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“Mahaweli’s ultimate gift can unite this nation”



by Chanaka Wickramasuriya

(Continued from last week)

Downriver of Bowatenna along this river is the spanking new Moragahakanda reservoir, the latest and last of the ambitious Mahaweli Development Program projects. Completed as recently as 2018, Moragahakanda also comprises of the Kalu Ganga reservoir scheme. The latter, completed at the same time and originating deep in the recesses of the Knuckles range, is itself a tributary of the Amban. The waters of this reservoir are nevertheless diverted via a 12km long tunnel to Moragahakanda as the confluence is downriver of the dam.

The Kalu Ganga reservoir harbors a little known yet now defunct and inundated secret of the Hattota Anicut. This is a 30km diversion built by Agghabodhi in the seventh century to divert waters to the famous Elehara canal down river of the Moragahakanda Dam. Having harnessed these waters from the Kalu Ganga, as well as from the Thelgamu Oya, the Moragahakanda reservoir is being earmarked for a further ambitious effort via the Upper Elehara Canal Project (UECP) currently under construction, to transfer waters via South Asia’s longest irrigation tunnel at 28km and a further 65 km of canals to the Mahakandarawa, Manankattiya tanks and again to the Hurulu Wewa.

In parallel is the construction of the North Western Province Canal Project (NWCP), which will tap into an outlet from Lenodara and carry Mahaweli waters via a series of tanks and 78km of canals into the Mi Oya and Deduru Oya basins. These two river basins are both replete with ancient irrigation networks of their own, spanning from pre-Vijayan times to Parakramabahu in the late 10th Century. Like a giant octopus whose tentacles are gradually encasing the island, these two canal projects will thus complete the Mahaweli’s western most encroachment.

Literally yards below the Moragahakanda dam along the Amban lies the iconic Elehara anicut and Yoda Ela canal. Remnants of the original stone dam built by Vasaba in the first century, increased in height by Mahasen in the third, likely restored by Parakramabahu in the 10th are still visible today. The diversion was slightly relocated as the canal was restored by the British during the early part of the 20th century.

The waters thus diverted travel along the picturesque Yoda Ela, originally also built by Vasaba, over 30km to the Minnneriya (Mahasen third century) and Giritale (Agbo seventh century) tank complexes. Water is further transferred from Minneriya to the larger Kaudulla tank, also attributed to Mahasen, but steeped in legend as actually a construct of his estranged sister. Princess Bisobandara, banished from the palace for her love of a commoner.

Waters from Kaudulla then find their way to the Kantale (Gantala) tank, built by Agghabodi in the seventh century, and the spent waters of this system finally find their way into the Tampalakamam bay in Trincomalee, a little north of the Mahaweli’s natural estuary in Koddiyar, and 95km as the crow flies from the commencing diversion at Elehara.

As the Amban, after its confluence with the Kalu, continues as the western and northern boundary of the Wasgamuwa National park, it makes its final bequeathment to this island’s ancient and modern civilization at Angamadilla. Originally built by Upatissa around the fourth century, along with the Akasa Ganga canal to divert waters to the Thopawewa, the prolific Parakramabahu enhanced both dam and canal to amalgamate five existing tanks and create and feed the great ‘Sea of Parakrama’ or Parakramasamudraya, considered the largest of the ancient world’s reservoirs.

Having thus exhausted itself, the Amban continues further east to eventually coalesce with its great benefactor the Mahaweli at the southern border of the now aptly named Flood Plains National Park.

But our story must now double back to where we stepped off the great river at the Polgolla barrage. After this remarkably significant diversion, the Mahaweli meanders its way through the salubrious suburbs of the historic city of Kandy, into the now inundated Teldeniya valley. And here it emerges at what is probably the jewel in the crown of the modern Mahaweli Development Scheme: Victoria.

A gigantic double curvature dam standing 122m tall and with a crest length of over half a kilometer, it was mostly funded by a grant by her Majesty’s government in 1978. Coincidentally and perhaps suitably named in recognition of both the Royal bequeathment and the submerged Victoria falls, the dam’s primary function, with 722m cubic meters of storage, is delivering an installed capacity of 210MW of hydro power, the highest of all along the Mahaweli system, and capturing and regulating waterflow for the myriad of irrigation schemes further downriver.

Twenty km downriver from Victoria is the equally impressive Randenigala Dam. Completed a few years after the former with German engineering, Randenigala, though a rock filled dam of only 90m height and a crest of 300m, nevertheless creates the largest reservoir in the Mahaweli scheme at over 860m cubic meters of storage capacity and has an installed hydroelectricity capacity of 120MW.

Under 3km downriver from Randenigala, straddling the famous Rantambe gorge, is the small Rantambe dam creating a reservoir of 21m cubic meters and an installed capacity of 52MW. Just below this dam the Mahaweli once again embarks on a generous dispersion of its wealth, instigated by both ancient and modern man.

On the left bank lies the ancient Minipe anicut. Originally built by Dhatusena in the fifth century, extended by Agghabodhi in the sixth to around 22km, and thought to have been further extended a staggering 78km by Sena II in the ninth century all the way up to Angamedilla, the weir of the modern Minipe is currently being further raised to divert even greater volumes of Mahaweli waters into what is known as the Mahaweli E system, one of the many agricultural zones labeled with alphabetical nomenclature along the modern Mahaweli scheme.

On the right bank, directly opposite the ancient Minipe anicut lies the ‘new’ Minipe anicut and the modern Loggal Oya canal. Running 30km up to the Ulhitiya and then Ratkinda reservoirs, these are feeder tanks that eventually carry Mahaweli waters through a five km long tunnel to the legendary Maduru Oya reservoir, to feed the largest resettlement systems of B & C of the Mahaweli scheme.

Still shrouded in debate and mystery as to its origins, the Maduru Oya dam is famous for the revealing of its ancient sluice upon modern man’s survey and excavation for the optimal site for a new reservoir. Dated to the first century BC, and thought to have been constructed by Katukanna Tissa, further excavation and analysis of earthen works speculates that the original dam may have pre-dated Vijayan times. The modern Maduru Oya reservoir, sporting a surface area of 6,400 acres, is only second to the giant Senanayake Samudra in Gal Oya, and harbors an inland fishing industry replete with idyllic fleets of colorful sailing outriggers.

Having dispersed a considerable share of its wealth, and finally stepping off the central highlands, the Mahaweli now continues its journey from Rantambe north along the great flat lands of the north east. Past the sacred city of Mahiyangana, its literal translation meaning ‘flat land’ in ancient Pali, the Mahaweli now enters the natural wonders of National Parks and Wildlife Reserves. All legally constituted as part of the accelerate Mahaweli Development Program starting in the early 1980s, these parks, though now the purview of its denizens of herds of wild elephant, mugger crocodiles and white bellied sea eagles, still harbor the secret relics of an ancient relationship between the river and its people.

Approximately 55km north of Mahiyangana along the Mahaweli lie the Dastota Rapids and Kalinga Island. Now part of the Wasgomuwa National Park, and the first of a series of large islands along the Mahaweli, legend has it that Kalinga, with its gigantic hardwood trees, was the repository of a great ship building industry from which ships were launched and navigated to sea.

While the island is littered with little explained monolithic ruins, ancient narratives and topographical evidence also speak of two spectacular canals, one on each bank just above the rapids that nourished fields and habitats far beyond. On the left bank are the remnants of the Kalinga Yoda Ela. Allegedly built by Dhatusena, it merged with, and with some spectacular engineering ingenuity, crossed the Amban at a weir downriver of Angamedilla and carried water over 50km north to nourish the fields as far as Kaudulla.

On the right bank are the remains of the Gomathi Ela, built by Mahasen; it carried waters over 40km to the Maduru Oya basin. Thus, Mahaweli waters had long been utilized for the nourishment of a civilization that the modern system has only begun to replicate in the late 20th century.

Further down river, about half-way through the Flood Plains National Park, the Mahaweli enters a controversial zone of its geological history. Aerial photographs, and now with the benefit of online satellite imagery, show the faint trace of a dry riverbed to the west of the current trajectory. This trace runs approximately 25km before re-joining the current path of the river.

The famed Somawathiya Chaitya lies adjacent to this dry river, on its eastern bank, but now well toward the west of the current river. Chronicled to have been built by Kavan Tissa circa second century BC of the Ruhunu Kingdom in recognition of his sister Princess Soma, and whose kingdom bordered the Mahaweli, it gives further credence to the fact that the river has likely changed course over 2,000 years ago.

But the historical civilizational consequences of this are profound and speculatively mysterious. Closer scrutiny at the possible trajectories of the river show that the original course would have crossed what is the current trajectory at almost right angles, both just a little north of the Somawathiya temple, as well as closer to the sacred site.

Given the hydrological power of the flow, this author will postulate that the ancient Mahaweli, prior to its change of course, would have contributed a greater volume of perennial water to both the Verugal Ara as well as the Kandakadu Ara, two branches of the Mahaweli that veer off to the east at the exact site of these crossings.

These two waterways, while today barren and dry during most of the year, save for a seasonal man-made sand bagged barrage at Kandakadu, would have, over 2,000 years ago, carried a far greater volume of water into what is Gangapahalawela, Angodavillu, Mavil Aru and the Allai tank in Seruwawila.

These names and the areas they refer to evoke legends, folklore, and cryptic references in chronicles of ancient irrigation networks and an ancient thriving kingdom in and around today’s Serunuwara and Somapura. The jungles of Somawathiya Sanctuary today are replete with scattered ancient ruins, mostly undocumented, un-referenced and likely yet undiscovered giving further evidence to the existence of a kingdom of this island’s history that is largely unknown, and more importantly for this narrative, the Mahaweli’s likely contribution toward it.

The Mahaweli, along the remainder of its northern journey, meanders through large flood plains, where evidence lies of historical seasonal usage of their alluvial soils, as well as modern efforts of trapping some of these seasonal floods into man-made lakes such as Janaranjana Wewa a little south of Sooriyapura. North of the Allai-Kantalai Road, the Mahaweli starts to break up into mangrove wetlands and numerous deltas prior to breaking free into the ocean at Koddiyar bay.

But the story of man’s dalliance with the Mahaweli has not ended here. The second phase of the North Central Province Canal Project is to carry the Mahaweli’s water all the way up to the Northern Province to Iranamadu, the island’s northern most tank. Perhaps again on the back of ancient tanks and channels built by Mahasen (Kalnadinna), Vasaba (Thannimurippu) and Agghabodhi (Vavunilkulam), the waters of the Mahaweli will reach this ultimate destination.

May be then this island will be finally united. Not just from north to south, but across class and caste, language and philosophy, and political partisanship. Hopefully driven by a newfound sanity among its denizens, yet symbolically attested to by the waters of the Mahaweli.


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Dangerous rail travel by tourists: Why not create an opportunity?



Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China

Before the Covid Pandemic hit Sri Lanka, there was some debate and concern voiced about tourists standing at the door ways of trains and even hanging out, while the train is moving. Some pictures of a young couple hanging out of an upcountry train, while clutching on to the side rails, went viral, on social media, with debates of the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ reaching fever pitch. While certainly this is a dangerous practice, not to be condoned, If we ‘think out of the box’ could there be a way to make this seemingly popular, though dangerous pastime among some tourists, into an opportunity to be exploited. This paper aims to explore these options pragmatically.

By Srilal Miththapala

Social media, and even some of the more conventional media, were all a-buzz before the CoVid crisis, when some pictures of a young tourist couple appeared, hanging out of a Sri Lankan upcountry train in gay abandon, savouring the exciting moment. There were hot debates about this form of ‘promotion of Sri Lanka’, with many people talking about the dangers of such a practice, and that it would bring negative publicity for Sri Lanka if something dangerous were to happen. This part of the train ride, along the upcountry route, is arguably one of the most scenic train routes in the world.

And quite rightly so, I guess. I myself was one who joined the chorus who vehemently spoke against this.

However thinking out of the box, I got thinking – Can we create an opportunity here ?

The ‘new’, experience and thrill seeking tourist of today

There is no doubt that there is a new segment of discerning, younger, experience and adventure seeking tourists, emerging and travelling all over the world. They are very internet and social media savvy, seeking more adventurous and exciting experiences, and are usually very environmentally conscious. They are most often seen exploring ‘off-the-beaten-track’ holidays, planned out individually according to their needs and wants.

Through the ages, mankind has been pushing the limits of exploration: We have conquered land, sea and space. We have discovered many hitherto unknown wonders of our planet with our unabated thirst for knowledge.

Tourists are no different. To get away from their daily stressful life, they seek something different, even venturing into hostile or dangerous places to experience the excitement of discovery and the feeling of adventure. No longer is a clean hotel room with a range of facilities, good food and some sunshine good enough to a tourist.

According to, the yearning for experiences, over material possessions, continues to drive travellers’ desire for more incredible and memorable trips: 45% of travellers have a bucket list in mind. Most likely to appear on a bucket list are thrill seekers wanting to visit a world famous theme park, travellers looking to go on an epic rail journey or visiting a remote or challenging location. ()

Drive-reduction theory in psychology postulates that one is never in a state of complete fulfilment, and thus, there are always drives that need to be satisfied. Humans and other animals voluntarily increase tension by exploring their unknown environments, self-inducing stress and moving out of their comfort zones. This gives them a sense of achievement and self-satisfaction. ()

Therefore, unknown thrills, adventures and the ‘adrenaline rush’ does attract travellers.

What have other countries done ?

As mentioned many countries are developing unique , memorable and thrilling experiences into their product offering.

A few are described below

Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge

Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge

Small groups are taken on a walk along the massive, arched steel structured Sydney Harbour Bridge . The dramatic 360 deg. view from the bridge, 135 meters above ground, of the harbour, and the nearby Sydney Opera house, while being completely exposed to the elements, is, indeed, a rare and thrilling experience.

Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China

In the northwest of China’s Hunan province, visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the walkway attached to Tianmen Mountain — 4,700 feet above the ground.

The glass-bottomed walkway is more than 300 feet long and only about five feet wide, providing an experience that is said to be exhilarating and frightening .

The CN tower Edge walk, Canada

The tallest attraction in Toronto lets people stand right at the edge of the CN tower and lean over. It is the world’s highest full circle, hands-free walk on a 1.5 m wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod, 356m , 116 storeys above the ground. EdgeWalk is a Canadian Signature Experience and an Ontario Signature Experience.

A variety of unique trekking opportunities, in Rwanda and Uganda, allow you trek into the jungle to gaze into the eyes of the Gorillas in their natural habitat. It’s a completely unique African safari experience. This moment leaves a lasting and unforgettable impression, coming so close to this majestic wild animal.

These are just a few. So there are already a range of unique, visitor attractions that thrill tourists the world over.

The CN tower Edge walk, Canada

Safety – the one overriding condition

All these thrill seeking, and seemingly dangerous tourist attractions have one common denominator that is never ever compromised – Safety.

Safety is of paramount importance in all these activities and are subject to stringent checks and review, periodically. All personnel who guide and instruct these thrill seeking tourists are well trained and disciplined.

Any equipment that is used for safety, such as harnesses and safety belts, are designed to the highest standards and are periodically tested. Nothing is left to chance and if there is the slightest semblance of danger, due to any unforeseen environmental conditions, the attraction is closed down temporarily. ( e.g when there are strong winds the Sydney Harbour bridge walk is suspended).

Such safety measures are an imperative necessity, because any unforeseen accident can lead to serious and grave consequences of litigation and even closing down of the attraction.

Suggested railings

So what about our train ride ?

The attraction of the Sri Lankan upcountry train ride (most often between Nanu Oya and Ella – the most scenic section) is the fact that a tourist can stand ‘on the footboard’ of the open train carriageway door, and feel the cool breeze against their faces while absorbing the beautiful hill country and tea plantations. This is something most western tourists cannot do back home, where all train carriageway doors are automatically shut when the train starts moving.

In fact I am told that some Tour Agents in Australia are specifically asked by tourists to arrange this ‘experience’ for them, when booking their tour.

So why not be creative and make a proper attraction out of this ?

Cannot we modify one carriage to have an open ‘balcony’ along the side where a person can stand ‘outside’ and ‘feel the open environment’? It could be fitted with proper safety rails and each person can be anchored to the carriage with a harness (like what is used in other attractions where the interaction is open to the elements). A special charge can be levied for this experience.

One factor that favours the safety aspect is that during traversing this stretch, due to the steep gradient, the train travels at a ‘snail’s pace’, unlike in foreign countries where speeds could reach 80-100 kms per hour.

This attraction could be used as an income generator for the Railway Department as tourists wanting to experience this ‘thrill’ can be charged a fee, for a specific time period that they could use the facility.


Although this may seem simplistic, in reality there may be several logistical issues that need to be addressed.

But, if there is a will, and the different departments involved can all see the opportunity, and get on to the same ‘wavelength’, cutting through the inordinate bureaucracy that usually prevails, then surely it would not be at all difficult.

But the overall point in this entire treatise, is that we have to ‘think out of the box’ and grasp at all possible opportunities that are available, especially as we gradually open up for tourists after the pandemic. We are quite used to ranting and raving about all the shortfalls that prevail.. But there’s so much that still can be done if there are a few motivated and dedicated people who can get together.

Tourism after all is really ‘show businesses’ and without creativity, panache, actors and showmanship, what is show business?

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Remebering Prophet Muhammad’s legacy – ECOLOGICAL WELFARE



By Dr M Haris Deen

COVID-19 came and as yet remains, at the same time the world is plagued with another serious issue, that of global warming and other ecological disturbances. While remembering the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) let us recall the contributions he made towards the applying Islamic principles of Islamic welfare towards protection of the environment.

The Prophet of Islam (May peace be upon him) advocated during his lifetime the stringent application of Islamic principles in respect of ecological welfare. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) taught his followers to live on less, neither to be extravagant nor to be miserly and to protect animal and plant life and to worship the Creator by being merciful to His creations. He forbade the killing of any animal unless out of necessity to feed the people. Al Albani reports that the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “If the Hou r (meaning the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it”. Imam Bukhari reported the Prophet (Peace be on him) as having said that “if a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (sadaqah) for him”. It is also reported in Ibn Majah that once the Prophet (peace be upon him) happened to pass by his companion Sa’ad (May God be pleased with him) and found him performing ablution (wudu) next to a river and questioned him “Sa;ad what is this squandering? And when Sa’ad asked in return “can there be an idea if squandering (israf) in ablution?’ the Prophet replied “yes, even if you are by the side of a flowing river”.

In another Hadith narrated by Ibn Majah, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: (1) relieving yourself in shaded places (that people utilise), in a walkway or in a watering place”.

The Qur’an in chapter 56 verses 68 to 70 states “consider the water which you drink. Was it you that brought it down from the rain cloud or We? If We had pleased, We could make it bitter”.

Prophet’s companion Abu Dhar Al Ghaffari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity” and in another Hadith authenticated by Albani, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “the believer is not he who eats his fill while his neighbour is hungry”. The Prophet further cautioned as reported by Tirmadhi and Ibn Majah that “Nothing is worst than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be : one third for his food, one third for his liquids and one third for his breath”.

Imam Bukhari reported an amazing story narrated by the Prophet (on whom be peace) that “A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way, there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile, he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself. “This dog is suffering from thirst as I did, “So, he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it in his mouth and watered the dog. Allah appreciated him for that deed and forgave him”. The companions inquired, “O Allah’s Messenger, is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “There is a reward for saving any living being”.

Animals have a huge role in the ecological welfare system. The tenets of the Shariah Law towards animal rights make it obligatory for any individual to take care of crippled animals, to rescue strays and to guard birds’ nests of eggs’.

Sal Allahu Ala Muhammad Sal Allahu Alaihi wa Sallam. May Allah Shower His Choicest Blessings on the Soul of Prophet Muhammad.


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Gypsies…to continue



The original Gypsies, with Sunil (centre)

Of course, I know for sure fans of the Gypsies, and music lovers, in general, not only in Sri Lanka but around the world, as well, would be thrilled to know that this awesome outfit hasn’t called it a day.

After the demise of the legendary Sunil Perera, everyone thought that the Gypsies would disband.

Perhaps that would have been in the minds of even the members, themselves, as Sunil was not only their leader, and frontline vocalist, but also an icon in the music scene – he was special in every way.

Many, if not all, thought that the Gypsies, without Sunil, would find the going tough and that is because they all associated the Gypsies with Sunil Perera.

Sunil receiving The Island Music Award for ‘Showbiz Personality of the Year’ 1990

It generally happens, with certain outfits, where the rest of the members go unnoticed and the spotlight is only on one particular member – the leader of the group.

Some of the names that come to mind are Gabo and The Breakaways (Gabo) Misty (Rajitha), Darktan (Alston Koch), Upekkha (Manilal), Jetliners (Mignonne), Sohan & The X-Periments (Sohan), and the list is quite lengthy….

Yes, the Gypsies will continue, says Piyal Perera, and he mapped out to us what he has in mind.

They will take on a new look, he said, adding that in no way would they try to recreate the era of the Gypsies with Sunil Perera..

“That era is completely gone and we will never ever look to bringing that era into our scene again.

“My brother was a very special individual and his place in the band can never ever be replaced.”

Will Sunil join this scene…at Madame Tussauds!

Piyal went to say that the Gypsies will return to the showbiz scene, in a different setting.

“In all probability, we may have a female vocalist, in the vocal spotlight, and our repertoire will not be the songs generally associated with Sunil and the Gypsies.

“It will be a totally new approach by the new look Gypsies,” said Piyal.

In the meanwhile, Piyal also mentioned that they are working on the possibility of having an image of the late Sunil Perera at the Madame Tussauds wax museum, in London.

He says they have been asked, by the authorities concerned, to submit a PowerPoint presentation of Sunil’s achievements, and that they are working on it.

It’s, indeed, a wonderful way to keep Sunil’s image alive.

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