Famed as a custodian of Buddhism and for the advancement of irrigation, King Parakramabahu’s greatest triumph was the construction of a reservoir which covers more than 2400 hectares. It was named Parakrama Samudra, which means Sea of Parakrama since it is vast in size. An attempt to solve Sri Lanka’s dry period without rain, King Parakramabahu made irrigation possible by the engineering mastery of this artificial lake that fills up by draining out the rainwater that collected through 11 channels which supplied a network of irrigation canals and minor tanks. This mighty king had also restored 53 tanks so as to increase the supply of rice for his people thus benefiting the development of the agrarian industry.
Today only a portion of the Parakrama Samudra is what can be seen from its original size. The Parakrama Samudra had initially consisted of five large reservoirs which were divided by smaller dams to lessen the pressure on the main dam.
However, several smaller dams were constructed around the main dam to provide for the first dams and to maximise water intake. The main five reservoirs which make up the Parakrama Samudraya are Thopa Weva, Eramdu Weva, Dumbuthula Weva, Kalahagala Weva and Bhu Weva.
During the reformation of the Parakrama Samudraya in the late 19th century, the water which should have flowed to the Thopa Weva, had begun to flow to the Bhu Weva. Engineers built a temporary dam to block this water flow into the Bhu Weva. This temporary dam eventually became a permanent road, thus isolating Kalahagala Weva and Bhu Weva from the Parakrama Samudraya.
When one visits, beauty of the Parakrama Samudraya makes one wonder how such a gigantic man made reservoir that looks like a sea was built at that time without any technology and heavy machinery. There are many hotels alongside the lake and the scenic drive along the lake can be serene, quiet, and pleasant with beautiful sunset views. There are wild elephants that do appear and a variety of birds do emerge around the lake. Many activities revolve around the Samudra such as bird watching, cycling, lake fishing and boat rides.
- Bird Watching – A fascinating activity that can be enjoyed by those who love bird life. It can be experienced by everyone who tours Polonnaruwa. Kokduwa is an island that habitats a wide variety of birds. It is in close proximity to Polonnaruwa and is surrounded by the second biggest reservoir – Parakrama Samudraya. The kokduwa island has over 30 species of birds in which some are also migratory. Kokduwa and Parakrama Samudraya are the best locations in Polonnaruwa to see a diverse variety of colourful birds. Whilst on this excursion, you could have an opportunity to interact with the local fishing community.
- Inland Fishing and Boat Rides – Although the Parakrama Samudraya reservoir is used to irrigate the fields, it is also a favourite location for fishing among the local fishermen. You can join a fisherman on his boat and get an insight on the tricks of the trade and also try your hand at fishing with the rods provided by the fishermen. During the boat ride, you can get magnificent views from the lake of the landscapes with the Knuckles Range visible in the distance. You will be able to see wildlife such as elephants, monkeys and deer coming to quench their thirst along the banks of the reservoir. Bird life is rampant around the lake too.
- Cycling – Cycle along the Parakrama Samudra and enjoy breathtaking views of the lake on one side and hotels or tropical fields on the other.