A village that bartered light with the king

Madurai region is full of surprises. If you look closer, every stone will have a tale inscribed on it. Many may not know that there is history and mystery surrounding a well at Velichanatham village near Kancharampettai.

“The water here has a unique medicinal quality for it cures anaemia,” says K. Karunanidhi, one of the villagers, who was using the water for agricultural purpose till a few years ago.

It is believed that the well was dug during the period of Lingama Naicker who built a fort around it and lived here. It is so deep that so far people have not been able to fathom its depth, he says and adds that he had desilted the water body up to seven to eight ‘kajams’ depth but in vain.

The 10x10 feet square well has stone structures on four sides that enable bulls to draw water from it (kamalai). The ill-maintained well has crystal clear water and one can see pedestal-like structures on four sides that provide room for people to work.

Story that making rounds

A word-of-mouth story that does the rounds in the village is about King Koon Pandiyan, who ruled Madurai. He came to Azhagar Hills, Kiluvai Hills and Manjal Hills for hunting. After enjoying his sport, the king reached Kiluvai Hills where he was forced to spend the night.

When the king’s soldiers approached the nearby village for fire to provide light, the residents refused stating that they would be able to offer anything only in barter. The people’s demand was conveyed to the king, who came forward to barter flesh and blood of animals for light. The king and his entourage enjoyed a sumptuous dinner followed by peaceful sleep with the fire provided by villagers.

Next morning, the king was so happy about his deep and undisturbed sleep. He enquired about the village’s name and found that it had none. And soon, he christened the village as ‘Velicharatham’ (velicham-light and ratham-blood) as the village had bartered light for blood and flesh. Over the years, ‘Velicharatham’ transformed into ‘Velichanatham.’

As the king frequented the place for hunting, he constructed a fort and dug up a well in which he dumped the bones of hunted animals and raised herbal plants around it.

“Perhaps, it is true,” confirms Mr. Karunanidhi, who says that he had seen big skulls and long bones of animals while desilting the well a few years ago. But is it true that the water from the well cures anaemia? “It is cent per cent true and I have seen many people using it and getting cured,” Mr. Karunanidhi says.

People who have swollen face, arms and legs due to anaemia can have a bath in the water and take some in a mud pot and keep it hanging at home. Every morning, one has to wash the face with the water and drink it to get rid of the health problem, he says and adds that people usually throw Rs.1.25 into the well as offering before they take the water.

But what happened to the fort constructed by the king? “Nobody knows about it. But I have seen big-sized boulders that might have been used to construct the fort wall,” he says.

Different periods

As per history, Koon Pandiyan and Lingama Naicker belong to different periods.

Koon Pandiyan alias Maravarman Ari Kesari Nindra Seer Nedumaran, who is a contemporary of Gnanasambandar, belonged to seventh century AD (650-700 AD) while Lingama Naicker ruled Natham Kottai around 1650 to 1800 AD. In this period, many Lingama Naickers -- Thonthi Lingama Naicker, Muthu Lingama Naicker, Sill Lingama Naicker, Yeru Dada Lingama Naicker, Kumara Lingama Naicker and Muthu Lingama Naicker – who were known as Nayak subordinates ruled the Natham region, says C. Shanthalingam, Archaeological Officer.

Does the place have any proof of its antiquity and historicity? “Read the stone, you can get some details,” points Mr. Karunanidhi to an inscription that lies deep in the soil. Somebody has to decipher the inscription to know the facts.