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Historic Kandy Lake - now an offensive presence

by M. B. Dassanayake

National waters like rivers, lakes and seas are composed of not only water but a whole lot of living organisms existing in a dynamic equilibrium. Any water is classified as polluted if it is not fit for human or animal consumption, industrial or agricultural use, navigation or recreation purposes.

Pollution of water is caused by disposing of sewage water and industrial effluents into it. In the rural areas the rivers and lakes are commonly used for bathing, washing clothes and cattle.

The same is subsequently used for drinking and cooking as well. Improperly treated sewerage contaminating potable water causes bacterial epidemics.

Kandy was chosen as a Royal City because of its strategic position, it became a religious centre because it was a Royal City. Drowsy, flower fragrant a gem of rare splendour set amidst the picturesque hills, Kandy sleeps dreamily, reflecting her delicate beauty in the still waters of her limpid lake.

Kandy lake was begun before Major Adam Davy attempted to capture Kandy. According to R. L. Brohier, the king is supposed to have first built a dam across the paddy fields, starting from the 'Pattiruppuwa' (Octogen) side, where one can see steps leading into the lake by the 'Mahamaluwa' (Esplanade) and stretching across to the 'Poya-maluwa'.

Environmental hazards

This is the dam, along which bund was a roadway for the king to go across to the 'Malwatte Temple'. The lake thus formed was called 'Kirimuhuda'. When the King found that a lake thus formed was very beautiful, he then extended the dam to the present bund, removing the earth on both sides of the previous bund. Accordingly D'Oyley, the dam was constructed between 1810-1812 A.D.; in the centre of the island was built the 'Jayatilleke Mandapaya' supposedly where the king sent his queens for rest and recuperation.

This lovely artificial lake built by the last king of Kandy, Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe, was completed in 1812 A.D. It was only three years after, on March 2nd, 1815 A.D., that the British took possession of Kandy.

The once beautiful expansion of water is today struggling against the throttling silt fast gathering around the lake. Already towards Ampitiya the accumulated earth and sand stabilised itself into a few acres of luxuriant grazing land, adjoining the playing fields that was also once a part of the lake.

Storm water has brought down to the lake during the past few years, tons of eroded soil from the building sites and factories in the neighbourhood. The silt traps have proved to be utterly ineffective against the massive down-flow of silt. The lake bunds, too, has consequently become shoddy and ill-kept adding to the general appearance of neglect.

All the works of restoration now done under the cultural project will have little meaning if the lake remains neglected.

Colombo's 'Beira' lake

The lake could have become one of the more pleasing amenities of the city, but for a long time, it was neglected and as the population increased it became a menace to the health of the inhabitants. Much of the sewage of the city found its way into it. Some effort was made to dredge the lake but this by itself could not cure the unhealthy and obnoxious conditions arising from the presence in the midst of the city of a wide stretch of polluted and stagnant waters.

Proposals were made from time to time to connect the lake with the harbour by means of a canal and a lock or locks. Closely allied with them was a scheme for draining the lake or cutting canals through it to the various stores and the proposed lock. In 1904 A.D., the Governor appointed a committee composed of the Director of Public Works (F. A. Cooper), the Principal Collector of Customs (W. K. Jackson), the Chairman of the Colombo Municipal Council (E. M. de Courcy Short) and a Member of the Mercantile Community (J. Wardrop), to report on the proposals to connect the lake to the harbour.

The committee reported on November 8, 1905, that, owing to the depth of the lake, the construction of a canal from the harbour to the lake would be by itself be of little practical advantage. The construction of such a canal, therefore, necessitated the canalisation of the lake or extended dredging over the whole area.

Some European firms said that their interest would be adversely affected, but the majority welcomed the scheme which was carried out and which added much needed land for development. It cannot be denied, however, that the best use of the lake has not been made for ornamental or utilitarian purposes.

The Beira lake is one of the principal features of the city of Colombo, and it has received the attention in turn of the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. One of the earliest references to the lake is to be found in 'The Conquest of Ceylon' by Father Fernao de Queyros published in 1688 A.D.

He says that when Vijeya Bahu laid seige to Colombo in 1521 A.D., the Portuguese Captain Lopo de Brito pursued the attack "killing and wounding them till they reached the brook, which was after that damned into the lake for the better fortification of the city."

Queyroz adds that, when large reinforcements arrived from Goa in 1555 A.D., they built some houses giving rise to the city of Colombo which had within it the mound of Laurence and was surrounded by Capana (Sinh. 'Kalapuwa'), a lake nearly three leagues and a half in length, which is summer admits of access to Colombo in some places with water to the waist."

During the seige of 1578 AD, Mayadunne seeing that the Portuguese boats were plying in the lake, "determined to drain it, but without avail, as it was valorously defended". His son Rajasinha besieged Colombo several times and drained the lake dry twice by canals, one of which is now represented by the San Sebastian Canal.

The lake is described as full of crocodiles, whence the name Cayman's Gate.

The word 'Cayman' was used for a crocodile both by the Portuguese and the Dutch. There were several islands in it, most of which have since disappeared. Slave Island had a cinnamon plantation and another island was large enough to have 600 coconut trees and a whole village.

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