We now arrive at the cause of the former importance of Newera Ellia, or the "Royal Plains."
It has been shown that the very existence of the population depended upon the supply of water, and that supply was obtained from the neighborhood of Newera Ellia. Therefore, a king in possession of Newera Ellia had the most complete command over his subjects; he could either give or withhold the supply of water at his pleasure, by allowing its free exit or by altering its course.
Thus, during rebellion, he could starve his people into submission, or lay waste the land in time of foreign invasion. I have seen in an impregnable position the traces of an ancient fort, evidently erected to defend the pass to the main water-course from the low country.
This gives us a faint clue to the probable cause of the disappearance of the nation.
In time of war or intestine commotion, the water may have been cut off from the low country, and the exterminating effects of famine may have laid the whole land desolate. It is, therefore, no longer a matter of astonishment that the present plain of Newera Ellia should have received its appellation of the "Royal Plain." In those days there was no very secure tenure to the throne, and by force alone could a king retain it. The more bloodthirsty and barbarous the tyrant, the more was he dreaded by the awe-stricken and trembling population. The power of such a weapon of annihilation as the command of the waters may be easily conceived as it invested a king with almost divine authority in the eyes of his subjects.
Now there is little doubt that the existence of precious gems at Newera Ellia may have been accidentally discovered in digging the numerous water-courses in the vicinity; there is, however, no doubt that at some former period the east end of the plain, called the "Vale of Rubies," constituted the royal "diggings." That the king of Kandy did not reside at Newera Ellia there is little wonder, as a monarch delighting in a temperature of 85 Fahrenheit would have regarded the climate of a mean temperature of 60 Fahrenheit as we should that of Nova Zembla.
We may take it for granted, therefore, that when the king came to Newera Ellia his visit had some object, and we presume that he came to look at the condition of his water-courses and to superintend the digging for precious stones; in the same manner that Ceylon governors of past years visited Arippo during the pearlfishing.
The "diggings" of the kings of Kandy must have been conducted on a most extensive scale. Not only has the Vale of Rubies been regularly turned up for many acres, but all the numerous plains in the vicinity are full of pits, some of very large size and of a depth varying from three to seventeen feet. The Newera Ellia Plain, the Moonstone Plain, the Kondapall?Plain, the Elk Plains, the Totapella Plains, the Horton Plains, the Bopatalava Plains, the Augara Plains (translated "the Diggings"), and many others extending over a surface of thirty miles, are all more or less studded by deep pits formed by the ancient searchers for gems, which in those days were a royal monopoly.