Ancient Sri Lankan Irigation systems

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Sri Lanka’s tanks

Sri Lanka is covered with a network of thousands of manmade lakes and ponds, known locally as ‘tanks’ (after ‘tanque’, the Portuguese word for ‘reservoir’). Some are truly massive; many are thousands of years old: and almost all show a high degree of sophistication in their construction and design. Indeed, Sir James Emmerson Tennent, the 19th century historian, is fulsome in his admiration for those who built them.

In particular he marvels at the numerous channels which were dug underneath the bed of each lake in order to ensure that the flow of water was “constant and equal as long as any water remained in the tank”. Frequently, he notes, those channels had to be cut through solid granite with the most rudimentary of tools:

“Their ruins present illustrations of determined perseverance, undeterred by the most discouraging of difficulties and unrelieved by the slightest appliance of ingenuity to diminish the toil of excavation.” [1]

Today, the majority of the tanks which so impressed Tennent, have either totally or partially silted up. Nonetheless, numerous smaller tanks still survive (although many of these, too, are now partially silted up) and continue to provide the basis for irrigation agriculture in the dry zone of the island.

The complete Article can be read at  http://www.edwardgoldsmith.org/1034/traditional-irrigation-in-the-dry-zone-of-sri-lanka/

 

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