Anuradhapura ancient places –the twin ponds

The Twin Ponds Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka -an ingenious solution for the water shortage during the dry season in Anuradhapura

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Anuradhapura ancient places –the twin ponds

Twin Ponds, Twin pools, or Kuttam Pokuna (in Sinhalese) is a compound consisting of 2 well-preserved old bathing tanks or ponds in Sri Lanka. This pair of ponds were built by the Sinhalese in the ancient Anuradhapura Kingdom. The compound was built as a part of one of the old monasteries in Sri Lanka known as the Abhayagiri monastery. The compound is an example of the works in the field of hydrological engineering, architecture, and art of the ancient Sinhalese.

Anuradhapura ancient place to see the engineering marvels of ancient engineers of Sri Lanka.

Twin pond: a unique well that addresses the water shortage

Anuradhapura is a popular city on the island with many hundreds of crumbling monuments. The hordes of tourists are heading to Anuradhapura every day in view of exploring the rich historical past of Sri Lanka. Anuradhapura is part of most Sri Lanka trips, which are planned with intention of exploring the historical places. The trips to Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle such as 5 days Sri Lanka cultural tour are equipped with the important tourist places of Anuradhapura such as the twin po9nd.

This unique well is among the least popular tourist attractions in Anuradhapura, which is an architectural invention of ancient engineers of Sri Lanka. The twin pond or “Kuttam pokuna” in the native language is two ponds next to each other, dating back to the Anuradhapura period (3rd Century BC to 11th century AD), and the exact dates of its construction of the ancient ponds are unknown. This twin pond is considered to be an ingenious solution for the water shortage during the dry season in the region.

Concealed from the plain sight, a few minutes away from the newly emerged bustling city of Anuradhapura, the commercial hub of North-central province is the Anuradhapura ancient city, popular far and wide in the world for its crumbling historical monuments. However, I have great doubt about the popularity of twin ponds in the ancient city of Anuradhapura, because it seems like just another ordinary well with steps and rarely gets the attention of visitors.

This ancient landmark is overlooked by many travelers due to the other major attractions such as Jetawanarama stupa, and Ruwanweliseya, which are much larger than the twin ponds and have more religious significance.

The weather pattern in Anuradhapura

According to the weather pattern, there is an acute shortage of water in the dry zone of Sri Lanka from November to April due to the lack of rain. The archaeologist believes that the weather pattern we have today shows a lot of similarities to the weather pattern that existed during the Anuradhapura period, ancient people also had to find a solution for the water shortage during the dry season.

Advanced water management installed by the Sri Lanka kings in the past

On account of this phenomenon, the ancient Kings installed thousands of lakes across the northern dry zone of Sri Lanka, in order to collect water during the rainy season (monsoon season). The collected water was subsequently served to the people under the stringent control of officials. The labyrinthine canals built by ancient kings dating back to the 3rd century BC is still serving the people of the dry zone, and they are the lifeblood of farmers in the dry zone of Sri Lanka.

Origin of twin pond

The origin of most historical monuments of Anuradhapura is ambiguous due to the lack of evidence. Twin pond is another ancient construction in the city which has very limited information about its history. It is believed that the pond was built during the reign of king Aggabodhi I of Anuradhapura (575-608). The Central Cultural Fund, however, names the eighth or ninth century as the time of building.

The purpose of the twin pond

The compound was a part of the Abhaygiri monastery complex. It served as one of the main sources of water for the monks who lived in the monastery. The monks used the pond to bathe. 

The unique architecture of twin pond

Twin ponds have a unique architectural design that was an ingenious answer for the water shortage in the area during the dry season. Anuradhapura kingdom is in the heart of Sri Lanka’s dry zone, where the perennial water resources dry out during the dry season. To make it worst rain is also seldom during this period. As a remedy, the Sri Lankan kings built gigantic reservoirs and stored the water during the rainy season, which helps them to guarantee the availability of enough water for people for consumption and agriculture during the drought. Twin ponds were fed by an ancient tank through a duct.

As you stand on top of the flight of steps going deep down into the earth at Anuradhapura, you can see the thick forest and the crumbling historical monument in the backdrop, remembering that you are in the most historical archaeological site in Sri Lanka.

The two ponds of the compound are built of different sizes. The southern pond is larger and it is 40 meters (132 ft) by 16 meters (51 ft). The smaller pond, which is located north of the other pond is 28 meters (91 ft) by 16 meters (51 ft). The depth of the larger pond and smaller pond respectively is 4.3 meters (14 ft) and 5.5 meters (18 ft). The space between the wall surrounding the compound and the two ponds is 18 feet (5.5 m).

The two ponds consist of a parapet. The faces of the ponds are cut granite slabs as are the bottom and the sides of the ponds. The ponds are built in such a way that the bottom of the pond is narrow while the top part is wider, giving them a stepped slope, with steps too narrow to descend. Each pond is equipped with 2 flights of stairs, located on the northern and southern ends of the ponds. However, the southern pond has an additional flight of stairs on the western side. Unlike the other stairs, these do not protrude from the side of the pond. The stairs lead to the bottom of the pond and are decorated with Punkalas, or pots of abundance, and scroll designs.

Tow ponds look similar to anyone at the first glance, but there are few marked differences. The Punkalas (a full pot) and the banisters of the stairs of the larger pond are more ornate. The sides of the large pond also have terraces on several levels, which are broad enough to walk or sit on and can be reached from the stairs.

Five-hooded cobra (Naga) sculptures under an arch of makaras have been used to decorate the northern side of the small pond. Another Makara shape can still be recognized in the nearby stone spout. Outside the parapet of the small pond, there is a silt trap. The outlet of this structure towards the stone spout in the pond wall is 330 millimeters (13 in) above the bottom.

Underground channel

An underground channel built using stones is discovered during the excavation at the site. The channel was 110 millimeters (4.5 in) wide, 130 millimeters (5 in) high, and 2.4 meters (8 ft) feet, 230 millimeters (9 in) below the surface. The underground channel connects both ponds. Because the opening into the channel is well above the bottom of the smaller pond, this would act as a filtering mechanism for the larger pond.

Water flow

Mainly the water was directed to the ponds from the reservoir over a distance of 3 km (1.9 mi) using the underground ducts. The water was filtered before it enters the northern pond via the stone spout in the northern wall. Then the filtered water was passed to the southern pond from the northern pond through the duct. Eventually, the water was drained from both ponds through a drain on the bottom of the small pond, to be used to water nearby rice fields.

The compound

The two ponds are built in a 0.91 meters (3 ft) deep, rectangular depression lined with a low wall. The flight of stairs of the twin pond is consisting of 5 levels leading the users to the ground level into it. At the side of one of the stairs, in the northwest corner of the twin pond, the visitors can witness a stone spout protruding from the wall. The ancient chronicle (Mahawamsa) describes that the spout was supported by a small sculpture of a lion. The spout functioned as the overflow of a small cistern on the other side of the wall.

Ancient places of Anuradhapura

The Number of Anuradhapura historical places exceeds many thousands and the old city expands over a large area. Anuradhapura is an archaeological zoo with hundreds of thousands of historical monuments and the twin pond is one of them.

The step-wells are to be found very commonly in north India, and some other parts of western Indian states. However, they originated during the medieval period and the twin ponds of Anuradhapura are much older than the Indian step-wells. The twin ponds in Anuradhapura primarily served the temple monks and it was not for the purpose to serve the general public, therefore it was a temple tank.

There are a few differences between the step-wells of India and the twin pond of Sri Lanka such as decorations, twin pond is lavishly decorated but most Indian ponds are basic and not decorated. The flight of steps of the twin pond is lavishly decorated with niches, stone sculptures and arches, floral designs, and animal figures.

Even though the concept behind the step-wells seems to be similar in both countries, in the Sri Lankan case, it is much more complicated and more advanced. The Indian step wells solely depend on the groundwater level in order to fill the pond but at twin ponds, the ancient engineers installed an underground terracotta pipe to direct water to the pond from the nearby tank.

The water which was coming in the direction of the pond is directed to a tank before it fills the step-well, thereby all the residue that mixed with the water settled in the tank before recedes to the well and only the clean water flows into the pond.

The twin pond of Anuradhapura is the oldest and most well-known stepwell on the island. The twin pond is still in very good shape even after about 1500 years. The twin pond was built for the use of monks of Mahavihara and it was a part of to the temple complex and was abandoned when the capital of Sri Lanka was moved to Polonnaruwa from Anuradhapura in the 11th century AD.

After many centuries of disuse, it was discovered during the excavation in the old city, in the 18s. Today the twin pond is one of the very valuable artifacts that show the architectural and engineering skills of ancient people it is clever and sophisticated engineering, which could be relevant again today because Sri Lanka’s dry zone faced the spectra of drought over the past few decades.

Visiting twin ponds Anuradhapura

Visiting Sri Lanak cultural triangle including Anuradhapura is one of the very popular activities among travelers. If you book a multi-day Sri Lanka trip such as 7 day Sri Lanka tour package, 10-day Sri Lanka trip, or 14 days Sri Lanka tour package, you are well on your way to visiting this fascinating ancient city, because most multi-day Sri Lanka trips include an Anuradhapura city tour. The travelers visit many dozens of ancient monuments such as the twin Ponds on their Anuradhapura city tour. Usually, the Anuradhapura city tour begins with a visit to Isurumuniy and many dozens of interesting monuments follow such as SriMaha Bodhi (Sacred Bo tree), Ruwanweli Stupa, Brazen Palace, Thuparama Stupa.

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