Minneriya Dam from about 300 AD,
with a Tamil Hindu Kovil dedicated to the
Sinhalese Buddhist King Mahasena,
who constructed this vast reservoir.
Minneriya Lake, with the national park at the opposite, western side (upstream)
Minneriya is famous for the Elephant Gathering taking place now. But it is not only interesting as a wildlife park, Minneriya is of historical significance, too. The lake, now the reason for the gathering of elephant herds during the dry season, is artificial but 17 centuries old. Lake Minneriya s one of the major irrigation projects of the ancient Sinhalese civilization, not only one of the largest reservoirs but also the first huge dam at the eastern side of the island’s main watershed, developping a second centre of agriculture and settlement in the Cultural Triangle region, the area of Polonnaruwa. Right from the beginning Sri Lanka`s ancient Mega-reservoirs not only served for irrigation but also for the benefit of wildlife. Historical records proof this second goal, since animal protection is an integral part of Buddhist teachings. The builder of the dam and the inflow channel was King Mahasena (253-266). The historical chronicle Pujavaliya of the 13th century explains: For the construction of such an enormous dam services of demons or giants were required. For settlers in the newly cultivated area the builder King Mahasena himself could not have been an ordinary mortal any more. In this region he became revered as “Minneriya Deviyo”, meaning "Minneriya God". In honour of the king, who now became the guardian god of the dam and of the land`s fertility, a Kovil was erected, where he is worshiped till the present day. This is all the more remarkable as it means: A Sinhalese Buddhist king is regarded as a Tamil Hindu god at Minneriya!
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