The tank, dagaba and the village
Posted on December 21st, 2017

Nearly two million people in at least 22 districts out of 25 are reported to be affected by the continuing drought. Among the districts are Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Mannar, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Kurunegala, Puttalam , Jaffna ,Kilinochchi, Mullativu ,Matale and Moneragala. Most of the large, medium and small tanks in the dry zone have partially or completely dried up and in certain instances peasants are abandoning their villages for want of water for their daily use. It is a pathetic sight to see thousands and thousands of fish wriggling, struggling for survival in the mud pools of the tank beds. The last drought experienced had been forty years ago but as it is, the present one could be unprecedented. According to the World Food Programme the water levels in reservoirs as reported in September this year was 18% compared with 47% last year.

Following are some of the large reservoirs in some of the affected districts:


Anuradhapura – Padaviya, Mahavilachchiya, Mahakandarawa, Nuwarawewa, Nachchaduwa, Huruluwewa and Rajangana; Polonnaruwa -Kaudulla, Minneriya, Giritale and Parakramasamudraya; Mannar –Yodawewa; Moneragala – Muthukandiyawewa; Mullaitivu -Muthiyankaddu; Trincomalee – Kantale; Puttalam – Inginimitiya; Kurunegala – Magallawewa, Hawatuna Oya; Kilinochchi – Iranamadu

Each of these reservoirs except Muthukandiyawewa in Moneragala District commands an area exceeding 1,000 ha.

In 2015 three districts, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kurunegala alone contributed nearly one third of paddy production of the island. The same year recorded a 129.5 rate of self-sufficiency in paddy production for the country.

Ancient irrigation system

There was a time when Sri Lanka took pride in its irrigation system. Judge C.G.Weeramantry in the famous Gabcikovo–Nagymaros case, quoting Arnold Toynbee refers to the ‘amazing systemof water works, how hill streams were tapped and their water guided into giant storage tanks, some of them four thousand acres in extent from which channels ran to other larger tanks. Below each great tank and each great channel were hundreds of great little tanks each the nucleus of a village’. He also quotes King Parakramabahu who laid the principle that not even a drop of rain water must be allowed to flow into the ocean without being made useful to man .Justice Weeramantry adds that according to the ancient chronicles these works were undertaken for the benefit of the country and out of compassion for all living creatures .The later Brahmi inscriptions increasingly refer to the donations of tanks to the Sangha. The sites where the cave inscriptions of the period from 1st century BC to 3rd century AD surprisingly overlap where the small tanks had existed .Thus arose the concept of the tank ,the dagaba (symbolizing the Buddhist ethos) and the village; (wawai, dagabai, gamai) three village level institutions intertwined and supporting one another; the tank symbolizing the material needs and the temple providing the spiritual and educational needs of the community. While the major tanks fed the smaller tanks the main role of the small village tank was to meet the multiple requirements of the people of which the main use was to provide water needs for two cultivations, Maha and Yala. In addition, their other requirement’s included domestic use, washing and bathing and meeting the needs of livestock, religious rituals and clay extraction for pottery and other needs. Also both migrant and resident water birds found the small tanks a safe haven.

Referring to the small tanks, according to Dr.C.R.Panabokke, ‘perhaps the most important function of the small tank was to recharge the shallow phreatic water table of this hard rock. It is this recharge of the phreatic water table which throughout the dry season that sustains the fresh water supply in the domestic wells located within the gangoda of the village hamlet without which village settlers could not have maintained their quality of life.’

The traditional hand dug domestic well located in the village gangoda below the small village tank had provided the village domestic requirements for several centuries despite their relatively low yields and seasonal water level fluctuations .

The Sangha and the influence of Buddhism

The influence of the Sangha over the rulers and the masses was great. Immediately after the introduction of Buddhism, Mahinda Thera in enunciating the Buddhist principle of compassion for all living creatures advised the King Devanampiyatissa

“O great King ,the birds of the air and the beasts have as equal a right to live and move about in any part of the land as you. The land belongs to the people and all living beings. You are only the guardian of it.”

The rulers, who followed, adhered to the advice given by the Thera. ‘Kings of Sri Lanka like Amandagamini 79-89 A.D, Silakala 524-537 A.D, Aggabodhi IV 658-674 A.D. and Mahinda III 797 -801 A.D. ordered that no animals should be slaughtered,’ says Professor Dhammavihari.

Abstaining from killing is the first precept of the five which laymen are expected to observe. Rulers and the masses abhorred killing of animals. There is no reference in the Sinhala and Pali literature or in rock inscriptions where the rulers encouraged killing of animals.

The reservoirs built by the ancient rulers were not meant for fish breeding for human consumption. It is possible that the villagers living close to them would have engaged in fishing in these tanks but never did the state, patronized fishing.

Inland fisheries

But now we observe the reverse is happening .Recent Governments which are duty bound by the constitution to protect the Buddha Sasana is openly encouraging and assisting the people to break the first precept.

The Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Development is tasked with the development of marine brackish water and fresh water fisheries and the National Aquaculture Development Authority (NAQDA) under the Ministry is to contribute to the improvement of the socio-economic conditions of rural societies through alleviation of poverty by increasing freshwater and brackish water fish production .The breeding of fish is one the functions of NAQDA. The earlier slogan “wewai .dagabai and gamai” has now dropped the dagaba and stands as “wewak samaga gamak.”

The ancient rulers who built them would never have thought that a resource they gifted to the nation with compassion is being abused and is not serving the original purpose for which they were built. Whether there is a correlation between the drying up of reservoirs and their abuse is anybody’s guess.

Now the country is short of both rice and fish! The government is expected to import 500,000 M.T at around 100,000 M.T a month and the private sector from May this year has imported about 400,000 M.T.

(The writer who belonged to the former Ceylon Civil Service has served as Government Agent of Moneragala and Kalutara among other senior public service assignments. He retired as Secretary to the Ministry of Coconut Development and served in Jakarta as Executive Secretary of the Asia Pacific Coconut Community)

2 Responses to “The tank, dagaba and the village”

  1. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    Sorry, not any more! Traitor catholic run UNPatriotic party headed by brainless vengeful traitor chief die hard
    catholic token Buddhist Mega Thief Mega Thakkadiya Bay Gal Karaya Batalande Wadakaya pol pot [email protected] wickrama
    Sinhalakiller is hell bent on destroying Sinhalese race, Sri Lanka and Buddhism. Why? Traitor catholic run
    UNPatriotic party wants to please its ardent supporters tamils, mussies, catholics and the catholic west. Please them
    with a bit of support from Sinhala modayas (one big lie enough to fool Sinhala modayas; say give you ata atak
    like thambi mudiyanse [email protected] did, in the end murderous alugosuwa (to Sinhalese only) could give only 2 or the [email protected]’s
    million jobs) you are in power forever. Then rob, rob, murder, murder( Sinhalese only please; it’s so easy nobody
    utters a word). Look at this YAMA PAALANA gang of thieves. No work, rob and rob and blame MR for everything who
    did so much for the country. These low lives can go about their lives thanks to the great man without getting blown
    into pieces. Thanks to him tourists flock since the country is peaceful and there is a network to get about.

    While enjoying all the benefits his good work bringing in now the traitor low lives wants to do the ultimate betrayal.
    Break up the country for exclusively tamils only drealam and exclusively mussies only mussisthan. Sinhala
    modayas in the meantime? Being duped by YAMA PAALANA mega baygals they are mara ninde!

    Please click on the following links to how catholic run UNPatriotic party destroying Buddhism, Sri Lanka and the
    Sinhalese race. You won’t see these articles in so called Buddhist Sri Lanka (on paper). Traitors burnt Buddhist Jaathidhrohee vermins’ party aka jvp suppoters in tyres, headless corpses
    in rivers, town centres etc. But the real terrorists, catholic tigers of tamil drealam led by [email protected]’s catholic buddy barrel man hitler mala paharan was given half the country on a plate to start drealam in 2005. Prolonged the war for nearly 30 years to sacrifice Sinhalese lives including Buddhist monks, men, women, children, tri forces personnel, police. 100,000+ gone. A Sinhalese cull! MR came, so called invincible terrorists were running for their lives.

    That’s how the UNPatriotics kept sacrificing Sinhalese lives. Dragged the BHEESHANA SAMAYA for 6 years to kill
    another 60,000+ Sinhalese, while Sirima B took just 2 weeks, rehabilitate and released bacl to the society. What
    rehabilitation? They were Sinhalese. So dragged on and killed 60,000+. All the police top brass ernest p, douglas, ronnie etc and the deshapaluwan john mara, joseph p, festus pest, etc. Notice the names Sinhala modayas? Another Sinhalese cull! Still a lot of Sinhala modayas don’t see the background. Now even jaathidhorhee vermin party
    headed by lapaya is in bed with his catholic buddy [email protected] Sinhala modayas never learn, never understand! Ever
    heard about the fool’s gold? That’s what is happening to Sri Lanka, Sinhalese race and Sri Lanka now!

    Tank, dagaba and village? No chance. The traitor YAMA PALLAN will wipe them out for good! To believe otherwise
    you have to be a Sinhalese.

  2. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    To support traitor catholic run UNPatriotic party you have to be a Sinhala modaya or a traitor.

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