Padaviya: the Eastern Capital of the Rajarata Kingdom
Padaviya situated in the North-Eastern corner of the North Central
province, bordering the Northern and Eastern provinces; about 96
kilometres away from Anuradhpura was devoid of settlements in the early
centuries of the Christian era. That explains why there aren’t many
early Brahmi cave inscriptions in and around Padaviya. But gradually the
region had developed as the centre of the Eastern Division (Pacinadésa)
of the Rajarata kingdom. One of the earlier names of Padaviya was
Padinnoru which is derived from the Pali form Pacina-nagara or the
Eastern city. It also came to be known as Padirattha or Padavi country.
King Parakramabahu I
The Padaviya reservoir which has a gross water capacity of 85,000
acre feet is the second largest tank in the Anuradhapura District. Built
by king Moggallana II (531-551), it was initially known as Dhanavapi and
later as Padavapi. The bund of this beautiful tank is in two segments
divided by a rock formation known as the Deiyanne Kanda, 350 feet above
sea level. The present irrigation circuit is located on Deiyanne Kanda
and presents a marvellous view of the gigantic reservoir.
The Eastern bund of the reservoir has been constructed by utilizing
many thousands of people over a period of at least 10 to 15 years. About
592,000 cubic yards of sandy clay soil had been brought to the site from
a distance. This section of the bund of the reservoir is about 1.6
kilometres long and the Western, about two kilometres. These bunds and
the high ground formations have impounded the waters of Makunu Oya on
the West and the Mora Oya on the East to ensure a ready supply of water.
The reservoir receives water also from a diversion structure of stone
work below the confluence of two rivers Kivul Oya and Ma Oya. The
diversion structure was referred to as ‘Vannathi Palama’ in the first
half of the 20th century. But presently it is known as ‘Gal-Bamma’ -
stone bund. Most likely this diversion structure had been built before
the construction of the Padaviya reservoir to divert water for
agricultural development in the region. At present the area is called
Padavi Parakrama Pura - the name given to the settlement scheme after
the restoration of the reservoir in mid 1950s. It s ancient name is not
On the Eastern bund of the reservoir near the modern main sluice
stands a pillar inscription by King Parakramabahu I (1153-1186) of
Polonnaruwa. Although the inscription states that Parakaramabahu
constructed the reservoir, what really happened is that he had
extensively renovated it.
According to the Mahavamsa, Padaviya was one among many reservoirs
restored by Parakramabahu I. Along with other reservoirs Padaviya tank
had fallen into disuse after the decline of the Rajarata civilization in
the middle of the 13th century.
Padaviya was also an important religious and commercial centre. Its
archaeological sites are hidden in the jungles around and near the
reservoir. One of these sites is now known as ‘Puravidya kele’ -
Archaeological forest - and is located below the Eastern bund. This may
be the region known as Moragoda in the early part of the 20th century.
The other sites are Asvaya Bandi Kanda - the mountain on which the horse
was tied and Buddangala, formerly known as Buddannehela.
The inscriptions and ruins of monuments in and around Padaviya
indicate that the region had grown into a large town of commercial and
religious importance by the 11th century. The ruins of a dagoba with
steps leading to it flanked by balustrades; a standing figure of the
Buddha and a mutilated sedant Buddha in dhyana mudra or meditative
posture are found among the ruins below the tank bund. The Moragoda
inscription of Kassapa IV (898-914) records the grant of immunities to a
track of land belonging to a Buddhist monastery irrigated by the
There are also structures of Hindu temples. As Brohier has noted,
among the ruins of the Hindu temples are at least two lingams and a
figure of a kneeling bull, the vehicle of god Shiva. A Tamil inscription
of the 26th year of the Cola King Rajaraja I records some endowments,
namely 12 gold lamps, a number of cows and some gold made to a Saiva
temple by officials, military personnel and mercantile guilds.
Presumably the officials and military personnel were those who
administered the Pacinadesa or Eastern Division during the Cola rule
(1017-1070) basing Padaviya as headquarters.
Padaviya tank. Pic. courtesy: Lakdasun.org
The commercial importance of Padaviya had reached its height by the
11th, 12th and 13th centuries. This commercial centre had as its nucleus
a walled enclosure of about eight acres in extent with well laid out
streets. R. L. Brohier has noted traces of three buildings in this
enclosure, at least two of them of the size 60’ x 50’ and another a
little smaller but with sculptured pillars. A Tamil inscription in situ
referring to South Indian mercantile communities such as Cettis,
Nanadesis and Ainnurruvar indicate that the South Indians played an
important role in the commercial centre of Padaviya.
During the later period of the Rajarata civilization, Padaviya had
served as a point of intersection between two different levels of
commercial activity, long distance trade and regional trade. One of the
Tamil inscriptions datable to the 11th or 12th century refers to a
representative of a ‘guild of boatmen’ or cargo shippers at the Padaviya
Nakaram. This would mean that the traders engaged in long distance trade
in carrying commodities for shipment through ancient Gokanna port
(present Trincomalee) or bringing in commodities from the port to the
interior had connections with the Padaviya commercial centre. According
to another Tamil inscription of the 12th century a periodic fair or
tavalam had links with the city. The tax collected from the tavalam had
obviously gone into the coffers of the city administration.
Restoration of great reservoir
This important town had been abandoned around the middle of the 13th
century along with major cities such as Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa as
a result of the decline and fall of the Rajarata civilization. In the
subsequent centuries the bund of the reservoir had breached in several
places. Until about 1931 Padaviya remained desolate.
According to the census of 1931, Nuvarakalaviya in which areas around
Nuvara Weva, Kala Weva and Padaviya Weva were included had a population
of only 21 persons per square mile. From about the middle of the 1950s
new life was blown into the region with the restoration of the great
reservoir and the establishment of Padaviya, Padavi Parakramapura and
Padavi Sripura colonization schemes. The area once again developed
mainly through cultivation of paddy and other cereal crops and cattle
husbandry until about 1982 but thereafter the development was stalled
due to terrorist activities and on account of the North-Eastern war.
After the end of the war in 2009, once again settlements in and around
have begun to increase with new hopes.