A lifeline that ravaged Chennai

Following the devastation caused by its overflowing waters, the Chembarambakkam lake is viewed with a sense of fear by Chennaiites.

December 09, 2015 08:03 am | Updated November 16, 2021 04:21 pm IST - CHENNAI:

A view of the Chembarambakkam lake, once known as Puliyur, which is a major water source for Chennai. File Photo

A view of the Chembarambakkam lake, once known as Puliyur, which is a major water source for Chennai. File Photo

Chembarambakkam Lake, now being blamed for the City’s flooding, was once the lifeline of South Chennai as it irrigated 168 villages in the district while the North of Chennai benefitted from Puzhal Lake. However, plundering of water bodies including the lake, has now led to the uprooting of livelihoods and homes over a vast area.

“Chembarambakkam was known as Puliyur Kottam. It is one of the 24 kottams (districts) that existed even during the later Chola period in Thondai Mandalam which had Kancheepuram as its headquarters,” J. Mohan, an engineer by training and an expert on Thondai Mandalam said.

Adayar is the major river that carries water from Chembarambakkam to South Chennai and innumerable oodais (canals) originating from Adayar brought water to paddy fields. All ancient literatures of Thondaimandalam have a reference to Chembarambakkam.

“If you seek permission for construction, there would be a set of questions to ascertain whether the building would come up on water bodies. You can never get pattas for the land created by occupying them. The Revenue Department has field maps of all these water bodies. But in the last 30 years all norms were thrown to the wind by authorities,” pointed out Mr Mohan, who is instrumental in republishing the Sthalapuranam of Mylapore.

In ancient times, settlements were allowed only on the upper region of every village, called grama natham, to prevent flooding. Below the natham, there would be grazing grounds. Lakes, streams and poramboke came further down.

This perfect arrangement ensured draining of water immediately. “One point of time the entire Velacherry was a lake and its adjacent areas, known as Kazhiveligal (flood plains), absorbed excess water. Pallikaranai and Madipakkam are Kazhiveligal . But we gradually destroyed the system by allowing construction,” Mr Mohan said.

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