Is “science” a Sudda’s intellectual property?— Salient features of “ethical science” in traditional irrigation systems of Sri Lanka (Part 19-V)
Posted on February 23rd, 2011

Geethanjana Kudaligamage

Rajapakse, regional politics, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Eurocentric DevelopmentalismƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ and the western hegemony (Part 19 V)

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ When we think of science, it invokes us something belongs to the west, a ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-white giftƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ wrapped in white mythology. But however we try hard to white wash it, science emerges as pure, proving that it is not a white ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-thingƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚, but polluted by a lot of western trash. Science was there ever since the man began to deal with nature. That means the original concept of science was envisioned among peoples who fist civilized. The story of mankind tells who that man was and who was not. White man was the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-UrulawaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ jumped into the driving seat of the slow-running train of science diverting its humane cause toward unwarranted historical abyss at the speed of sound. For what? For the satisfaction of individual greed, for the vast accumulation of surplus value. Ever since, science has been ethically degenerated to run in the forefront of the western global hegemonic agenda, becoming the security provider of the unethical western greed.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ It is time for Sri Lankans to rethink of their history beyond this trap of modern western science and Mahawamsa, because according to evidences of ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-VapiƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ culture, the story of man in the island goes well beyond the limits of conceivability of western science and Mahawamsa chronicle. Sri Lankan development ideology has been entrapped in the allure of the hegemonic idea of western ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-scienceƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ in the same manner that her archaeological search has been limited into the historical boundaries of Mahawamsa. The ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-VapiƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ evidences proves that Mahavamsa story is based on only a fraction of the story, beyond any doubt it also proves that we have to get out of the white mythology of science to understand these man made marvels.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Every man made concept has a philosophy behind it. Science is not an exception. The philosophy behind the praxis of modern western science was based; firstly on protestant ethics of ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”no-ethics,ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ secondly, on glorification of individual rights up against collective, thirdly, sacrificial and reductionist endeavor of misguiding of humanity for increasing surplus value and finally, the safe guarding and securing personal greed and unfair out of proportioned private accumulation of wealth. No doubt there are many other limitations of western science, but these four fundamental limitations have brought western science into a condition of tunnel vision creating with a myriad of blind spots. In praxis, science and its education of science has devised to strengthen and maintain western hegemonic colonial and neo-colonial agenda of the west world over. Under the best lights of these limitations only we can illuminate some dark aspects of the attitudes of our irrigational policies over the ancient ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-VapiƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ culture, a science based on complete opposite ethical code to the western science. Under this single fact of ethical difference between two sciences along proves that western science do not have any moral right to intervene into ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-VapiƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ cultural tradition and cause any changes into it. Based on western scientific aberration of national irrigational policy, it is time for us to asses if our prevailing irrigation policy has any moral right to cause any more damage to the existing ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-VapiƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ civilization.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The Irrigation Department:

Let us peep into our highest authority that exercises power over this ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-VapiƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ tradition in Sri Lanka, the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Irrigation Department of Sri Lanka.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ the only mission statement in the website of the department is as follows.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Mission of the Irrigation Department

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-The Irrigation Department is responsible for planning, design, construction, operation and management of all major and medium Irrigation schemes and works related to flood control, drainage and salinity extrusion.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ If it is not referred to a name of a country, anybody might get confused this mission statement with a country like Maldives, or the worst, with a statement of a third grade contractor cleaning garbage gutters. People may get confused of this statement with Maldives because it nicely tallies with a limited mission of that country of their inland water, since they do not have hundreds of water ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-puddlesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ like Parakrama Samudra to deal with. The absence of the much needed emphasis of the very fundamental characteristic of Sri Lankan culture, the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-VapiƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ culture, is the clear evidence in their mission statement. To be honest, gutter cleaners statements are much attractive than this one. As I opened the website of our Irrigation Department, all of a sudden my dog rejected to eat its only chow of the day. I think the aesthetic beauty of the home page must have satisfied its hunger. As far as the outlook of the website is concerned, I would recommend them to take a look at the website of the Ministry of Defense. I am telling this not to disrespect the director General, the only human face to be seeing in the website home page, I honestly can understand the frustration in his face.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The website tells how far they have been disconnected with the lives of the people sof the land that they supposed to serve. It is pretty evident that they are still living in the colonial box mentality in Torrington Squire. They must have mastered the art of remote controlling affairs of all ancient reservoirs from Colombo head office in Torrington, Colombo 7. It is pretty evident that they have to grow, to understand the true meanings of Mahinda Chinthanaya if they are to serve the nation. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The text under the link of ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Our OrganizationƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ does not even clarify any thing about their policy toward the researching of ancient Vapi civilization as a priority task. From A-Z it is not more than a ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-GathawaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ of Suddhan saranan GachcchaamiƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ More than anything it reveals that their task is to continue the mission of the erstwhile colonial administration. It properly exposes the hard truth that they are still living in Ceylon, not even in Sri Lanka yet, and tells us the difficulty of bringing them into this twenty first century of envisioning a dawn of a new era for Mahinda Chinthanaya with new beginning.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ In overall, what it says is that ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”once upon a time, there was a dead system of irrigation in a land called Sri Lanka, but it was dead and gone when the hero appeared before the ignorant nation. And then for god sake, this white hero revived and rehabilitated it; otherwise they would have been still remaining in the wild forever, just one hundred miles away from the civilization of Colombo.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ IsnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t this a good testimony proving that when there is no vision, there can never be a mission for any department? No doubt that they know how to arrest water or build dams across water. But what they do not know is why they must do it. Their ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”WhyƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ part has become so weak; and what would happen in the aftermath of such act. When there is no vision, science becomes a razor blade in the hands of a stupid monkey. This is a common trait of ethic-less (unethical) current practice of science.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ However, the science behind the Vapi culture had a solid base of ethics. The following writings sent by Udula in our email exchanges and the contents of which had been intended to publish in an issue of Economic Review- a magazine published by the Peoples Bank. Italic sections contain the consequences of the applications of the inappropriate technology by the technocrats cultivated under the western oriented field of engineering and hydrology which still dominant in the agriculture of the country continually damaging ancient infrastructure beyond retrieval. It is not western engineering methods are in question here but their application; the approach to the area it has been applied without proper understanding of the multiple functions of ancient systems. From this point onward, this article will percent UdulaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s writing with my in between interventions time to time.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Salient features of the traditional irrigation systems of Sri Lanka

(By Udula Bandara Awsadahamy)

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Our existing Agriculture is in peril:

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-26% of the landmass of the island is under active agriculture. Other than this surface, every plot of household garden is a unit of agro-based environment. In short, whole of the landscape of the country is an agro-landscape ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚an authentic decision of an agriculturist society. This decision of carving out a landscape and laying it with appropriate crops, be it perennial or other, will be jeopardized and then the whole process of food production of the country might be destroyed if the supporting systems of water supply upon the landscape goes wrong or becomes inefficient. This is the case in the country today. For the last six decades, especially after the independence, and in the era of Mahaveli acceleration, the engineers, who have been playing the dominant role in the agricultural sector that overshadowed agricultural activities and its policy planning, proved to be totally ignorant of the sustainable agricultural structures that we have already inherited from our past that is existing in Sri Lanka since a couple of Millennia. In order to build sustainable agriculture, we have been inherited the most superior infrastructure of the entire world; but has been abandoned. All we have to do is to study this ancient structure and rehabilitate it and expand it; thatƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s all it needs.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The case of devastation of the sustainable irrigation system in the Kala-oya Valley is a recent example (given in part II). Except one or two engineers who begun to realize the damaged they have inflicted on a system sustained for more than millennia in the living culture of the country, the others still in the opinion that they have transferred an advanced hydrological technology into an inferior regional system. (To support the claim of such damage, an article written by a Mahaweli engineer, has been referred at the end of the third part of this article)

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Through the contents of this engineerƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s article, what we can see is that these arrogant brutes who venerate only western knowledge consider our civilization as inferior to western ones. I wonder how they rationalize the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”hard-elementƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ or the infrastructure-part of ancient agriculture that is comprised with large reservoirs, dams and canals etc. First of all, they cannot comprehend that these gigantic structures constructed not by foreigners who being summoned into the country by ancient kings but by local engineers of the past. Without having a solid ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”soft-elementƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ or the living-part of agriculture, such as paddy cultivation and other agricultural activities, this system can never flourishƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚ that means a proper support system such as seed-banks of genetically varied seeds, and different cultivation patterns, utilization of land resources for variety of crops, knowledge distribution and transfer, maintenance and advancement of reservoirs and their channels etc need to be there for the healthy existence of ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”hard partƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ of agriculture (tanks and canals) to prosper. Without such a complex system, such gigantic infrastructure is not productive or sustainable. Some of the contemporary engineers behave in the same way with utmost contempt in regard to traditional hydraulic engineering, like some of their fellow doctors behave in regard to the local knowledge of Aurvedic medicine.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ (Psychological aspect of this behavior has been discussed in three previous articles titled ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Asian Inferiority Complex, the Killer diseaseƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚. The infected behaves in a manner as if they posses something specific to be superior to another. In this case, they think western science is a component that places them above others, especially to surpass indigenous hydraulic engineering. We discussed this psychological issue of colonized in many previous occasions as well. It is largely a matter of pride and glory of modern knowledge, but nothing to do with the scientific understanding of a matter. The reason is, if they are genuinely scientific, they would have conducted a thorough research before they destroy this complex ancient system of irrigation in Sri Lanka. Let along conducting a full scale research into analyzing ancient irrigation systems, it is doubtful if they have even studied BrohiarƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s remarkable work that gives a very good account of Ancient Irrigation systems of Sri Lanka, before they undertake the task of so-called development of this ancient infrastructure. For this psychological anomaly, to criticism considering they are aimed to destroy their perceived professional glory. But all we want is them to go through an attitude change, and take criticism as a constructive component necessary for our development. [Writer])

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ (What is actually happening here is that they are just continuing from where colonial administration stopped. Around beginning of the twentieth century, the colonial administration took over the authority of all ancient reservoirs from their traditional guardians in villages. The traditional guardians knew about their reservoir as a living thing much more than the colonial master. But colonial master, armed with the modern scientific arrogance, sidelined the true builders and maintainers and living partners of these ancient marvels. They thought that these ignorant villagers shouldnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t allow handling these reservoirs, although these villagers were safeguarding these treasures for many generations. This doesnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t mean that the colonial administration did not do anything. Yes they did. But the biggest damage they did was the removal of the villager from the very function of the system they rely on to make their living. By this way they denied the mediation of the farmer/villager from determining their development and therefore the destiny. For that reason today waw widaney traditionally lived in the village now living in Torrington, Colombo 7. [Writer])ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ In the past, both this ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”hard-partƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ and the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”soft-partƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ of the process of food production of our country had been in the climax of its development. The indigenous technocrats who involved in the construction of the infrastructure part of agriculture had been highly effective. For instance, laying canals, identifying appropriate land spaces for cultivation and settlements etc had been a part of thoroughly developed knowledge system of sustainable agriculture that is currently discarding as nonsense.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  The tragedy now is the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”brutesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, the water resource technocrats are completely ignorant of the rationale behind ancient technology and their highly sustainable and productive agriculture. Without any doubt these technocrats have proved that they are only mere slaves of western knowledge with no iota of critical assessment of anything they destroy that is indigenous.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Fertilizer subsidy is the other tragic instance which comes as a solution for the downfall of agriculture mostly in paddy cultivation. At present, government is spending 65 billion of rupees of public money for the subsidy of the paddy farmer giving him a subsidy of Rs. 50,000 per year. Can we consider this decision as a decision to uplift the sustainability of agriculture? What has gone wrong? Importing polluted fertilizers which contain Cadmium salt as a major pollutant and two other agrochemicals have been identified not only the agent that harms our agriculture, but also as the root cause of health problems, like the chronic renal failure of the peoples in North Central Province. One person dies per day from this man-made incurable disease (please refer Prof. BandaraƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s research paper on the internet: Chronic Renal Failure of Sri Lanka)

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ General topographical Background:

Sri Lanka, the island in the Indian Ocean below the southern tip of India, is gifted with an unusual topography and a rich culture being influenced by the Buddhist principles rooted far back as 544 BC and has continued to this day.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The Island with a land mass of 65,525 sq. kms. has a central massif with its tallest peak rising 2500 meters above sea level. And 103 river basins spread radiusly from the central hills outward to the coastal planes (In addition there are 94 small coastal basins).This pattern of spread of valleys is unique to this country.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The Island receives an average of 6 feet (1800 mm) rainfall from the two distinguished monsoons. The region in the south ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” west quadrant which receives annual rain fall of above 2.2 meters covers only one third and the balance with a rainfall of about 2.0 meters encompasses two thirds of the country.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Background of the existence of sustainable technology:

Records of the chronicles maintained from the 4th century AD contemporaneously, the remains of the colossal architectural monuments and the huge man-made reservoirs stand as the proof for the rich civilization of the country that had flourished and continued for more than 18 centuries beginning from the 4th century BC. Intricate network of reservoirs and canals which have been evolved from the pre-Christian era up to 12th century are still serving the functions that they were built for.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ According to the archeological revelations of out of the country, the remains of the first man-made dam which was used to retain water is found in Northern Jordan which dates back to 3000 BC. Egypt had it first dam (Sad-el Kafara) to build across a tributary of river Nile around 2600 BC which is considered as a technological failure. The famous reservoir Lake Moeris in Egypt came into operation in 1800 BC that is 800 years after the attempt of Sad-el-Kafara. Lake Moeris could only sustain for nearly 3600 years.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Many civilizations that had enjoyed long history and had flourished with power and knowledge gradually had faded away in the history. Mexican Maya and Inca, Egyptian and Indus valley civilizations are a few examples. The reason behind the extinction cannot always attribute to invasions by other human sects or to the natural changes of the ecology, but it also could be the outcome of adverse effects of man-made environment, including its physical structures created by man himself to tame nature in wrong way: like some methods of agriculture, water management, and dwelling etc.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Civilization that flourished in Sri Lanka is exceptional in this context. In the long history of the ancient world, which spanned from China to Turkey, connecting India and Persia on the land and on the sea, Sri Lanka had held a central position especially on the sea route, which is called Silk Route. The civilization on ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”the islandƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ was not isolated from the rest of the world. It had maintained relationships with China, on the one hand, and with Rome (1st cent.) and Byzantium (4th cent.) on the other. The presence of its ambassadors at the court of Rome is recorded by Pliny and is noted by Grotius.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Many an outside scholars has recognized the distinction and excellence with the work of the Sri Lankan indigenous achievements in the fields of agriculture, water resource development, conservation of environment, medicine, art and architecture and creating human settlements-in total a healthy human ecology including provision of a rich philosophical background for human life.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ In this letter, it is intended to discuss some of the salient features of the traditional irrigation systems prevailed here in Sri Lanka, by presenting a few cases where these ancient water and soil conservation eco systems which were perfectly ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”modernƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ in terms of sustainability and well woven structure withƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  the Nature. Many of these excellent systems had been either ruined or disturbed by the technocrats of the country, who have been conditioned by the education gained on the engineering hydraulics and the western oriented agriculture which they believe brings supreme and ultimate results than anything else. The ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”modernƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ engineers who have disturbed these man-made agricultural landscapes were totally ignorant of the subtleties of ecological balance these systems had maintained with the Nature and the potentialities that they inherent in sustainability and maintenance of the social cohesiveness – to cluster people together.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ These vast man-made diverse landscapes with people living in their indigenous technical, social and cultural backdrops have been treated as free and deserted playing fields by the engineers who were blind and ignorant on the developed technological principles on which these ancient man made landscapes have been laid. This was evident in instances where people resisted violently and even threw themselves against on-coming bulldozers which were moved to cut dams of tanks used by them for generations in the Kalaoya basin. These innocent villagers were able to save only one tank out of those more than 200 flattened out small ancient reservoirs.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The irrigation hard-structure, or the agricultural infrastructure, which has been exposed to the threat of these blind technocrats have been only a primary part of these agro landscapes of ancient agriculture. The soft-structure or the living activities of agriculture had been the other brilliant application of the agricultural wisdom of which we can only find some traces. The ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”soft-structureƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ of the agriculture had been the widely known applied component by the masses. The grain varieties, selection of the specific period of cultivation, knowledge of the nutrient sources, knowledge on the performance ofƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  the climate, application of the knowledge of the eco systems on the specific cultivations are a few of these ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”soft-part.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ This necessarily includes the cultural values, belief systems and the social make up of the society which is the back bone that maintained the traditional knowledge of the man-made agro landscape.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Diversity of the Technological Composition and the Lay-out:

Varied types of irrigation systems have been adapted to suit the terrain, rainfall and the vegetation.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ For instance, the traditional system that we can find in Mahaveli basin in its lower plane, especially in the district of Polonnaruwa, that with larger tanks interlinked with a complex of canal system is different from the system that has been adapted in Malwatuoya and Kalaoya basins where a balance mix of large and small tank system together with a system of canals could be seen. And what was practiced in Mau Ara basin in southern part of the country is totally different to that of the above said two systems.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Today, the general practice of the technocrats is the application or reproduction of the same technological model (mostly Tennesy River Valley Model) for every possible corner of the country in spite of the fact that the prevailing environmental contrasts of said region of the application of this model demands for other options and deviations from standard applications.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Making the system as a part of Nature:

The most outstanding principle underlying the evolution of these ancient systems is that they have been built and operated with a careful attention to the natural environment; as if they are building something belong to the nature. This fact of belonginess, or being a part of nature could be one of the main reasons behind the long flourish, long existence that these systems enjoy for more than thousands of years

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ In many instances, the canals used in the ancient systems resemble to natural streams. The modern day distributing canals, in some places, run at a level more than 20 feet below the immediate natural ground. These deep cut and concreted canals usually kill even large elephants during the dry spells of seasons getting them trapped in the canal bed. The ancient system which mostly used contour to select the path of canals never did any harm to Nature. The modern argument which is always leveled against ancient system is that using the contour canals which are laid along the slow gradients is a waste of water and also inefficient in this respect.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Sure, the lined straight canals which are laid against the contours may save water a lot at the expense of the lives of the giants of the wild. Can a system which deals with water and which is laid on the ground be so alien to the immediate environment? Can a system so alien sustain for so long?

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The Small Tank Systems:

The small tanks exist in groups and in cascades. In this system, the natural drainage system in a watershed is blocked in suitable locations by throwing the earthen bunds across the valley.

Out of 22,000 man-made inland water bodies spread over two third of the island and there are about 18,500 village tanks out of which nearly 12,000 or more are either in the state of ill function or abandoned.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Remaining small tanks feed an extent of 185,000 hectares which is 35% of the total irrigable area of the country. These small tanks contribute 20% to the national rice production.

The landscape of the dry zone has been basically dominated by small tanks dotted across the terrain in different forms and arrangement which is generally mistakenly perceived as a unnecessary disorder by a mind conditioned to pure geometric grid patterns which connoted modernity therefore as a sign of development.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Above all, these surface water bodies maintain the ground water table closer to the land surface. Absence of this spread of water bodies essentially leads to the depletion of ground water thereby changing the lush green of the landscape to dry.

In the traditional environment the village tank had served as the focus of the environment conservation and the social cohesion. In the ancient system, landscape was kept wet and green by the entire system of big tanks, small tanks and the canal system.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Villagers lived surrounding these tanks were the guardians of these environments.

The tree covered watersheds of the tank systems had been strictly conserved and guarded by the commons. The encroachments and slashing of these protected lands for agriculture considered to be a taboo by the traditions which had passed through generations not on mere mythical grounds but by accepted scientific understanding and social norms of the time.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Unique technological components applied in the ancient irrigation systems that have been perfected in its design & application:

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Biso Kotuwa : A type of sluice- counter part to valve towers and valve pits- sluice pattern of the European technology. The duty of Bisokotuwa is to hold the controlling gears which regulate the outflow of water or to stop the flow totally.

Development of this component had enabled the ancient tank builder to build large reservoirs where a head of 40 feet of water or more could be stored and regulated.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ A comment of Henry Parker, a British Engineer who had involved in restoration works of the tanks of Anuradhapura, Kurunegala & Vavunia in the early part of the 1900s in the British colonial regime of Sri Lanka saysƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Since about the middle of last century, open wells, called ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”valve ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” towersƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ when they stand clear of the embankment and ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…” valve ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” pitsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ when they are in it have been built at numerous reservoirs in Europe. Their duty is to hold the valves, and the lifting ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” gear for working them, by means of which the outward flow of the water is regulated or totally stopped. Such also was the function of the bisokotuwa of the Sinhalese engineers: they were the first inventors of the valve ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” pit more than 2100 years ago. And that it must have been no easy task to control the out ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” flow of the water at reservoirs which had a depth of thirty or forty feet, as was the case at several of the larger works. Yet the similarly of the designs of the bisokotuwa at all periods proves that the engineers of the third century B.C., if not those of an earlier period, had mastered the problem so successfully that all others were satisfied to copy their designs.

Paskandda Ulpotha ( Maadaragalla vaapi) an ancient reservoir built across Maaduru oya- a rivulet in the eastern region around 300 BC, in its second enlargement in 460 AD reached a height of 34 meters which held a world record until 1625 AD until the dam St. Ferrol in Italy surpassed it. The ancients could build the tanks to these extra heights only after the invention of Bisokotuwa which is technically equipped to release water with large water heads across a dam.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Ridee Bandille : A system of diverting water from a perennial water stream without building a dam across the water

In Angamedilla, Elahera & Minipe this technique can be seen in application. A low groin is built in oblique to the flow of water, and a bypass channel is cut off the bank of the river or the tributary. The diversion channel is then taken from this bypass channel. Note no accumulation of slit take place in this case in the river bed.

When the water regime raises high in the floods, the river or the stream flows unabated, in the way as if it flows naturally.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Kulu Wewa : These are the forest tanks, are built in the catchments of the large reservoirs mainly for the purpose of intercepting excess water & silt.

These are sometimes termed as ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”oolpathwewƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ which literally means the fountain formers. Kuluwews are not equipped with sluices but with the flood escapes.

More than 23 Kulu wewas can be found in the catchment of Minneriya Wewa. All of these structures are abandoned now.

The functions of these structures of recharging the water table, detention of silt, retaining of excess water and creating a micro level water and soil conservation ecological zones have not been identified by the authority of the present day. During the year 1998 a provincial political authority had converted a few of these structures to irrigable tanks by fixing sluices and settled farmers under these structures.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Biso Wew : Apart from those forest tanks or small Kulu Wewas that never had slices, there were large Kulu Wewas located in the catchment of the larger tanks equipped with sluices to release stored water to the main tank when required. During the heavier part of the rainy season that spread within the 4 months of the year, the excessive water that flows down to reservoir (drainage) from the watershed area is made to go off the spills of the tanks, as waste. But these Kuluwewas and Bisowewas were there to function as storages to save these large quantities of waste water; in order to save a large part of water that runs out of the spills and to make retain within the watershed area as surface and subterranean storage.

(To be continued)

4 Responses to “Is “science” a Sudda’s intellectual property?— Salient features of “ethical science” in traditional irrigation systems of Sri Lanka (Part 19-V)”

  1. Sunil Vijaya Says:

    Geeth – However much we attempt to ‘uncondition’ the ‘conditioned’ there will be elements who will advocate western thinking, western science, debate on English as a medium of instruction etc. etc.. In fact these unfortunate, pathetic elements are the seeds sewn by the influence of non other than the satanic culture which began the conquer of psyche of our people and plunder, more than the land they encroached in the 1800s. Bible according to them made the uncivilised, the civilised. English according to them is a superior language than other primitive languages. Shakespeare is supreme in literature and rest like Chekov, Tagore, Gorky, Brecht, Shaw etc. come second. Western technology is superior to any other. We too were subjected to this type of thinking, subjugated, subservient mentatilies, but with our own analysis without prejudice and thanks to our genetically inherited wisdom, we unconditioned ourselves and saw ‘things as they really are’ to burrow a statement from Buddhism. We Easterners had an edge over Westerners, especially the English, when it came to wisdom as the latter never had a tool to use other than a dogmatic religion which did not go beyond virtue. Buddhism played a major role in moulding our thinking with the excellent ‘Vapi’ culture acting as a foundation, which lead us to our lateral thinking, which the arrogant, ignorant races do lack, period. We should simply be proud of it. By the way, a point outside this discussion I need your clarification. Does the ‘Coastal Culture’ including the Colombons, you mention often in your fervent articles encompass Kandyans and Up country Sinhalese too, or it just confines to descendants of Kshatriyas/Sakyans? Sunil Vijayapala

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    Many thanks to Geeth for this detailed article on our ancient, sustainable, & wonderful Irrigation Systems. This should serve as an eye opener to many of our citizens on the collective Wisdom of our ancestors, for all are genetically connected to the ancient people of Lanka, one way or another. Let us all honor the ancient wisdom of our Ancestors, and revive our old ways as much as possible whilst keeping only what is truly life supportive in a sustainable way from the Colonial rulers time. We can see the damage done by blind acceptance of Scientific discoveries coming into the country. It is a great pity that some Religions and Science are mainly serving Greed for money & goods & money and for placating various primeval Fears, for the short term gain of a few people. In the modern world, as things are, we will probably all live together or all die together ! So, let’s all decide to live together.

    Perhaps President Mahinda Rajapakse could restart our time honored “Vap Magul” ceremony at which event the President himself could participate, showing the highest place for Agriculture and honoring it.

    Making Organic Fertilizer is very important. It would ensure that the run offs into drinking Water & Food Supply in the island is safe for all. What can we do to ensure a safe Water Supply for all ? Here is an excerpt from the web :

    “Investigate! Investigate your own environment. Are there any signs of pollution where you live? Is anyone doing anything about it? If they are not perhaps you can! If you find, for example a litter problem or a lifeless pond then complain to your local council. Remember to back up your complaint with good accurate information and photographs if you can.

    Find Out! Are the governments of the world introducing laws to control pollution levels? Are industries attempting to recycle their waste? Look at each type of pollution in turn and try and find out what is being done to try and reduce it.

    Decomposition? Nature efficiently recycles its own waste – dead plant and animal material. This involves a process known as “decomposition”. How does decomposition work? What does “biodegradable” mean? Ask & find out answers to these questions.

    Safely Re-cycle all possible man made materials, particularly batteries containing mercury, which is deadly to health”.

  3. Geeth Says:

    Colombians or costal political culture are tendencies or propensities, therefore can be found anywhere. I personally know that there are many in Kandy. I find Sri Lankan Colombians and people of coastal political culture in Europe and USA a lot. You might find them in Australia as well. I do not believe this up-country low-country duality. That’s also a socio-political conception manufactured by this coastal political culture at its early stages aimed at dividing a nation since 1505. Think of Portuguese Siphoy battalions they used to create this division.

  4. Sunil Vijaya Says:

    Thx Geeth – keep on hammering these pathetic entities as writers like you make a great contribution to mould the thinking of these hottentot nonages. Great social systems were a product of great thinkers and writers, irrespective of their location at the time of writing. One comment I made when I met Malinda S in SL recently, was although we were decades apart its so overwhelming to read and meet people who were on the same wavelength. We need to be careful not to be saddened or gladdened when people throw bricks and flowers at us – we need to practice equanimity, although we tend to think people who think like us to be intelligent and wise! Sunil Vijayapala

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