The Heritage of King Dhatusena

Kind Dhatusena was the first King of the Moriyan Dynasty to rule our island nation from 455 AD to 473 AD. He defeated the South Indian invaders who ruled the country for twenty six years and proclaimed Anuradhapura as his Capital. According to the Chronicles of the Chulawansa, Dhatusena was raised by his Uncle, a Buddhist Monk named Mahanama, who ordained him as a Buddhist Monk in order to hide him from the invaders.

Like the many great Kings who ruled Sri Lanka during ancient times, Kind Dhatusena contributed immensely towards agriculture. He constructed 10 irrigation tanks during his reign; the flagship of which is the “Kala Wewa”.


Kala Wewa [Photo by Thejan Niroshan (

The Kala Wewa has a circumference of over 65 kilometers and covers an area of roughly 18 square kilometers. The “Pitawana” or the spill gate is about 66 meters tall and 52 meters wide. The Spill Gate was built with hammered Granite blocks; each shaped to fit its neighbor with such accuracy that they act as a single solid rock.  After the Kala Wewa was completed, Kind Dhatusena initiated work on another tank, known as “Balalu Wewa”, adjoining Kala Wewa. He then proceeded to join the two tanks giving rise to one of the largest reservoirs in History, the Kala Balalu Wewa.

In addition to the tanks, King Dhatusena constructed the “Yodha Ela”. This 87 kilometer long canal was built to transport water from the Kala Wewa to the Capital City of Anuradhapura. Thus, the Yodha Ela feeds the Abhaya Wewa, Tissa Wewa and Nuwara Wewa situated in Anuradhapura, while a branch of the Ela feeds the Nochchaduwa reservoir. The Yodha Ela has a precise gradient of 6 inches per mile; an engineering feat that baffles even the engineers armed with today’s modern technology.


The Bisokotuwa of Kala wewa passes water through its Sorowwa where Yodha Ela starts.

The photograph and caption above was taken from

Entwined in the folklore of Kala Wewa is man known as “Kadawara”. It is said that Kadawara’s wife repeatedly insulted and disrespected him so much so that he decided to abandon his family and live in the jungle. As the year passed by he grew accustomed to the jungle and the wild animals that inhabited the area. One day a hunter noticed him and informed the King of a strange man that lived with a flock of Deer. They suspected that Kadawara was guarding a hidden treasure in the jungle. The King dispatched his men, captured Kadawara and questioned him. After Kadawara revealed to the King the reason that led him to live in the jungle, the King asked if he had come across anything of interest during his time in the jungle. Then, Kadawa informed the king that he hasn’t seen anything interesting other than a brook in the jungle that was blocked by the flora called Kala that had grown across the stream. Legend has it that the Kala Wewa was built at this location.

According to Legend when the Kala Wawa was completed, Kadawara noticed a breach in the bund and used his body to block the breach until it was repaired. Sadly, Kadawara didn’t survive; but, it is believed that he was reincarnated as a Deity, Kadawara Deviyo, who is known to be the guardian and protector of Kala Wewa and the surrounding villages.

King Dhatusena’s reign ended when he was overthrown by his son Kashyapa. King Kashyapa believed that his father had a hidden treasure; when questioned, the old king took his son to the Kala Wewa, took some water to his hands and claimed that it was the only treasure he possessed. King Kashyapa was enraged! He murdered his father and entombed him in the bund. Some stories say that he was buried alive in the bund.

In addition to King Datusena’s contribution towards agriculture and irrigation, he also made valuable contributions towards uplifting Buddhism and Buddhist culture. The Aukana Buddha statue is the most iconic of his portfolio. Located near Kekirawa, not too far from the Kala Wewa is the statue which stands at a height of 42 feet depicting a variation of the Abhaya mudra, the “gesture of fearlessness” that represents protection, peace, benevolence and the dispelling of fear. The Aukana statue was carved out of a large Granite rock face and the back of the statue is supported by a narrow strip of rock. The main statue is 38 feet and 10 inches in height; the addition of the pedestal carved in the form of a Lotus flower makes the statue stand at 42 feet. The carving is considered an artistic masterpiece that depicts an elaborately carved robe draped tightly on the Buddha. The statue had been built within a large image house or shrine, parts of which still remain.


The Aukana Buddha statue

If you are traveling from Dambulla to Anuradhapura, turn left at Kekirawa on to the Kekirawa – Thalawa road and continue until you come to the Kalawewa- Galewela Road (A423). This road passes along the bund of the Kelawewa. Turn right to the Kalawewa- Aukana road and proceed until you come to the Aukana Temple’s vehicle parking area. The temple is on top of a rocky knoll and the statue is adjacent to the temple.

Nearby, at Sasseruwa, there is another standing Buddha statue which is quite similar to the Buddha statue at Aukana. The story behind the two statues mentions that they were built by a Guru and his pupil as part of a competition between them. The Guru sculpted the Avukana Statue, while the pupil sculpted the statue at Sasseruwa. The first to complete his work was supposed to ring a bell and notify his competitor. The Guru won the competition which drove the pupil to abandon his work. To this day the statue at Sasseruwa remains in its unfinished state. Despite the similarities, it is popularly believed that the Aukana statue is the better of the two. In actual fact, historians have uncovered that the Aukana statue was built in the 5th century and the statue at Sasseruwa was built nearly 400 years earlier.


The standing Buddha statue at Sasseruwa

On the route mentioned above you get a panoramic view of Kala Wewa. Before you reach the lake there is another significant temple; The Vijithpura Rajamaha Viharaya. It is believed that this is the site of the Vijithapura Fort where the final battle between Kings Dutugamunu and Ellara took place. There are many artifacts to be seen here including the Kadu-ge- gala, the stone on which the swords were sharpened in preparation for the final battle.

Avukana can also be reached via Maradankadawala from the A9 road or via Appawela from Thalawa or Thambuththegama via the A28.

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