Mahavamsa: Constructions of King Mahasen

Kaudulla Reservoir: (Tissavaddhamanaka of Mahavamsa)

Kaudulla has a bund of 120 ft wide at the base extending to a greater height than the bund of Minneriya. Height of the bund of this reservoir is measured to be 50 ft. In 1680 AD, an Englishman named Mr. Pybus had written that this reservoir was in working order.

Padawiya Reservoir: (Ratmalakandaka of Mahavamsa)

This is another huge reservoir built by King Mahasen. The bund of this reservoir is much larger than the bund of the Minneriya reservoir measuring 70 ft in height, 180 ft at the base and 30 ft at the top with a length of 11 miles.

fig (seven story) pic coming soon

Needs Million Workers for 10 to 15 years: (Governer Henry Ward)

“Padawiya reservoir, most gigantic works of all the reservoirs – 30 ft broad at the summit, 180 ft at the base and seventy feet high. Its construction must have occupied a million people for 10 to 15 years” Governer Henry Ward
(Ref: R.L Brohier, Ancient Irrigation Works of Ceylon)
The reservoir obtains water from damming Yan Oya and Ma Oya. The sluice of this reservoir was considered to be built using very high Engineering knowledge.

Padawiya sluice:

“The existing sluice is a remarkable work, not merely from its dimensions but from the ingenuity and the excellence of its workmanship. It is built of layers of hewn stones varying from 6 to 12 feet in length and still exhibiting a sharp edge and every mark of the chisel. These rise to a ponderous wall immediately above the vents which regulated the escape of the water, and each layer of the work is kept in its place by the frequent insertion, endwise of long plinths of stone, whose extremities project beyond the surface” Sir Emesrson Tennent
(Ref: R.L Brohier, Ancient Irrigation Works of Ceylon)

Padawiya Inscription:

Inscription was found in Padawiya reservoir indicating it to be restored by King Parakramabahu at later times.

Wahalkada Reservoir:

Another large reservoir built by King Mahasen. Mora Oya was dammed and a canal known as Yoda Ela was built to bring water to this reservoir. The bund of this reservoir ranges from 50 to 60 ft in height.

Mahadaragala Reservoir: (Nachchaduwa Reservoir)

Mahadaragala reservoir (today known as Nachchaduwa reservoir) is considered to be one of the sixteen large reservoirs built by King Mahasen. Mahadaragala lies just outside the city of Anuradhapura. Centuries later King Dhatusena built a canal (Jayaganga) to bring water to this reservoir from Kalawewa. This reservoir is considered to be a bold scheme since huge flood water with very high velocity could come down the valley. Mahavamsa probably makes another reference to this reservoir during the time of King Moggallana II. It is said that King Moggallana II, who lived 300 years later built Passapatanavapi reservoir by damming the Kadamba river (Malwathu Oya). This description matches well with Nachchaduwa. It is possible that Moggallana II could have expanded the work of Mahasen.

The embankment is 5,550 ft long, 36 ft high with a slope of 2.5 ft horizontal to 1 vertical. The slope facing the water is armed with stones. The reservoir has a capacity of 525 million Cu. ft and a surface area of 2,015 acres. 167 feet long and 44 feet wide masonry structure was provided for flood escape.
(Overflow weir or Pitawana in Sinhalese).

“It was a bold scheme as floods estimated to amount to 11,000 cu ft per second were to be expected and there was no suitable rock over which they could be allowed to flow, but it was carried out successfully”
(Ref: H. Parker, Ancient Ceylon)

Minneriya Reservoir: (Manihira in Mahavamsa)

This is the crowning glory of King Mahasen. Minneriya reservoir is 21 miles in circumference. The bund is built solidly as other works of King Mahasen has a height of 50 ft. The reservoir submerges 4,670 acres and has a capacity of 70,730 acre ft.

(1 acre ft = 272,140 gallons). The reservoir was so huge people of later times believed that it was built by demons. Amount of labor expended on this reservoir amazed many including the British Governer Henry Ward.

“No wisdom and no power in the ruler can have forced such efforts even upon the most passive oriental nations, without general persuasion that the work was one of paramount necessity and that all would participate in its benefits” Governer Henry Ward
(Ref: R.L Brohier, Ancient Irrigation Works of Ceylon). Note by R. L Brohier (Ref: Seeing Ceylon):

“No wisdom and no power in the ruler can have forced such efforts even upon the most passive oriental nations, without general persuasion that the work was one of paramount necessity and that all would participate in its benefits” Governer Henry Ward
(Ref: R.L Brohier, Ancient Irrigation Works of Ceylon). Note by R. L Brohier (Ref: Seeing Ceylon):

Thanks to Elahara canal that brings water from both Mahavali river and Amban river, Minneri is supplied with water year round.

Siyambalagamuwa Reservoir:

Another huge reservoir built by King Mahasen, located west of Kalawewa. Three centuries later King Dhathusena built a canal from Kalawewa to supply water to this reservoir.

Pabbathantha Canal:

Mahavamsa states that King Mahasen built a canal known as Pabbatanta canal. The Kalinga Yoda Ela (canal) that extends from Mahavali river near Kalinga Nuwara matches well with the description given in Mahavamsa. (Ref: Brohier R.L, Seeing Ceylon). There are two other canals in the vicinity. They are Aciravathi and Gomathi canals. Mahavamsa says, that these two canals were restored by King Parakramabahu. It is clear that during ancient times Kalinga Nuwara irrigation scheme was a great feat comparable to Elahara canal and Minneri combination.

King Mahasen – Greatest Reservoir Builder of The Ancient World:

King Mahasen is considered to be the greatest reservoir builder of the ancient world. Only King Parakramabahu the Great could come close in that regard. King Mahasen built sixteen large reservoirs and two long canals.

Restoration of Ancient Reservoirs: (Note on Governer Sir Henry Ward):

Restoration of most of the ancient work was conducted during British era thanks to Governor Henry Ward. Here I have included a portion of an article written by first Prime Minister of modern Lanka, D.S Senanayaka.
(Ref: R.L Brohier, Irrigation Works in Ancient Ceylon).

“If any governor deserved the gratitude of the people of this country, Sir Henry Ward has a preeminent claim to it. Seeing the country for himself with his own eyes and not through rose colored spectacles, investigating personally with all the force an acumen of an experienced statesman the actual conditions of the country and the people he was called upon to govern, he was imbued with a deep sympathy for the people whose agricultural system had been permitted by his predecessors to crumble through neglect. All irrigation activity in the country to date must trace its origins to the policy which Governor Ward declared”

D.S Senanayaka, Minister of Agriculture, 1934 Author’s Note: As mentioned earlier, construction of Elahara canal alone would cost 390 million US dollars. Cost of construction of sixteen large reservoirs would definitely tip the balance at 4 to 5 billion US dollars, if they were to be constructed today. On top of that, King Mahasen constructed the huge Jethavana Vihara.

God Kataragama:

As per Sinhalese tradition King Mahasen after his death became god Kataragama. (On the other hand Tamils believe God Kataragama to be God Skandha of South India). Wilhelm Geiger believes, Mahavamsa compiled by Mahathera Mahanama came to an end with this chapter. Mahathera Mahanama compiled Mahavamsa, during the time of King Dhatusena, 150 years after King Mahasen. It is not clear why Mahathera Mahanama did not continue the work till King Dhatusena’s time period. Mahavamsa, after the time period of King Mahasen was compiled by Dhammakitthi Mahathera.

Bibliographic Citations: Resources and Credit