Your travel guide for Sri Lanka

Parakrama Samudraya, which translates to "The Sea of Parakrama", is one of Sri Lanka's most significant ancient reservoirs. Built during the time of King Parakramabahu the Great, this man-made marvel has stood for centuries as a source of irrigation, culture, and recreation. This guide aims to provide you with all the information you need to explore this historic and vital structure.

Historical Significance

Parakrama Samudraya holds a special place in Sri Lanka's history. Built in the 12th century by King Parakramabahu I, this reservoir was not just an engineering feat but also a symbol of prosperity and power.

King Parakramabahu I

The reservoir is named after King Parakramabahu I, one of the most influential leaders in Sri Lankan history. His reign was marked by numerous building projects, military campaigns, and efforts to unify the country. Parakrama Samudra stands as one of his most enduring legacies.

Agricultural Importance

From the time it was built, the reservoir has played a crucial role in agriculture. Its construction allowed for the irrigation of farmlands, leading to increased crop yields. Even today, it continues to support the local agriculture sector, showing how vital it has been for hundreds of years.

Role in Local Governance

The construction and maintenance of Parakrama Samudra were closely tied to the governance of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom. The reservoir served as a symbol of the king's ability to provide for his people and manage natural resources wisely.

Connection to Buddhism

Although primarily an irrigation reservoir, Parakrama Samudra also has links to Buddhism, which was the dominant religion during King Parakramabahu's time. Several Buddhist temples and monuments were constructed around the reservoir, and it became a place of religious significance as well.

Influence on Later Generations

The reservoir has inspired later kings and leaders in Sri Lanka. Its successful irrigation system served as a model for subsequent reservoirs and canals, proving its long-lasting impact on engineering and agriculture in the region.

Engineering Marvel

The construction of Parakrama Samudra was a monumental engineering achievement, especially considering the limited technology available in the 12th century. The reservoir exemplifies advanced engineering techniques that were far ahead of their time, and its features have had a lasting impact on irrigation and water management systems in the region.

Size and Scale

Parakrama Samudra covers an expansive area of 2400 hectares, with a capacity to hold a large volume of water. The sheer size of the reservoir was an engineering challenge in itself, requiring extensive planning and labor to execute.

Design Elements

The reservoir features an intricate design, incorporating several smaller tanks and canals that connect to the main body of water. This complex network was carefully planned to optimize water flow and distribution for both agricultural and domestic use.

Construction Techniques

The construction methods employed were highly advanced for the era. Local materials like earth and stone were primarily used, and yet the structure has remained largely intact for nearly a millennium. This longevity speaks volumes about the skill and expertise of the engineers and laborers involved.

Irrigation Systems

One of the most impressive aspects of Parakrama Samudra is its irrigation system. The reservoir has a series of canals and sluice gates that distribute water to farmlands. This was a revolutionary approach to irrigation during its time, providing a sustainable way to increase agricultural output.


The reservoir was built with sustainability in mind. The engineers devised methods for rainwater harvesting and ensured that the design allowed for natural filtration. This allowed the reservoir to remain a reliable water source throughout the year, even during dry seasons.

Modern Relevance

Even today, the engineering principles used in constructing Parakrama Samudra are studied and admired. Modern engineers often refer to its design and construction techniques as a benchmark for large-scale water management projects.

The engineering marvel that is Parakrama Samudra serves as a testament to the ingenuity and skill of its creators. The reservoir's complex and sustainable design has not only stood the test of time but also continues to influence modern engineering projects.

Exploring Parakrama Samudraya

Nature and Wildlife

Parakrama Samudra offers a rich natural environment that appeals to nature enthusiasts. Bird-watching is particularly popular, with various species making their home around the reservoir. You might also encounter local wildlife, such as small mammals and aquatic creatures near the water's edge.

Local Life

Close to Parakrama Samudra, you'll find villages that offer a glimpse into local Sri Lankan life. These communities are heavily reliant on the reservoir for fishing and agriculture. Walking through these villages provides you with the opportunity to interact with locals and understand their way of life better.

On the Water

Boating is one of the most sought-after activities at Parakrama Samudra. Several local operators provide boat rides that allow you to see the reservoir from a different perspective. If fishing interests you, this is also an option, but be sure to familiarize yourself with any local rules or restrictions beforehand.

Outdoor Activities

For those looking for a more active experience, renting a bicycle is an excellent option. The area around Parakrama Samudra is relatively flat and well-suited for biking. This offers a unique way to see the reservoir and the adjacent lands.


Parakrama Samudra serves as a great location for photography enthusiasts. The calm waters of the reservoir, the variety of birds, and the scenic landscapes make for excellent photo opportunities. Whether you're capturing the early morning light or the colors of sunset, the area provides a picturesque backdrop for your shots.

Location and How to Get There

From Colombo, Polonnaruwa is about 230 kilometers away and takes around 4 hours by private vehicle.

Once in Polonnaruwa, the reservoir is just 6 kilometers away and takes about 15 minutes to reach by tuk-tuk.

Best Time to Visit

The ideal time to visit Parakrama Samudra is between November and April. During this period, the weather is generally dry and pleasant, allowing you to explore the area fully.

Tips and Advice

  • Local Guidelines: Be aware of local boating and fishing rules and guidelines.
  • Weather Check: Consult the weather forecast before your trip, especially if you plan to engage in outdoor activities.
  • Footwear: Wear comfortable shoes suitable for walking, as you'll be exploring various terrains.
  • Wildlife Caution: Be mindful of wildlife when near the reservoir or in the surrounding areas.
  • Bird-Watching Gear: If interested in bird-watching, consider bringing a pair of binoculars.
  • Local Guides: Hiring a local guide can enrich your understanding of the site.
  • Facilities: Public facilities may be limited in the area.

Nearby Attractions

  1. Gal Vihara: This impressive rock temple features a collection of Buddha statues carved directly into large granite boulders, making it a must-see for history and art enthusiasts.
  2. Thivanka Image House: Renowned for its well-preserved murals and unique architecture, the Thivanka Image House offers insights into the artistic heritage of ancient Sri Lanka.
  3. Lankatilaka Vihara: This massive temple is notable for its unique design, combining Sinhalese and Dravidian architectural elements, and offers a glimpse into the religious practices of the past.
  4. Rankot Vihara: As the largest dagoba in Polonnaruwa and the fourth largest in Sri Lanka, Rankot Vihara serves as a striking example of ancient religious architecture.
  5. The Lotus Pond: Known for its unique lotus petal shape, this ancient pond was used for ritualistic bathing and is a fine example of the engineering skills of the era.

Parakrama Samudra stands as a monumental achievement, encompassing historical, engineering, and cultural elements that have stood the test of time. Whether you're an admirer of history, an engineer at heart, a cultural enthusiast, or a nature lover, Parakrama Samudra is a destination you should visit at least once.

Featured photo by Calvste
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