The irrigation works in ancient Sri Lanka, the earliest dating from about 300 BC, in the reign of King Pandukabhaya and under continuous development for the next thousand years, were some of the most complex irrigation systems of the ancient world. In addition to constructing underground canals, the Sinhalese were among the first to build completely artificial reservoirs to store water. The system was extensively restored and further extended during the reign of King Parakramabahu (1153–1186 CE)
According to Sri Lankan history, the first tank was built by King Pandukabhaya who reigned from 437 to 367 BC. It is said that he had three tanks built, namely Abhaya weva, Gamini weva, and Jaya weva, yet, presently, only one tank named Basawakkulama weva can be identified. After King Pandukabhaya, King Parakramabahu had built many tanks, including Parakrama samudraya still providing water for agriculture. It can be said that many rulers of Sri Lanka contributed to the development and construction of tanks all over the Raja Rata
Development of the concept of Irrigation came up with the civilization of the human. In addition to the just civilization the cultural impact from the Buddisam forced the ancient people in Sri Lanka for Irrigation agriculture.
According to the well known historical concept of Wewai-Dagabai, there is first a Temple in a village and then a tank. In many cases, excavated good quality soil was used for the construction of the Dagaba(Stupa).
In the history it can be found that the King was strongly advised by the Buddist monks and the survival of the King greatly depends on how far he followed those advises.
According to the history Anuradhapura and Pollonnaruwa are important in irrigation developmentsin Sri Lanka during the ancient times..
Anuradhapura Period: this period can be considered as most important era in the irrigation civilization in ancient Sri Lanka. Most of large irrigation networks were done during this period.
Anuradhapura Complex: Another important era in the irrigation civilization was the Dathusena period in Anuradhapura era. King Dathusena ( 459 477 ) ruled the country and during his reign he constructed the massive Kala Wewa reservoir and the 54 mile long Jaya Ganga or Yoda Ela which had supplied water to Tissa Wewa ( 307 BC ). Across Malwathu Oya a diversion structure was constructed to augment Nuwarawewa (1st BC) but later Nachchaduwa (866 90 AD) was constructed across Malwathu Oya.
Polonnaruwa Period: King Parakrama ( 1153 1186 ) was one of great rulers reign this country during which period quite lot of development work, administrative reforms and warfare were noticed in history. The gigantic reservoir complex of Parakrama Samudraya exhibits the talents and dedication of our ancestral engineers. He also restored the works like Giritale and Kallnga systems.
Parakrama Samudraya consists three tanks and they are Thopa Wewa, Dumbutulu Wewa, and Erabadu Wewa. These three tanks were Inter connected to form the Samudraya and this is fed by the Angemedilla anicut with its Inlet canal of 24 miles long in addition to its own catchment. The total length of the bund Is 9 miles and height varies from 40 90 ft.
Elehara Irrigation Complex: according to Mahawangsa the Elahera, King Washaba constructed Canal. This irrigation system includes a diversion structure constructed at Elahera across Amban Ganga (a tributary of Mahaweli Ganga), which starts from the foothills of Matale. This huge canal conveyed water from this point to Minnerlya, Giritale, and Kantale reservoirs. On this long way from Elahera to Kantale, it had irrigated small tanks like lhakulu Wewa, RotaWewa, Matalu Wewa, and Konduru Wewa. The first stretch of this canal from Elahera to Diyabeduma (where it is bifurcated to Minnerlya and Giritale) Is 20.75 long. After 2.50 miles up the Nehinne Ela, it enters Giritale tank and the other branch, which falls into Talawatura Oya and it, enters Minneriya after 25 miles from Elahera. Giritale and the Kantale were constructed by King Agbo (604 AD) but it is evident that Parakrama Bahu I, has renovated the Giritale during the Pollonnaruwa era.
Minneriya Tank, which was built by King Mahasena (275 301AD), is equipped with two spillways. The one on the south spills to Agalwan Oya and other releases water to Kantale tank using a long canal presently well known MKYE through Gal Oya and it enter Kantale Tank.
Governor Henry Ward once mentioned Minneriya Wewa is a successful creation to avoid seasonal variations and natural hardships face by the people in the area. There is a colourful fabric of folklore woven around Minneriya Wewa. The most articulate one was that King Mahasena venerated as a deity “Minneri Deyyo” by the people to show their gratitude to the King who helped them tremendously by building many irrigation works including Minneriya. There is a shrine devoted to King Mahasena on the tank bound.
There were rehabilitation work carried out in 1903 and 1953 to increase the capacity to the tank
3 miles further down. According to the history, Mahasena constructed Kaudulla and there is a legend to believe that Princess Bisobandara (sister of Mahasena) constructed it. This entire system is classic example of a Trans basin irrigation systems combined with the cascade concept.
Minipe Yoda Ela: In addition to the above, the Trans basin canal from Minipe diversion carried water from Mahaweli Ganga to Amban Ganga. King Dasankeliya (459 AD) constructed this and it had irrigated the left bank of Mahawell. This gigantic work, which excites the wonder of the modern engineers, consists of a scheme, which turns the river at a bend where a large body of water enters the narrows canal formed by an 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 the masonry became a dam raising the waters in the natural channel to great height. Sir Henry Ward Basing on his observation on legend describes this canal could have used for irrigating as well as navigation. The length of this canal is 50miles and it merge with Amban Ganga below Angemedilla anicut. It is important to note that this canal had followed a trace, which has minimized deep cutting.
MinnThe Governor Henry Ward once mentioned Minneriya Wewa is a successful creation to avoid seasonal variations and natural hardships face by the people in the area. There is a colourful fabric of folklore woven around Minneriya Wewa. The most articulate one was that King Mahasena venerated as a deity “Minneri Deyyo” by the people to show their gratitude to the King who helped them tremendously by building many irrigation works including Minneriya. There is a shrine devoted to King Mahasena on the tank bound.
Minneriya receives Mahaweli water through Elahera Giant Canal. There were rehabilitation work carried out in 1903 and 1953 to increase the capacity to the tank
Early Irrigation Works
The first important irrigation work undertaken by the British was the construction of the Kirama dam across Kirama Oya, in the Hambantota district. This was in 1825 for the regulation of water in Giruwapattu in the Hambantota district for the benefit of paddy lands in the villages running
New Irrigation Ordinance
A new Irrigation Ordinance, No.21 of 1867, was also passed, which also reembodied the provisions of the older ordinance of 1856 for the revival and enforcement of the ancient customs regarding the irrigation and cultivation of paddy lands. This laid down the procedure to be observed for consulting the landowners likely to be benefited by any proposed work. Government aid which it was desirable to apply for, bound them to repayment in ten annual instalments of any money advanced by the Government. It was soon found that Rs 20/ per acre would not cover the expenditure even when the areas benefited were extensive and large. Further Molesworth proposed the following irrigation works for execution in 1887.
- Rugam tank in Batticaloa- 2400 Acs.
- Boralesgamuwa wewa in W.R 36 Acs.
- Alut Ela near Badulla.
- Borale near Weligama-300 Acs.
- Denagama near Matara- 1600 Acs.
- Buttala ela-Monaragala- 1200 Acs.
- Allai tank -1600 Acs.
- Periyakulam- 600 Acs.
First List of Irrigation Works in the Administration Report of D.P.W.
Molesworth retired in 1870 and expenditure on irrigation works appeared for the first time as a separate item in the D.P.W's administration report in 1871. However the expenditure on irrigation works was less than 1 % of the total budget. D.P.W's administration report listed for the first time, the irrigation works completed and those under construction. The following are the items that appeared in the Administration Report of 1871.
Works under construction: