When Mariamman Teppakulam area was spruced up a few years ago, people in Madurai had one more place to spend a leisurely evening. Since water from the nearby Vaigai is pumped into it, the sprawling tank of the temple with a tree-filled island in the middle presented a picture of serenity. The pink-tiled walkway around the tank attracted walkers.
According to A. Annamalai, an event manager who resides nearby, the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple authorities, who are custodians of the tank, gave an annual contract for ₹12 lakh, and not more than 20 temporary shops were set up on the west side of the tank before the pandemic. After the lockdown restrictions eased, a new contract was given for ₹40 lakh. Now there are more than 200 shops - a food court on the northwest corner of the tank and shops and more than 30 amusement rides along the west side.
The area renowned for education (two colleges, three schools) and spirituality (temples and places for meditation and yoga) turns chaotic and noisy. Hundreds of two-wheelers and cars descend on area and block Anuppanadi Road. Even ambulances get stuck in the congestion. Police try to bring some semblance of order, but cannot as the crowds are too big.
From shawarmas to spring rolls, and momos to burritos, jigarthandas, falooda… you name it, the food court has it. Even shops fixing tempered glass for mobiles and other knick knacks are there. The food carts have also attracted booze parties along Teppakulam.
J.S. Senthil, a physical education teacher, says since addictive substances such as ajinomoto and black salt are added to the food, people crave for them never knowing that it will create health issues.
V. Shanmugham, who is in charge of the nearby Geeta Natanagopala Nayaki Mandir, says there is ample space on the south side, and there is a vast open space belonging to Meenakshi temple on the nearby Anuppanadi Main Road where the vehicles can be parked.
M. Mukesh Sharma, South Zonal Chairman, Madurai Corporation, says Teppakulam is the only place for entertainment for people living south of the Vaigai. In a recent meeting with officials, upkeep of the tank and its vicinity was discussed and it has been decided to take measures to keep the place clean.