King Mahasen (275 AD – 301 AD)
After Mahasen was consecrated, his mentor Mahayana bhikku Sanghamittha came back to the city. Bhikku Sanghamittha convinced King Mahasen that Mahavihara bhikkus were not teaching real Vinaya (Disciplinary Code of Buddhism).
Penalty for People Who Provided Food to Mahavihara Bhikkus:
King Mahasen established a fine for anyone who provided food to Mahavihara bhikkus. Due to this reason, Mahavihara bhikkus were unable to survive in the capital city. They abandoned Mahavihara and went to Rohana. (Southern part of the country).
Destruction of Mahavihara and Lowa Maha Paaya:
Bhikku Sanghamittha advised the King, that since Mahavihara is abandoned by bhikkus, the land now belongs to the King himself. King gave permission to destroy Mahavihara. Bhikku Sanghamittha sent soldiers and destroyed Mahavihara and Lowa Maha Paaya. The building materials obtained from two buildings were used to build more buildings in Abhayagiri Vihara.
(Author’s Note: Original Mahavihara was built by King Devanam Piya Tissa for the use of Mahinda Thera. Now almost six hundred years later it was destroyed during the time of King Mahasen).
Rebellion by Minister Maghavannabaya:
King Mahasen’s destruction of Mahavihara and Lowa Maha Paaya distressed many people in the country. One minister (who was a good friend of the King) named Meghavannabaya went to Rohana and gathered an army. King Mahasen came with the state army to fight the minister. Two armies camped on either side of Duratissa reservoir. During the night, minister thought I should have dinner with my good friend, King Mahasen, who is camped on other side of the reservoir. (Two were about to fight with each other next morning). The minister went to King’s camp and introduced himself and the King let him come to the camp. Two had dinner together. King asked why, he (the minister) became a rebel. The minister stated that destruction of Mahavihara by the King made him a rebel.
King apologized for the deed and promised to reconstruct Mahavihara.
Death of Sanghamitta:
After destroying Mahavihara, bhikku Sanghamittha came with men to destroy Thuparama. At that time one of King’s wives provided money to workers to kill Sanghamittha. The workers killed Sanghamittha and saved Thuparama from destruction.
As promised, King built the Mahavihara. Bhikkus who left Mahavihara came back to dwell there.
Construction of the Jethavana Vihara:
A friend of Sanghamitta, Thera Tissa was the Mahathera or the chief monk of Dakkinarama. He convinced the King to build a huge Thupa in the land belonging to Mahavihara. Mahavihara bhikkus tried to stop this action but was unable to do so. Jethavana Vihara was built on the land belonging to Mahavihara.
King Mahasen built Manihira (Minneriya) reservoir and fifteen other reservoirs and the Pabbathantha canal.
Sixteen reservoirs built by King Mahasen are; (Manihira, Mahagama, Challura, Khanu, Mahamani, Kokavata, Dhammarama, Kumbalaka, Vahana, Ratmalakandaka, Tissavadamanaka, Velangavitthi, Mahagallaka, Cira, Mahadaragallaka, Kalapasana).
As per Mahavamsa, he gathered much merit and much sin.
Author’s Note: Ratmalakandaka is identified to be Padawiya reservoir, Tissavadamanaka as Kaudulla reservoir, Mahadaragallaka as Nachchaduwa reservoir.
Author’s Note: King Mahasen’s time period was a golden era in Lanka but not for Buddhism. King Mahasen was the first to destroy Mahavihara yet after his death, people made him a god. Even today, almost two thousand years later people in Sri Lanka call him Mahasen Deviyo or Minneri Deviyo).
King Vasabha initiated the Elahara canal scheme and King Mahasen built it to the present status. The canal, which was neglected for centuries, was restored by the restoration program started by British Governor Henry Ward. Elahara canal starts from Amban river near Elahara and carries water to large reservoirs in north, Minneriya, Girithale and Kantalai reservoirs. Total length of the canal is 54 miles and the width varies from 70 ft to 200 ft. (Compare this with a 300 ft length of a soccer field).
The Greatest Canal in the Ancient World:
(Ref: Sir Emerson Tennent)
“Excepting the exaggerated dimensions of the lake Moeris in Egypt and the mysterious basin of Al Aram, no similar construction was formed by any race whether ancient or modern, exceed in colossal magnitude of the stupendous tanks of Ceylon. The reservoir of Kohrud of Isphan, the artificial lake of ajmeer, or the tank of Hyder in Mysore can no more be compared in extent or grandeur with Kala Wewa or Padawiya. The conduits of Hazekiah, the Kanat of the Persian or the subterranean water courses of Peru can vie with the Elahara canal, which probably connected the lake of Minneri with Sea of Parakrama (Parakrama Samudra) with the Amban river”
(Sir Emmerson Tennent, Ref: R.L Brohier, Ancient Irrigation Works of Ceylon – Edited for brevity).
Path of the Elahara Canal:
Milepost 0.0 – Amban river was dammed and water was diverted to the Elahara canal.
Milepost 4.0 – Canal crosses the Kongeta Oya (river)
Milepost 5.0 – Canal crosses the Kirandagalle Ela (river)
Milepost 6.2 – Canal is provided with an overflow weir (Galwana – 50 ft wide with wing walls).
Galwana would let flood water escape without damaging the canal bund.
Milepost 6.5 – Canal crosses the Heerati Oya (70 ft wide breach in the canal bund) Milepost 7.5 -
Second overflow weir
Milepost 9.0 – Sluice to feed tributary canals
Milepost 10.0 – Canal crosses the Kottapitiya Oya (50 ft wide breach in the canal bund)
Milepost 12.0 – Second sluice to obtain water
Milepost 14.5 – Overflow weir (Galwana)
Milepost 16.0 – Canal crosses the Athanakadawela Oya (70 ft wide breach in the canal bund)
Milepost 16.5 – Overflow weir (Galwana)
Milepost 16.8 – Meegolla Ela (river) enters the canal
Milepost 17.0 – Meegolla Ela (river) departs the canal
Milepost 18.0 – Canal crosses the Radawige Oya
Milepost 19.0 – Canal feeds the Konduruwewa reservoir
Milepost 20.0 – Overflow weir (Galwana)
Milepost 20.7 – Main canal branches off to three sub canals.
Milepost 21.0 – Canal feeds the Minneriya reservoir.
Milepost 22.5 – Canal feeds the Rotawewa reservoir
Milepost 25.0 – Canal feeds the Matalewewa reservoir
Milepost 26.0 – Crosses the Gal Oya – Polonnaruwa road (Canal bund is 10 feet high)
At the 54th milepost, canal enters the Kantalai reservoir.
(Ref: R.L Brohier, Ancient Irrigation Works of Ceylon – Edited for brevity
Cost Estimate to Build First 24 Miles of The Elahara Canal:
British Governor, Henry Ward calculated the cost to build the first 24 miles of the Elahara canal to be 200,000 British Pounds in 1857 based on labor and material rate existing at that time. “To conduct the water of the Ambanganga to Minnery, and to divert the streams falling from this range of hills, this wonderful embankment which extended without intermission for 24 miles was constructed. Its height as before mentioned varies from 40 to 90 feet, but taking its average at 50 feet it must have contained more than 3,800,000 cubic yards of earthwork which with the masonry would have cost at the present rate of labor not less than 200,000 British Pounds”.
(Ref: Sir Henry Ward’s Minutes and Collected Papers, Ceylon Almanac, 1857)
Assuming an inflation rate of 5% over the years, this sum would be equal to 250 million British Pounds today. (390 million US Dollars).
Kanthalai Reservoir: (Ganthalwa Wewa):
This is another stupendous work of King Mahasen. He built this reservoir during the end of his reign. Originally known as Ganthalwe Wewa (plain gifted to temples) corrupted by Englishmen to Kanthalai. It has a circumference of 20 miles with a height of 30 ft. The bund of the reservoir at the base is measured to be 150 ft. (Half the length of a soccer field!). It has a submerged area of 3,700 acres. The bund was built using large stones piled up in a manner to contain water. Stupendous amount of labor was expended for the construction of the bund of this reservoir. The ancient Engineer selected this location for the reservoir due to surrounding hills. He made maximum use of the existing hills to contain water. Henry Cave writes the following on Kanthalai.
“Spotted deer are browsing: Peacocks airing their gaudy plumage, strut over the plain; a majestic elephant is enjoying his evening bath in the shallows; herds of buffaloes leave the shade of the woods to slake their thirst; grim crocodiles are basking on the shore; troops of chattering monkeys are sky larking in the trees, while the stately cranes and pink flamingos stalk the shallows. Such are the scenes that surround the lake of Kanthalai”
(Ref: R.L Brohier, Ancient Irrigation Works of Ceylon – Edited for brevity)
End of First Section of Mahavamsa