The engineering marvel, vision and expertise of Chola kings came to light after the recent torrential rain when water entered the famous Chidambaram Natarajar temple.
On 4th of this month following heavy rains, water had entered Chidambaram Natarajar temple. Such an incident has happened after four long decades. Water from Sivaganagi pond flowed into the temple premises making it look like a swimming pool. Priests, devotees had to wade through knee-deep water. Locals complained that water entered to clogging of drains. After the de-clogging water receded, Annamalai University History department research team led by Assistant professor J R Sivaramakrishnan, that included professor Kalaiselvan and students Surendran, Rajarajan, Prabhakaran discovered a tunnel. They said 2,000m underground drainage system would take water to a five-acre temple tank, known as Thiruparkadal. The team said “the drainage system beings near the north Gopuram ( tower) . The temple, which is on a sprawling 51-acre premise has been built to facilitate the flow of water into the drainage.
For many several years, Thiruparkada was out of sight as it was encroached upon. When we read the inscription, we found the reference to the existence of the tank. We brought it to the notice of the devotees and the government. Now it is restored. The excess water from tank would go to Sivapriya Kula, near Thillai Kaali temple, through another drainage system. The temple itself was built on swampland and Veeranam lake was dug to prevent flooding in Chidambaram temple. The Chola Kings had detailed everything and planned to the new town Chidambaram while new settlements were created around Veeranam near Kattumannar Koil. The drainage system was created by Chola King Kulothunga II, whose era was between 1133 and 1150 AD”.
While explaining further they said, “there are nine tanks around the temple. If they are maintained properly groundwater in Chidambaram would not have turned saline. All the jala tharais (drainages) were repaired when consecration was performed in 1987. The drainage canal which collects the excess rainwater from Chidambaram Natarajar temple and drains it to a pond north of the temple. It was built by Chola Kings. The 10th Century canal takes water from a lower level to the pond which is at a higher level. How it was done? The canal expands and narrows down at specific intervals and also bends like a snake at many places. This type of structure acts like an ‘electric pump’ which takes water against the natural flow. The 1250 metre canal was built with bricks with a top covered by the granite for joining them using paste of lime (chunam). Veernam Lake also gets water in the same way.
The Veeranam Lake was created in the Tenth century during the time of Greater Cholas from 907-955 AD. It is a 16 kilometre long reservoir. Rajadiyta Chola named it after one of tiles of his father Veeranarayanan who was better known as Parantaka Chola. His other names are Chozha Sigamani, Sura Sigamani. The lake digging work is believed to have started in 1011 and ended in 1037 AD. Thousands of workers toiled with hand tools to dig the lake. Its capacity is 1445 Million Cubic Feet. Now Chennai city gets water from this lake following a project initiated by late J Jayalalithaa.
The recent water stagnation and flooding in the temple premises were due to the construction that were done over the years could have caused blockages. The channels inside the temple are clean and not clogged” engineers explained. Senior Archaeologist R Nagaswamy said water management was a trait seen across several rules, chieftains and administrators all over India, who had built wells, step-wells, tanks, lakes, canals and dams.
TS Krishnan in his tweet said the canal was built during Parantaka Chola’s time to take water from Kollidam river to Veeranam lake against its flow and then Walajah lake which is at 70 kilometre distance. This shows that such structures are widely used during that time for irrigation”. Arjun Krishnadoss says “same kind of engineering marvel is at my native Gondal taluka (Rajkot district of Gujarat) now built for domestic and irrigation from the dam by the benevolent king Bhagavast Sinhh ji then. The water was supplied from dam with such marvel without any pump”. Prakash Jha said “ This kind of structure is also in Udaipur where water flows from low level (lake) to high level (Sathyliyon ki Bari) without any pump just with pressure techniques.
It is to be noted that one of the oldest irrigation system in the world, the Kallanai aka the Grand Anicut, built across river Cauvery, during the second century AD by Karikala Cholan, is still in use. It is intact even after years of wear and tear and vagaries of monsoon. Curved shape of masonry section, a slopping crest and an irregular descent from front to rear are some of its special features. No cement mortar was used.
Archaeologists have found a Chola era stone inscription at a lake bund in Mookanur village near Sanakarapuram in Kallakurichi district. King Vaneja Perumalana Vanakovarayan created an inscription about a canal joining the lake during Rajendra Cholan II regime from 1182 – 1260 AD. History Prof. T Ramesh of Villupuram Government Arts college, “During his rule, a canal was built at the south side of Arni lake and the canal was linked to a lake in Moorakanur. Another canal was dug up at the south side Kaduvanur”.
In a related matter, a 1000-year old sluice pillar with Grantha inscription about water conservation has come to light in Periyakulam in Vadaputhinatham, in Tirupur district. The pillar has relief sculptures of Valampri Vinayagar and Lakshmi. Senior epigraphist Y Subbarayalu said the stylistic and other factors indicate that it is more than 1400 years old. The four-line inscriptions begin with “Swasthi Sri” and it shows the water management practices during that regime. The sluice gate is 140 cm tall and a 50 Cm wide. “The sluice pillars are seen in and around old water bodies across the state. But with Grantha inscriptions these are rare” says Subbarayalu. Our forefathers had preserved ponds, lakes and tanks for storing water for irrigation and agriculture. They drew water either from catchment areas or from the river through small canals.