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Kala Wewa Reservoir

Kala Wewa Irrigation Reservoir, 87km Yoda Ela Canal, Nuwarakalaviya agricultural region of Nuwara Wewa, Kala Wewa, Padaviya Wewa irrigation reservoirs

Kala Wewa Ancient Irrigation Reservoir: the flow of waters

Such was the swift flow of immense volume of waters for irrigation channeled from the magnificent Kala Wewa-Balalu Weva twin reservoir located 40km south south-east of Sri Lanka Holidays Anuradhapura, it served as a major source of distribution to the larger portion of Nuwarakalaviya [the region of three great reservoirs: Nuwara Wewa irrigation reservoir, Kala Wewa irrigation reservoir and Padaviya Wewa irrigation reservoir] which covered a region [River Kala-oya to the south-west and River Malwatu-oya to the north] of few rivers, yet none of which could be considered perennial, by way of a 87km long man-made canal called Yoda Ela [Sinhala: Giant Canal] or Jayaganga [Jaya Ganga: Sinhala -River of Victory] as narrated by Mahavamsa, the great chronicle of Sri Lanka.

Kala Wewa Ancient Irrigation Reservoir: the run of attributions to the builders and the renovators

The run of contributions that made the existence of Kala Wewa Ancient Irrigation Reservoir possible to date, is no less significant than its tremendous flow of water: the discovery of the sunken plain within the jungle is attributed to the forest refuge Kadavara; the set up of Kala weva and Balalu wewa basins to King Kutakannatissa [30-34 AD], whose construction of a canal is narrated in the Minivila Rock Inscription; adding an artificial reservoir on the left bank of the river already having a natural forest tank on right bank, to King Wasabha [66-110 AD], whose construction of eleven reservoirs, twelve irrigation canals and a underground aquaduct was narrated in the ancient chronicle of Dipawamsa [Sinhala: chronicle of the Island], which preceded Mahawamsa; construction of Kala Weva or Kalawapi reservoir by uniting the two basins to King Dhatusena [Dasenkelliya] [461-479 AD]; expansion to King Mahinda [787-807AD]; restoration to King Parkramabahu the great [1164-1197 AD]; imagination on rehabilitation to one young Lieutenant Thomas Skinner [1804-1877 AD] of Ceylon Rifle Regiment, who was to become the foremost road builder in British Ceylon, during the governorship [1831-1837 AD] of Sir Wilmot-Horton; rehabilitation to the governor [1872-1877 AD], Sir William Gregory during whose tenor the bund structure was rehabilitated to re-combine Kalawewa to Balaluwewa twin reservoir.

Kala Wewa Reservoir: creation

The magnificent Kala Wewa-Balau Wewa Reservoir submerging an area of 64km in circumference was created by constructing an immense dam, 60 to 80 feet in height, across the valleys of the River Dambulla-oya [Dambulla is home to Sri Lanka Holidays Golden Dambulla Rock Cave Temple] and River Mirisgoni-oya which conjoin their waters a few paces onto the entrance of the reservoir. Augmented by the waters of River Hawnella-oya and the copius drainage of the north-western slopes of the Matale hills, this twin tank, even today, at slightly different elevations, yet served by the same source, at its mightiest water level, floods a total area of seven square kilo meters.

Kala Wewa Reservoir: the prophesy by Buddhist monk Thera Mahanama, the author of Mahavamsa

While fleeing from the marauding Dravidian invader [434-439 AD] named Pandu, Prince Dhatusena, a novice Buddhist monk residing at a monastery built by King Devanampiya Tissa's [307-267 BC] Senapati [Sinhala: military commander] Diksanda [Dighasanda], and his maternal uncle Thera Mahanama [1] was held back at the great river called Gona [River Kala-oya flowing into Dutch bay at Sri Lanka Holidays Trincomalee] with no means to cross to the southern bank. The Chulavamsa, the second part of great Sinhalese chronicle Mahavamsa narrates the words of Thera Mahanama:
"Even as this river holds us back, so do thou (in future time) hold back its course by collecting its waters in a tank"
Chulavamsa, being the more recent part of the Mahavamsa Translated by Wilhelm Geiger, 1929. ISBN 81-206-0430-X

The builder of Kala Wewa Reservoir: the most righteous King Dahatusena

Prince Dhatusena was of such eminent virtue and supreme discipline, he was considered worthy of the throne and crown of Sri Lanka by his uncle Thera Mahanama. In this period, the zone encompassing north and the left bank of Sri Lanka being in turmoil [ the zone encompassing the right bank and the Deep South of the Island called Ruhuna [2] or Rohana, still being free] at the hands of the Dravidian invader Pandu, Thera Mahanama sent Prince Dhatusena to Gonisa-Vihara Buddhist Monastery to master state-craft, so that in time to come when the motherland was rescued from the Dravidians, Prince Dhatusena would be ready to reign. Pandu having heard of Dhatusena being groomed for the kingship of Lanka sent forces to have him captured and killed. Thera Mahanama, alerted by a sense of premonition, with the prince departed to Ruhuna over the River Mahaweli ganga. In time prince Dhatusena having amassed a mighty army killed the last three [458 - 461 AD] of the five Dravidian invaders [434-461AD] who held sway in the northern zone of Sri Lanka in succession.

Quote Chulavamsa, being the more recent part of the Mahavamsa By building the Kalavapi he dammed up the mighty Gona river. Unquote Chulavamsa
Chulavamsa written in Pali language narrates King Dhatusena showed fitting honor and gave marks of respect to the formidable body of warriors from Ruhuna or Rohana who spearheaded his army to vanquish the Dravidian invaders. Chulavamsa goes on to narrate that the king constructed 18 reservoirs, built eighteen Buddhist Viharas [monasteries], made eighteen great offerings and reigned eighteen years most righteously. Another ancient chronicle titled Rajavaliya [Sinhala: genealogy of rulers] written in Sinhala language too narrates in the same vein.

Kala Wewa Reservoir: the sin and crime of a pious king and retributive justice

King Dhatusena was paid due tribute by the chroniclers as among the most righteous kings of Lanka. Nevertheless Mahawansa narrates of a most deplorable deed attributed to the king and the construction workers of Kalavapi or Kala Wewa reservoir. During the construction of the great reservoir, the workmen were said to have come upon a Buddhist monk entranced in Samadi Meditation. In spite of a score of rousing attempts, to have the Buddhist monk in trance, shifted to a safer location, none found success. The workman, having found no alternative in making progress, most possibly in the presence of the King Dhatusena or with his tacit consent, went ahead in the path of construction resulting in the Buddhist monk sunk in earth. This tragic misdeed was to give birth to equally tragic consequence: Chulavamsa records King Dhatusena was stripped naked, bound in chains and fetters in a niche in a wall of the dam closed it up with clay.

King Dahatusena's eldest son, who was to become King Sigiri Kassapa, the builder of Lion Rock Citadel Sigiriya, having usurped the throne of Lanka, had demanded the royal treasure from his father. Having promised his son of the royal treasure, the King had bathed, had drunk at Kala wewe reservoir and had shown the great reservoir and had said "Here is all my treasure."

Water, Water, collect all the water, all the years

The ancient Sinhalese amassed water: collected water was their treasure. A young lieutenant of the Ceylon Rifle Regiment named Thomas Skinner during British Colonial Era [1805-1948 AD] was recorded as having confidently affirmed that if only water was supplied to the people of Nuwarakalaviya, they could do anything. The young lieutenant went on to become the most illustrious road builder of Central Highlands of British Ceylon: Major Skinner.

J. A. Balfour, Director of Irrigation [1913- 1918] of British Ceylon says "recently gathered information makes it evident that in this valley, at least, and probably in many others, the old Sinhalese attempted to store, not only as we do now, the rainfall of average years, but the whole or nearly the whole rainfall or all years. With us, during the wet years, much of the rainfall is discharged into sea, but on the other hand, our reservoirs only occasionally fail to fill. When all the Sinhalese works were in good order, but little rain can have escaped, except perhaps, in exceptional seasons"

This practice, itself the outcome of natural and economic conditions, must have had the effect of making the area cultivated vary greatly from year to year. Thus in dry years there would be comparatively little agricultural employment, and much labor would be available for the construction of the great works such as Kalawewa tank, and the canals from the perennial streams to the dry zones.

Kala Wewa Reservoir: breach

Captain C. Woodward, an illustrious irrigation engineer in British Ceylon, an often quoted authority on the Ancient Irrigation Works of Ceylon, says the embankment was breeched three if not four times. "Each repair", Captain C. Woodward goes onto say, "must have been task of great magnitude only to be undertaken in the case of works of extraordinary utility and the tank was of this extraordinary utility."

Kala Wewa prior to the rehabilitation in British Colonial Era

Quote Major Forbes, 78th Highlanders in Ceylon
As Dambool [Dambulla] lay in the center of the district in which I was agent, it often fell in my route when visiting other parts of the country; and from hence, in 1832, I proceeded in company of with Mr.Turnour [3] to examine the remains of the Kalawa tank [Kala Wewa] and search for the foundations of the Fort of Vijitapura. We established ourselves at the village of Mahaellegamma, twelve miles from Dambool, near the embankment of a large tank which is in good preservation, and contains a supply of water sufficient to irrigate a large extent of rice –land. From this place to the sluice of the Kalawe tank is seven miles; and in that direction, as well as towards the rising grounds of Damboll and Kandepalle on the one side, and Nikiini seventeen miles from Dambool on the other side, the country bears the appearance of being occasionally overflowed; and probably this tract of country was all included within the limits of the immense reservoir. We found the double sluice of the Kalawe tank in perfect preservation, built of very large blocks of hewn stone extremely well joined; and, as is the case with all tanks intended for the purposes of irrigation, the outlets for the water were on level with the lowest part of the interior excavation.

The spill-water is a great mass of sold masonry, and the length of the principal embankment, according to the account of our guides (and also from the other sources of information), I believe to be about five miles; at one of the places where it had burst, I ascertained the sides of the chasm to be seventy feet in height. Other lateral embankments of still greater length, but of less height completed this stupendous work, which, in a much more contracted form, had existed for many centuries before it was improved by the king Dasenkelleya, a short time before he was murdered 477AD. The remains of this tank alone, constructed under a very disturbed reign, and immediately after long continued wars with the Malabars, who had only been expelled from the capital a few years before, show that then a great populations existed under the control of a despot who could direct their labors.

Unquote Eleven years in Ceylon Vol.1 by Major Forbes, 78th Highlanders in Ceylon. Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street, London, 1840

The period of 1883-1887: Rehabilitation of Kala Wewa

The restoration of Kala wewa had been one of the very ambitious tasks of many Governors of British Ceylon during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The Government Agents of Anuradhapura too has inspected this abandoned work and prepared their inspection notes and several reports. One such report was prepared by F. C. Fisher, who was the Government Agent of the N. C. P. [6] in 1880:
"First in importance of the irrigation works in progress is the repair to Kala-Balau wewa and Yoda Ela, running north from it for 53 miles and terminating at Anuradhapura. The bund of the tank is 5 ˝ miles long in length, the height in places being 65 feet, the base width 250 ft. It is now proposed to restore the dam with spill of 600 ft length. The old spill was only 200 ft in width, and the repeated destruction of the tank was undoubtedly caused by the insufficiency of flood outlets".

The restoration of Kalawewa reservoir, Yoda Ela canal leading from tank to the tank en-route, Tisa wewa reservoir, Basawakkulama reservoir and Nuwara wewa reservoir was completed during the period of governor [1883- 1890] Sir Arthur Hamilton-Gordon of British Ceylon. The Department of irrigation of Sri Lanka, in its centenary commemoration volume titled "Hundred Years of the Irrigation Department" [ISBN 955-8431-00-1] of the [1900-2000] states: During this period, the cultivation in the North Central Province of Ceylon rose from 564 acres of old land to 8,581, Acs., while it was estimated that there had been still some 23,000 Acres of waste crown land available for cultivation. The rehabilitation was effected in 1887 by diverting the bund past the breach and by construction of a fine modern spill 560 feet in length

Year 1887: Rehabilitation of Yoda Ela [Sinhala: Giant Canal]

Quote R.L. Brohier.
Concurrently [5] that unique memorial of ancient irrigation, the 45 mile long 40 feet wide Yoda-ela which had carried the water from Kalawewa to Anuradhapura, and had for centuries filled the "drinking pond', the ‘bathing pond' and the ‘washing pond' in the ancient capital of the Rajarata, was restored. The waters were carried over the first 17 miles as they were wont to in the long past, on a remarkable gradient which fell scarcely six inches per mile. They were moreover led down the subsidiary valleys they crosses, into chains of village tanks [4], those lower down receiving the overflow from the tanks placed higher in each chain. In December 1877, water first reached the Tisssawewa reservoir at Anuradhapura

Inauguration of Yoda-ela [Giant Canal]: The canoe ride of the governor and engineers along Yoda-ela [Jayaganga] from Kalawewa to Anuradhapura

Quote R. L. Brohier
To inaugurate the auspicious event, the Governor (Sir Arthur Gordon) the G. A. (Mr. Ivers), together with the two engineers (Messers Wrighton and Mcdonald), went in a canoe from Kalawewa to Anuradhapura. Thus, Anuradhapura, "the capital of the Kingdom of the Lions' (on whose splendors Chinese travelers of the early aes wrote copiously), which with its unique record of conquests, dynastic ambitions, regal triumphs and tragedies had ended 1200 years after the city was founded, and had, as we are told, shrunk into a few scattered huts which scarcely merited the designation of village, was re-vitalized. In the light of these impressions alone, it is easy to place a correct value on the extent of the benefits the "tanks'and canals were designated to convey by the restoration of the Kalawewa, flowed into the reservoirs of the metroplolis to give it and the Rajarata new life once again?
Unquote R. L. Brohier: The Story of Water Management in Sri Lanka Down the Ages.

In the year 1888, the last two of the elephant work force, which played very significant role during heavy construction in the absence of lifting and dragging devices, as had been the ancient era of Sinhalese kings, called "Bambara' and "Sellatamby" died while taking part in the construction of Kala Wewa reservoir. With the death of those two elephants, the elephant work force of the P. W. D. or Public Works Department of Ceylon, the predecessor to Irrigation Department of Ceylon came to an end.

Kala Wewa Reservoir Today

Today Kala Wewa Reservoir is an integrated water body, a main irrigation reservoir of the grand Mahaweli Multipurpose irrigation Scheme
Catchment: 325; length of the dam: 6880meters; height of the dam: 14.8meters; capacity: 100000 Ac. ft
Source: Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resource Management

Sri Lanka Holidays Attractions around Kala Wewa

UNESCO World Heritage site of Golden Dambulla Rock Cave temple: distance from Kala wewa is 35km
UNESCO World Heritage site of Lion Rock Citadel Sigiriya; distance from Kala wewa is 45km
Sri Lanka Holidays Aukana Buddha Statue: distance from Kala wewa is 3km
Sri Lanka Holidays Vijitapura Buddhist Temple: distance from Kala wewa is 3km

[1] Thera Mahanama is the Buddhist monk who authored Mahavamsa, the great chronicle of Sri Lanka
[2] Ruhuna is one of three province of ancient Sri Lanka: Raja rata - Area between Deduru oya and Mahaweli river; Ruhunu rata -Area between Mahaweli river and Kalu gaga Malaya rata - Area between Deduru oya and Kalu gaga. Ruhuna or the Deep South, as it is called for touristic purposes, has been the formidable bastian of patriots, the sanctuary of Sinhalese kings and the birth place of heroes of Sri Lanka who rescued nation and faith from the marudaing Dravidian invaders from Southern India.
[3] George Turnour, a British Civil Servant in Ceylon is well known for the translation of Mahavamsa, the Great Chronicle of history of Sri Lanka, which was published in 1837. His discovery of Sri Lanka's Rosetta Stone, the Tika or commentaries [in Sinhala prose] upon Mahavamsa [in Pali verse], at a Potgula [Sinhala: library] of ancient Mulkirigala cave temple made the translation of Mahavamsa possible.
[4] This irrigation method is called Elangawa [Sinhala: cascade]: hydrologically connected reservoirs that are hanging one below the other in a common waterway.
[5] Together with the rehabilitation of Kala Wewa ancient irrigation reservoir
[6] N. C. P. is the abbreviated form of North Central Province. N.C.P is purely an administrative zone created by the British Colonialists in Sri Lanka.

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