The village of Koothiyarkundu contains two important parts of history from two different eras, one that speaks of technology and another that hails valour

A short bumpy ride off the Thirumangalam highway leads to Koothiyarkundu. Flanked by paddy fields and tamarind trees, the small village looks still and silent on this sunny Sunday morning. A quaint little Meenakshi temple stands in the centre. Ornate arches, pillars with sculptures and the three mandapams inside indicate that the temple belongs to the Nayak era. This is where, a lesser known chapter of history is said to have been recorded in the sculptures.

Koothiyarkundu has a heroic and a historic connection. That Thirumalai Nayak was an efficient king is a famous fact but little is known about one of his close aides Dhalavoi Ramappa Ayyan, who is supposedly a brave army general-cum-minister. “The temple is built by Ramappa Ayyan and is one of two places where the sculptures of both him and King Thirumalai Nayak are found,” says Dr. Venkatraman, Retired History Professor. Ramappa Ayyan’s valour and integrity is praised in the literary work ‘Ramappa Ayyan Ammanai’ in which it’s also mentioned that he belongs to the village ‘Chaturvedi Mangalam’.

How Chaturvedi Mangalam became Koothiyarkundu is another tale of history. It was Thirumalai Nayak who donated the village to his court damsels and rechristened it as Koothiyarkundu (the town of damsels). But the village is said to have been a Brahmin settlement during the Early Pandya period. The villagers inform that until recently, few families of the Devadasi descent lived in Koothiyarkundu.

“Ramappa Ayyan is hailed for his valour and intelligence. He is the one who subjugated the Ramnad kings and made them pay taxes to the Madurai Nayaks,” says Dr. Venkatraman. “He also played a major role in the ‘Mookaruppu Por’ against the Mysore Wodeyars.” It’s said that during the reign of Nayaks, the Mysore Wodeyars marched into Madurai and chopped off the noses of people. “It was a form of war where the people of a particular kingdom were disfigured.” And Ramappa Ayyan led the army to Mysore where he managed to chop the nose of a few royal members apart from the common people.

Nilayur tank

A little away from the main village, a sprawling expanse of the dry Nilayur tank comes into view. One evidence that the tank was built by Early Pandyas is the inscription found in one of the three sluices that records the name of the Pandya King ‘Sri Veera Narayanan’. “The tank must be nearly 1500 years old,” estimates Dr. Vedachalam. “History says that a large canal was dug from Melakkal to the tank in order to bring Vaigai water.” The large channel known as ‘Nattarkaal’ or ‘Nattatrupokku’ serves the water of Vaigai to six tanks in the vicinity including the Thenkaal kanmoi and the Madakulam big tank.

Villagers claim that the diameter of Nilayur tank is over eight kilometres and that it irrigates 3700 acres of land around the villages of Nilayur and Koothiyarkundu. “The irrigation facility devised by Early Pandyas is one of the finest technologies in the country, where the tank water is divided into three equal halves and channelled in three directions by way of strategically built sluices,” explains Dr. Vedachalam.

Of the four gates used for releasing water from the tank, the first one is called ‘Chakra madai’ as it’s shaped in the form of a wheel. The second one is the tallest at 23 feet and is called ‘periya madai’. Calibrations are carved on the stone gates to measure the water level in the tank. “It’s been a decade since the tank was filled last time. Only in 2011, the tank was close to full,” says Harikumar, a villager. “Unfortunately, the fourth ‘madai’ was demolished during the laying of the Thiruparankundram railway line.”

The Heritage Walk was organized by DHAN Foundation and nearly 50 enthusiastic participants took part in the event apart from village heads, self help groups and the local youth. “The next step will be sensitizing them towards the protection of the tank and the temple,” says K.P. Bharathi, the programme coordinator.