Society

The unsung sisters of Vaigai

REVIVING RIVERS: 'Arugalai Thedi' event at Gundar. Photo: Special Arrangement  

The Sangam Literature lauds Vaigai as the lifeline of the legendary Pandya Country. Amidst the chapters that describe the beauty of the river and its ecosystem, there are names of other sister rivers that feed Vaigai. Inspired by this, a group of environmentalist youths, Nanal Nanbargal, have embarked on ‘ Arugalai Thedi’, an initiative in search of the lost and lesser known rivers and water channels in Madurai district. Since last year, they have visited over 12 smaller rivers that serve as water sources and tributaries, most of which have now vanished under encroachments and other ill-effects of urbanisation.

“Vaigai was once a perennial river and has become seasonal now. A main reason for this is the destruction of several other channels that fed water to the river,” says Tamil Dasan, a member of the group. “The first river we went in search was Silambar, said to be originating in the Azhagar hills. The river is mentioned in the Vaishnavite texts and is associated with the anklet of Lord Azhagar, but surprisingly none of us have known or heard about it. Later we found that it was the Nupura Gangai. Over the years, the river has dried up and water just trickled down turning it into a brook.”

Azhagar hills is still a rich source of water, believe environmentalists. The other small rivers that originate in the hills are Peraruvi and Sitharuvi that join Aaramuthu Kulam, a large water tank at the foothills, said to have been a place where Buddhist monks congregated for religious debates. “The rivers and the tank find a mention in Paripadal and Silapathikaram. They have supported Vaigai, but now the course of the rivers stop just ahead of Kallandhiri as the channels have been encroached,” says Tamil Dasan.

Gundar, Varattar and Goundar are the rivers found around Tirumangalam, originating from the Ezhumalai, Sathuragiri and Andipatti hill ranges. “Gundar river basin is a separate ecosystem as rich as the Vaigai. There’s a current proposal to combine both the river basins and Gundar is being brought back to life,” says Sridhar Nedunchezhian, a member. “Archaeological excavations in the area have yielded stone tools indicating a river-based civilization.” The villages of Aviyur and Sivarakottai that fall in the Gundar valley are identified as old-stone-age sites in south Tamil Nadu.

Sathiayar and Majamalaiyar are two rivers identified in the palamedu belt, to the north of the city. “Both the rivers flow down the Sirumalai range and reach the Vandiyur and Sellur tanks, after which they join the Vaigai,” says Sridhar. Among the rivers mapped around Melur and Kottampatti are Uppar, Palar and Thirumanimuthar, originating from Karandhamalai range of Natham. “The course of Uppar goes till Manamadurai, where it flows into the Vaigai.” Ashwamanadhi, locally called as Komabi Aaru by the tribals near Usilampatti and Kondaimaari Aaru originating in the Vaguthumalai range of Sirumalai Hills are the other rivers recorded during river walks conducted by Arugalai Thedi.

Among all these smaller rivers, the most important is the Krithamal, considered to be as old and sacred as the Vaigai. Krithamal finds a mention in the Koodal Azhagar Puranam and is the only other river that criss-crosses the city. According to Tamil Dasan, the river originates in Nagamalai along with two other streams Kaakaoothu and Nagatheertham and culminates in the Thuvariman tank. “The river is now hardly a channel, with garbage and encroachment choking the water flow at around 20 places in the city, damaging its course beyond recognition.” “There’s an association of farmers still dependent on the river water named Krithamal paasana vivasayigal Sangam. The water from the river is said to be the source for over 45 irrigation tanks.” He adds, “The role of these rivers in supporting the region’s agriculture and civilisation cannot be undermined. At a time when water crisis and flooding are becoming major issues, it is imperative to revive these rivers back to life.”

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 6:19:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/the-unsung-sisters-of-vaigai/article8218660.ece

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