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Sunday, 5 May 2013





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Urusita Wewa, a marvel of ancient irrigation

The cries of birds filled the morning air as I followed a narrow tarred road through a banana cultivation. On hearing my approach, a hawk eagle atop a tree flew into the thick vegetation and a small animal which I couldn’t identify slithered across the road and in to the bush.

Urusita Wewa

I was in Mahagama, a farming hamlet in Suriyawewa that lies in the boundary of two districts, Hambantota and Moneragala. The ancient Urusita Wewa was situated here, against the backdrop of the lush greenery of the banana cultivation. Villagers now call it Mahagama Wewa because it lies in the village of Mahagama in Suriyawewa. In the past, it had been known as Urusita Wewa.

The tank can be reached by travelling about six kilometres off Mahagama on the Hambantota - Suriyawewa Mahagama Road. A person travelling from Embilipitiya should go via Moraketiya on the Suriyawewa - Embilipitiya Road.

My first visit to this area was in 2002. I came across the beautiful Urusita Wewa while travelling to Migahajandura in the northern part of Hambantota. Those days, driving along the same route, I encountered muddy roads full of potholes and houses made of mud and clay on either side.

Recently, I revisited the area and found that it had been given a new lease of life under the mega development program of Hambantota. All the highways and main and secondary roads in the area have been widened and carpeted. The mud houses have been replaced by modern brick and cement houses. The lifestyle and livelihood of the villagers have definitely changed.

Hydraulic engineering

In ancient times, achievements in hydraulic engineering reached the heights of advancement during the Rajarata civilisation, in the deep South of Magama in the Tissamaharama area. The main achievement of this civilisation was advances in hydraulic engineering which the Sinhala engineers applied heavily in construction technologies during this period.

Urusita Wewa is important from the point of view of the ancient hydraulic civilisation of the Sinhala people and their marvellous irrigation works in ancient Sri Lanka, where cobras, or nagas, were also considered to be water spirits. Cobra engravings were heavily found in guardstones.

Urusita Wewa is one place where the ancient valve-pit (Bisokotuwa) is still preserved; it also has a sluice gate. A unique monolithic figure of a cobra (Naga) with seven stone-carved hoods with a ribbon knotted around its neck can be seen near the sluice gate of Urusita Wewa. It’s a piece of expert stone carving, rich in great workmanship, and cannot be found anywhere else in Sri Lanka. Archaeologists believe that this cobra figure dates back to the Anuradhapura period in the Third Century BC. It is an important monument which reflects the ancient hydraulic civilisation of Sri Lanka.

The seven-hooded cobra engraved in the guardstone

A banana cultivation on the way to the tank

Urusita Wewa at dawn

Earlier, there had been two cobra figures, but there is only one now. The other is believed to have been thrown into the Wewa. The remaining figure and valve-pit are well preserved and are maintained by the Mahaweli Authority of the Walawe region.

Urusita Wewa is believed to have been built in the Magama period in Ruhuna by King Mahanaga, the brother of King Devanampiyatissa, who fled Anuradhapura and established his own kingdom in the South.

Ancient towns

Mahagama was one of several ancient towns of that name, which were capitals of the southern Sri Lankan principality of Rohana (Ruhuna). The adjoining Mahanaga Vihara itself provides an array of historical evidence and is an interesting place to visit.

Although we can’t ascertain more facts about the history of Urusita Wewa, an interesting legend is associated with it.

During King Mahanaga’s reign, he had a royal park in Magama where he used to spend a lot of time during holidays. One rainy day, a group of pigs walked through this park in search of food. They destroyed all the flowers and crops in the park. The following day, a furious park warden searched for the culprits and found the footprints of a human being along with those of pigs. The park warden went to inform the king about his discovery and told the king that a shepherd had sent a group of pigs and destroyed the royal park. The king was furious and ordered his officers to tighten security and bring the culprit before him. So security was tightened to catch the shepherd.

The following day, the pigs came again with the man. The watchman pursued him. However, he ran into the forest. The next day, however, the shepherd got caught in a trap set for him. Having his legs and hands bound with rope, the man who resembled swine was taken to the king’s palace. The man didn’t know how to speak.

After he was examined by doctors, the king was told that he had grown up in the company of wild animals. The doctors told the king that if he had been given human food, he would have been able to speak. The king ordered his officials to train the man to get used to humans while keeping him a prisoner. He came to be known as ‘pig-man’.

Human behaviour

After a few years, the pig-man started to behave like a human. One day, the king asked him about the most memorable thing he had seen in the jungle. The man replied, “Oh, King, I have seen a beautiful place where water springs from four corners of the land and then converge in one place”.

After inspecting the place, the king was elated and ordered his officials to build a tank with the help of the ‘pig-man’. Before long, a huge reservoir was built to provide water for paddy cultivation. The king handed its ownership to the pig-man and ordered him to collect taxes from farmers. The area became prosperous and self-sufficient and the pig-man became rich. He came to be known as ‘Urusitana’ and his tank became ‘Urusita Wewa’. Before long, Urusitana became a ruler of the area and thousands of villagers became his subjects.

Owing to his cleverness, the whole province became self-sufficient. As time passed, the king grew jealous of Urusitana. He destroyed Urusita Wewa. Urusitana lost his mind and committed suicide. Having heard the news, his wife also committed suicide. The Urusita Wewa was thus ruined and the paddy fields destroyed. According to legend, this is how Urusita Wewa got its name.

The Wewa provides a breathtaking sight in the morning. The dead trees in the surroundings are a nestling ground for various birds such as egrets, painted storks, spoonbills and cormorants. These birds are seen sun-bathing on the tree tops. Freshwater fishing provides ample income to the village folk. It is also an ideal place for bird watching, fishing and other eco-friendly recreational activities. Just like in the ancient times, today too, hundreds of farmers in the Walawe region have benefited from the waters of Urusita Wewa to cultivate paddy, banana and other crops.


LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lanka
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