This paper presents the ancient water and soil conservation eco-systems of Sri Lanka, based on ancient texts and their modern interpretations, and highlights the use of these water systems in ancient Sri Lanka and their present condition.
The modern trend of dismissing ancient knowledge and methods, has also lead to the destruction of many ancient water management structures. Ancient Sri Lanka had three administrative regions which were Rajarata (kings country), Ruhunurata and Mayarata which consisted of different number of villages. Accordingly, irrigation works were constructed.
However, a modern understanding of these structures lead to a government map being created, which ignored most of these systems. This later led to the construction of two large reservoirs which ignored the grand design of the ancient irrigation systems, which had two interdependent parts - large -scale centralised parts and dispersed small-scale parts. The modern reservoirs were a single large scale centralised system. This not only lead to environmental problems but also to civil unrest.
The author touches on the water and soil conservation systems of the western Rajarata. These were centered around the first capital city - Anuradhapura. Historical studies prior to the countries independence, indicate that all the ancient large reservoirs and channels were inter-connected. An attempt to initiate mining in the area, which would have destroyed the water systems, was stopped in the nick of time.
Other modern studies that try to reduce the importance or understate the importance of these ancient water systems are also critiqued. Modernity has lead to the destruction of these ancient water systems. For instance, the Accelerated Mahaweli Development project, destroyed the remnants of the Parakrama Sagara and many ancient small tanks.
In conclusion, the author states that it there is need to compare and study ancient water systems from different countries and civilisations.
This paper was presented at the National Seminar on Water and Culture organised by Kannada University and Sahayoga in 2007.
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