thota Wewa diyan mata” (You take the villages in the catchment Weheragam) and I’ll take the tank/wewa).
The subjects of the King referred to Bulatha as a ‘giant,’ in appreciation of his task. Hence the folklore states the tank was built by a giant named Bulatha.
Sorabora Wewa the picturesque tank of Mahiyanganaya
“Onna Balapan Bulatha Karapu Bale
Yathuru Dapu Gal Dora Yata Wathura Hale
Ena yanno Ida Narama Balum Gale
Sorabora Wewa Nudutu As Motada Pin Kale”
– D.G.Wickramasinghe (Maga Digata Jana Katha)
There are many verses dedicated to the beauty of the ‘Sorabora Wewa’ which reflects the dedication and hard work our ancestors underwent to built such a dam of this magnitude.
Located in the historical town of Mahiyanganaya, the picturesque tank of ‘Sorabora Wewa’ is regarded as one of the earliest civilizations in Sri Lanka. ‘Sorabora Wewa’ is one of the earliest hydrological constructions in our country. In ancient times, this tank was called the ‘Sea of Bintenna’ because it was believed to be built during the era of great king Dutugemunu by the villager Bulatha. Like his name suggests, Bulatha offered betel leaves to the royal palace where he had to prepare seven chews of betel for the king at different times of the day. There are many fables woven around Bulatha and the ‘Sorabora Wewa’. One is that Bulatha used to visit Mahiyanganaya while on duty. One day, he witnessed a river flowing through a lowland between two mountains in the north part of Mahiyanganaya. He thought to himself how wonderful is he can create a beautiful tank by building a dam across the river. With the idea of irrigating water to cultivate paddy fields, Bulatha’s idea was successful.
After he finished building this dam he invited the king to see his work. “My Lord, I created a small tank with my own effort so please be kind to declare it open” said Bulatha. The king couldn’t believe how this tank of immense benefit to the villages around was built by one man asking for help. It was then that the king discovered that Bulatha was indeed a giant.
There is another folktale revolving around the building of the “Sorabora Wewa’ by Bulatha. During his journey to the place, he is said to have brought sand and rock to the place where the ‘Sorabora wewa’ is located and built the dam across the river, creating a lake.
This tank is magnificently shaped between two natural stone sluice gates and these gates reveal evidence for how marvellous the engineering skills of our forefathers were.
The local irrigation engineer H.M.P.H.D. Herath of the Regional Irrigation Centre, Mapakada said, “Over 2200 acres of paddy fields are irrigated by this tank encompassing the Yala and Maha areas in Mapakada”. He said that even through our ancestors have built such a historically important tank for our livelihoods, we have not even maintained it to its optimum today.” The bridge that runs along the ‘Sorabora Wewa’ is badly in need repair because residents from nine villages frequent it” he said. In addition to this, the
Regional Irrigation Centre is also understaffed. The engineer Herath said “At present, we have only two full-time security officers to oversee the tank and we hardly have the personnel on a roster to check on the ‘Sorabora Wewa’ if these officers are not on duty”. It is expected that after the forthcoming the local elections in the province, funds might be allocated to repair the tank but nothing has been sanctioned.