“Pandya kings channelled the flow in the Vaigai river by building check dams”
MADURAI: The 240-km-long Vaigai takes a detour near Sholavandan while approaching Madurai city on its course from the Varushanadu Hills.
Located a few kilometres away from Sholavandan is a barrage constructed by a Pandya king to regulate water flow.
This structure, referred to as ‘Sithanai’ or ‘Parakrama Pandian Kallanai,’ facilitates flow into a nearby channel that supplies water to Thenkarai tank.
The surplus water automatically overflows into the Vaigai that continues its onward journey towards Ramanathapuram.
The functional use of this check dam is to split the flow, thereby preventing flooding of villages on the riverbanks.
A 12th century inscription found at Kuruvithurai near Sholavandan refers to the channel as ‘Parakrama Pandian Peraru,’ according to V. Vedachalam, an archaeologist.
7th century structure
The inscription also speaks about the renovation of ‘Kallanai’ carried out during the period of Pandyan Srivallabhan.
The Pandya kings, he said, constructed check dams on the Vaigai from 7th century to take water to nearby tanks.
The barrage could have been constructed in the 7th century or earlier as the Thenkarai tank, according to an inscription, was dug by Chezhiyan Senthan during this period.
This tank is also referred to as ‘Senthaneri.’
Vanished water bodies
Some other channels and tanks created by the Pandyas have either become defunct or silted due to absence of maintenance or given place for urban constructions.
One such waterway is the Harikesari channel, constructed by Pandyan Nedumaran, that was used to take water from the Vaigai to tanks in south Madurai.
This channel is not to be seen today. The ‘Parakrama Pandian Kallanai,’ Dr. Vedachalam says, should be preserved for posterity by getting it declared a monument.
The ‘Sithanai’ has maintained the Sholavandan taluk fertile through several centuries. It also presents the Vaigai in a different perspective.
Unlike the scene in Madurai city, where the river is subjected to all forms of urban onslaught, the diversion of water into the channel and flow back into the main course near the barrage present a delightful sight.
From a point along the course, the channel flows almost parallel to the river before taking a right turn.
A regulator constructed by the British in 1891 maintains the flow in the channel.
Still some people find it easier to draw water directly from the channel by installing diesel pumps on its banks.