WATER MARVEL OF YORE | Sunday Observer


25 October, 2020
The fifth- upper platform built with bricks
The fifth- upper platform built with bricks

After the Peace Accord (MoU) was signed between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation of Tamil Tiger Eelam (LTTE) in 2002, travellers, pilgrims and schoolchildren had a rare chance to visit the unseen places in the North and the East occupied by LTTE terrorists for almost three decades.

The road barriers were removed and no vigilant Security Forces and police personnel were seen alongside the highways. Travellers and pilgrims hurried to visit Buddhist temples as well as Hindu Kovils in the Eastern Province. I too had the opportunity to visit a few religious places in the Eastern Province taking advantage of the ceasefire period.

Relic of the past

An exotic legacy that has come down to posterity lies along the Moneragala/Siyabalanduwa (A4) highway, in a lonely hamlet called Galabedda. In this tiny village now turned into a paddy field is a marvellous relic of the past- an ancient pond or bath in a complete state of preservation after restoration by the Department of Archaeology. This spot, popularly known as ‘Biso Kottuwa’ is a well-known landmark to many a traveller passing along the lonely jungle road to Moneragala.

Armed with cameras and dozens of transparency film rolls, we started our journey to the East on the A4 highway in the wee hours of a chilly morning, from Ratnapura. We did not waste time and drove straightaway to Moneragala intending to visit the Galabedda bathing pond, one of my destinations in my itinerary.

I had the opportunity to capture the stunning shots of water flowing from the four lions’ mouths at the Galabedda bathing pond in 2002, never seen anywhere else in the country. It was really a magnificent sight. This hidden site was well-maintained and most visitors drove to the site because of its magical water system.

I am back in Galabedda. It has been 19 years since my first visit to the pond and now the pond is deserted and neglected, left to the mercy of the elements. The four-water sprouts are not working without water and the beauty of the pond has disappeared altogether. The verdant mountain range, rich with cool water springs, rising to the sky through the plain landscape of drought-ridden Moneragala is like a fully-dressed glamorous maiden silently awaiting admiration.

Although the cloudless blue sky provides no protection to the plain landscape of Moneragala from the scorching sun, the village of Galabedda is abundant with greenery and water resources.

Hydraulic engineering

This unique hamlet of Galabedda proudly hides a magnificent monument known as Royal Bathing, used by the queens and princesses of yore. It is about a 20-foot square and has four entrances with steps leading to the square pond below. From the four entrances are four spouts issuing forth water through the mouths of the lions built with stone. On the walls of the pond are fascinatingly carved figures of damsels with pots. This is a veritable sign that this pond was exclusively for the princesses and queens. A marvel of ancient hydraulic creativity and the work of the massive bathing pond is quite awesome, especially, due to its ancient water engineering management system.

It has inspired research for historians, scholars and archaeologists in Sri Lanka. History has it that this royal bathing pond had been built for Queen Sugala Devi and her royal group. Probably they had used the pond to bathe and play water sports.

The name of Queen Sugala is widely used in the ancient chronicles relating to works done in ancient time in the Pahal-Uva and Ruhuna. It is an awe-inspiring mechanism and a unique feature.

Beside each lion’s face are two nude female figures sculptured on stone. Each platform up to the fourth from the bottom of the pond is filled with water. The four platforms are built with square granite and the fifth platform, which is above water level, is built with bricks.

The water flows up to the fourth platform where the lion faces stand, and excess water is directed under the pond. No one can see where the excess water is flowing. Close to the bath is a heart shaped stone with ornamental designs neatly carved to enclose two carved footrests. They are contiguous with another grooved space to keep the water vessel or sembuwa. This too is beautifully and artistically ornamented. The striking similarity between this and a modern squatting toilet is astonishing.

Although the ancient water flowing system is not exactly functional today, the Department of Archaeology has renovated the pond recently and it works fairly well now. During my first visit to the pond, I could photograph the water flowing through the lions’ mouths to the pond as it was done during the ancient time.

This royal bathing pond at Galabedda is a fine example of our ancient art and water engineering marvel of creative sculptors and engineers of the past.