Minneriya tank is one of the oldest man-made tanks in Sri Lanka and played an important role in the ancient irrigation system of the island. Minneriya is one of the several tanks built by King about eighteen centuries ago. Even today it serves to hundreds of thousands of people and farmers in the area by storing excess water during the rainy season and then releasing what is stored during the drought.
The Elahera canal was extended further in the direction of north from the Minneriya tank to bring water to Kantale tank in 1903. Minneriya tank was also renovated at the same time increasing the water capacity that it could store. Other than being a valuable resource of water in the area it is a valuable source of food for the people and provides a lively hood for many fishers in the area.
It was actually not until Pybus, a British envoy who sought an alliance for his country with the Kandyan King, passed through on his journey from
A legend of Minneriya tank
The Mahavamasa tells that Minneriya tank was inspired by King Mahasen seventeen centuries ago, and there are many stories, legends and traditions which tell how the great lake Minneriya came to be sited and built.
According to a local legend that after seven long years of labour of Minneriya tank still remained incomplete. Every year, as it neared completion the bund sank notwithstanding the efforts of the builder. At this anxious period, it was revealed to Mahasen in a dream that the demons of the tank area demanded a sacrifice, not a mere animal sacrifice, but that of a royal prince, else they would continually destroy the work. When the king’s ministers heard of his dream, they were very great in favour of appeasing the demons. Much against his wishes he reluctantly consented to the sacrifice, and summoning the queen demanded that she nominate a prince for the purpose. The queen indignantly replied, “I do not want a tank of that type; hence I have no prince to give you for sacrifice.”
After some time, since the completion of the work was still being hindered, Mahasen proceeded in state to his sister and begged a prince of her. She perhaps could not object and had no option but to consent to offer her son. Throwing a royal robe over the shoulders of the lad and having adorned him with gold ornaments, she presented him to the king, who bore the prince away in his entourage.
It so happened that the chief minister was very fond of this young prince. When preparations were made for the sacrifice, he plotted a ruse. Hiding the prince in the jungle, he ordered a hunter to kill a bear. Sprinkling the animal’s blood on a coffin which the onlookers thought contained the mutilated corpse of the prince; he placed it in the breach at the spot where the bund was giving trouble. The workmen immediately began throwing in the earth and filled the gap in the bund. The king’s dream having fulfilled and the sacrifice made, the bund stood firm and collected the water which was to irrigate eight thousand fields.
Nevertheless, after the sacrifice had been made King Mahasen was often in a dejected mood – so much so that the Chief Minister ventured to question him, and was answered that the king grieved for his favourite nephew. The chief minister thereupon, begging for the King’s forgiveness for disobeying him, observed that if the King did so he could cure the King’s grief. Assured of forgiveness, the chief minister told the King of the ruse he had practised and disclosed that the prince was living disguised as a peasant outside the limits of Minneriya. On the King’s orders, the prince was bidden to present himself to the Court and was restored to his entire honour. That vast stretch of land known as Hingurak-damana (today called Hingurakgoda) was bestowed on him.
A manuscript (Ola) in the British Museum recounts the story of the arrival of a “Deva” known as Kaludaekada Kumara, from India, through Jaffna to Minneriya. The village populace in Minneriya and around has come to identify the “Deva” as Prince Hingurak, and regard him as the tutelary deity of the new colony, Hingurakgoda.
Importance of Minneriya tank
Minneriya tank provides very valuable service to the people of dry-zone in the central province. Minneriya tank is the source of water for drinking and cultivation. It also acts as the main source of flood water trapping in the area. Minneriya and surrounding area belong to the dry-zone of Sri Lanka, the entire region receives the rain only for a limited number of days from April to November (parallel to the north-east monsoon), rest of the year there is no rain and most water resources dry up. Due to this weather pattern Minneriya and surrounding area experience a prolonged dry season, every year and it was the Minneriya tank that helps the people when the water scarce during the dry season.
Minneriya tank is the main source of water for the Minneriya wildlife reserve and all the inhabitants of the wildlife reserve depend on the Minneriya tank for water. Minneriya tank is the most important wild animal gathering spot in the national park, especially among the elephants. It is the main gallery to spot wild animals during the Minneriya safari none of the visitors of the park fails to visit it. Due to the large extent of a mild grown grassland people can position themselves in a very good viewing angle and have a wide angle when spotting wild animals. Availability of plenty of grass is a major reason for a large number of wild elephant gathering around the lake. The lawn around the lake not only attracts the wild elephants from Minneriya national park but also wild elephants from other nearby wildlife reserves such as Kaudualla and eco-park.