A population of some millions wholly dependent upon the supply of rice for their existence would be thrown into sudden starvation by the withdrawal of the water. Thus have the nations died out like a fire for lack of fuel. This cause will account for the decay of the great cities of Ceylon. The population gone, the wind and the rain would howl through the deserted dwellings, the white ants would devour the supporting beams, the elephants would rub their colossal forms against the already tottering houses, and decay would proceed with a rapidity unknown in a cooler clime. As the seed germinates in a few hours in a tropical country, so with equal haste the body of both vegetable and animal decays when life is extinct. A perpetual and hurrying change is visible in all things. A few showers, and the surface of the earth is teeming with verdure; a few days of drought, and the seeds already formed are falling to the earth, springing in their turn to life at the approach of moisture. The same rapidity of change is exhibited in their decay. The heaps of vegetable putridity upon the banks of rivers, when a swollen torrent has torn the luxuriant plants from the loosened soil, are but the effects of a few hours' change. The tree that arrives at maturity in a few years rots in as short a time when required for durability: thus it is no mystery, that either a house or a city should shortly fall to decay when the occupant is gone.
In like manner, and with still greater rapidity, is a change effected in the face of nature. As the flowers usurp the place of weeds under the care of man, so, when his hand is wanting, a few short weeks bury them beneath an overwhelming mass of thorns. In one year a jungle will conceal all signs of recent cultivation. Is it, therefore, a mystery that Ceylon is covered with such vast tracts of thorny jungle, now that her inhabitants are gone?
Throughout the world there is a perpetual war between man and nature, but in no country has the original curse of the earth been carried out to a fuller extent than in Ceylon: "thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee." This is indeed exemplified when a few months neglect of once-cultivated land renders it almost impassable, and where man has vanished from the earth and thorny jungles have covered the once broad tracts of prosperous cultivation.
A few years will thus produce an almost total ruin throughout a deserted city. The air of desolation created by a solitude of six centuries can therefore be easily imagined. There exists, however, among the ruins of Pollanarua a curious instance of the power of the smallest apparent magnitude to destroy the works of man. At some remote period a bird has dropped the seed of the banian tree (ficus Indicus) upon the decaying summit of a dagoba. This, germinating has struck its root downward through the brickwork, and, by the gradual and insinuating progress of its growth, it has split the immense mass of building into two sections; the twisted roots now appearing through the clefts, while the victorious tree waves in exultation above the ruin: an emblem of the silent growth of "civilization" which will overturn the immense fabric of heathen superstition.
It is placed beyond a doubt that the rice-growing resources of Ceylon have been suffered to lie dormant since the disappearance of her ancient population; and to these neglected capabilities the attention of government should be directed.
An experiment might be commenced on a small scale by the repair of one tank - say Kandellai, which is only twenty-six miles from Trincomalee on the highroad to Kandy. This tank, when the dam and sluices were repaired, would rise to about nine feet above its present level, and would irrigate many thousand acres.
The grand desideratum in the improvement of Ceylon is the increase of the population; all of whom should, in some measure, be made to increase the revenue.
The government should therefore hazard this one experiment to induce the emigration of the industrious class of Chinese to the shores of Ceylon. Show them a never-failing supply of water and land of unlimited extent to be hid on easy terms, and the country would soon resume its original prosperity. A tax of five per cent. upon the produce of the land, to commence in the ratio of 0 per cent. for the first year, three per cent. for the second and third, and the full amount of five for the fourth, would be a fair and easy rent to the settler, and would not only repay the government for the cost of repairing the tank, but would in a few cars become a considerable source of revenue, in addition to the increased value of the land, now worthless, by a system of cultivation.