The ancient civilization of Sri Lanka was developed as a purely an Hydrologic civilization. The ancient irrigation technologies such as biso kotuwa’s in Sri Lanka did not exist in any other country in the world until the 19th century. The ancient Yakabemma Amuna (anicut) is located between Kala Oya and Thalawa and Galnewa Divisional Secretariats in the Anuradhapura District.
This Amuna was first reported in Major Forbes’ Eleven Years in Ceylon: Comprising Sketches of the Field Sports and Natural History of that Colony, and an Account of Its History and Antiquities in 1840. In 1828, on his way from Kurunegala to Anuradhapura, he inspected two anicuts across the Kala Oya. King Mahasen (276-303) is said to have been able to work even with demons (Yakas) and the villagers call it the Yakabemma Palama as it is believed that this structure was built by the Yakas. Mr. Brohier later states that the Yakas were the Yaksha tribes who lived in the area at the time.
Forbes continues; The villagers pointed to a stone on the top row here and said that it had a carved image of the designer of the anicut on the bottom. The pier is projecting a considerable length on the stream which is both wide and rapid. The stones used in constructing this pier vary from 8 to l4 feet in length. They are laid in regular lines, and some are jointed into one another, each course also recedes a few inches from the edge of the one underneath; and this form, while it offers less direct resistance to the current, gives additional strength to the building. In the rocks which form the bed of the river we could distinguish square holes, in which stone pillars had been placed, and the bridge had been completed by laying long stones or beams of wood on these so as to connect the different parts of the structure which, there is reason to believe, was built by the King Mahasen, and that the rapid river has fretted and plunged against this artificial barrier for full fifteen hundred years …… At these ruins I first remarked that the large stones had been riven from the adjacent rocks by means of wedges, and that any farther shaping or ornament had been done by chisels. On my arrival at Anuradhapoora, this manner of working quarries and splitting stones was everywhere observable, and satisfied me that the natives of Ceylon, two thousand years ago, used those expedients for procuring large granite pillars, and shaping their ornaments, which have only been introduced into Britain in the nineteenth century.
Commissioner of Archeology H. C. P. Bell mentions this Amuna in the 1890-1885 reports of the Department of Archeology. He state he hoped to find an inscription at the site but could not find one. But information found on this gigantic work was worth the inspection.
He further states; From the deep square socket holes in the rocky bed of the river there would seem to have been a bridge or causeway on both sides of the dam, uniting it to the either bank. The piers and cross-beams of these bridges and the stones of an abutment of the amuna have been washed away by floods and carried some way down stream. Among the stones of the upper courses of the amuna are two or three slabs of a frieze. They are laid face downwards and, as far as can be judged, bear figures of animals. A large cornice stone carved with a fillet of hansas was also noticed. It can hardly be doubted that a stone-built temple, adorned with fine carvings, must have at one time stood near and its ruins been despoiled for the building or repair of the Yakka-bendi-amuna. An effort will be made to remove the carved stones to Anuradhapura.
This Amuna was later noted by Mr. Brohier in his 1934 book, Ancient Irrigation Works in Ceylon. He has analyzed the above publications and states that the topographical survey of the district, however, positively discloses that an ancient channel trailed a sinuous course over the Nuwarakalawiya plains, on the right bank, and lent itself to irrigating about 6,000 acres apparently by a combined sluice and tank system. This giant channel, about 20 miles in length, very probably discharged itself into the large abandoned tank described on our maps as Panikamkulam.
Senior Lecturer Chandana Rohana Vithanachchi of the Rajarata University presents a report on Yakabemma in 2014 and explains its current status;
Although the anicut was destroyed during a period of almost 2000 years due to various reasons, a part of the amuna still remains. Specially the remains of right embarkment are fairly preserved.
The remaining section of the Yakabemma Amuna is 53.71m long from the southern slope. The width here is not uniform due to latter changes. The right edge of the amuna is 11.25m wide and the center is 10.45m wide. The left corner is 10.73m wide. The amuna is further protected by a well-built brick wall in front but connected to the stone wall. The strength of this brick wall can be estimated from the remains of the wall existing even today. Considering the size of these bricks, it is can be dated possibly the middle Anuradhapura period.
The Sadapanawa (සැඬපනාව) or the protective wall on the right bank, built to protect the banks from erosion when the water flows over the bund of the anicut can be still identified. The wall is made of elongated stone slabs. This is largely ruined, but a platform-like part separated from the wall can be identified. This section has been laid with vertical stone slabs. The vertical slabs are arranged in such a way that they can fit in to a section that is shaped like a drain placed in the middle. Therefore, these stone slabs remain strongly fixed to the location. The width of a drain cut to hold the stone is between 9-13 cm and the depth is between 3-5 cm.
The center of the anicut is filled with lime mortar mixed with blocks of stone of various sizes. The top surface is covered with stone slabs. Much of this surface cover has been destroyed, leaving only the right and left corner surfaces of the anicut. None of the carved stone slabs recorded by Mr. Bell is seen today. According to villagers, some of them are kept in the nearby Karuwalagaswewa Maha Vidyalaya and Sri Sudarshanarama Viharaya. Residents some of the stone tablets were even taken to the Vijithapura Rajamaha Viharaya some time ago.
The bank of the Kala Oya to the right of this anicut is eroded and water flows from is side. The natural rock at the bottom of the Kala Oya extends even to this eroded section. There are two long rectangular holes on the rock that are arranged so that the water flows parallel to it. This shows that a temporary wooden dam was added between the two stone pillars to retain the water at the amuna during a later time when the bank was eroded.
About three meters away from this anicut you find a large number of cavities dug in the same rock plateau. There are 5 rows of holes and 18 holes can be identified in one row. Therefore, it can be assumed that there may be 90 holes here. Part of it is covered in gravel today. At present fifty-three holes can be identified. A cavity is is 12 cm long, 10 cm wide and 16 cm deep. Based on the location of these holes, Mr. Vithanachchi concludes that there was another anicut here. These holes indicate that there may have been a semi-permanent amuna constructed with stone pillars and horizontally placed pieces of wood between the pillars. Locals say that there were stone pillars planted in some of the holes in the site decades ago.
Mr. Vithanachchi has given this GPS location of this anicut as 8.03793775898, 80.4946847482. Mr. Amarasinghe Munasinghe, who had served in this Mahaweli Zone and knew its whereabouts has given the exact location of this site. Accordingly, the location shown by Mr. Munasinghe is shown in the Google map below.
- චන්දන රෝහණ විතානාච්චි, 2014. කලාඔය ආශ්රිත පුරාණ යකා බැම්ම අමුණ පිලිබඳ ක්ෂේත්ර ගවේෂණය. journal of Social Sciences, 01(01), pp.119-132.
- Forbes, J., 1840. Eleven years in Ceylon. Comprising sketches of the field sports and natural history of that colony, and an account of its history and antiquities. By Major Forbes, 78th Highlanders. In two volumes. London: Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street, Publisher in Ordinary to Her Majesty.
- Brohier, R., 1980. Ancient irrigation works in Ceylon (1934). Colombo: Ministry of Mahaweli Development.
- බ්රෝහියර්, ආර්.එල්., 2002. ලක්දිව පුරාතන වාරිමාර්ග: පළමු, දෙවන හා තෙවන කොටස් (එල්. පියසේන පරිවර්තනය). 1st ed. කොළඹ: මහවැලි කේන්ද්රය.
- Hydro Heritage of Sri Lanka
- Ancient Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka
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Travel Directions to Yakabamma Amuna on Kala Oya
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Map of Yakabamma Amuna on Kala Oya
|From Kurunegala to Yakabamma Amuna on Kala Oya
|Though : Polpithigama – Galnewa
Distance : 78 km
Travel time : 1.45 hours
Time to Spend : about 15-30 minutes
Driving directions : see on Google Map