The Cooum: Madras thrived on her banks

How would you react if we call the Cooum — now a river-turned-cesspool — the vital energy that grew the bustling metropolis that is now Chennai? You would probably welcome such a proposition with a hearty laughter.

For, the very word ‘Cooum’ invokes memory of a stinking open sewage that has transformed into a collective shame of Madras.

But the year that has gone by has brought a fresh perspective to the image of the river, thanks to a group of history enthusiasts who saw along the waterbody the very history of Chennai itself. Born as a simple Facebook page called ‘The Cooum-A Cultural mapping,’ they have rediscovered a past that is as glorious as that of any river in south India.

Think about it. Perhaps the most crucial battle of the southern kingdoms happened right next to the place where Cooum originates at Tiruvallur. The battle of Thakkolam, in the ironic death of Chola crown prince Rajaditya, paved the way for the rule of Raja Raja-1 and Rajendra-1— two kings who took the glory of the Tamil land beyond seas. In temples along this river, the density of rare Chola inscriptions will blow your mind, say writer Venkatesh Ramakrishnan and blogger Padmapriya Bhaskaran, the driving force behind the group. “This includes rare ones of Aditya Karikalan,” he says.

But it was our colonial masters who identified the value of Cooum, which provided a vital drainage system for the city. The bulk of British architectural masterpieces were all built on its banks — Fort St. George, University of Madras, Ripon Buildings. And historical events — the first airplane flown in Asia, first car manufactured in the country, first theatre in south India, first engineering college outside Europe, first Ranji Trophy match, and first special economic zone — made the river the lifeline of the city.

These instances tell us why saving this river is an absolute necessity. By letting it die, we are witnessing the death of the memory of our historic past.

Madras Week: Thus Spake Cooum

>Celebrating Madras Week

Over years, Chennai’s own river, the banks on which Madras arose, 376 years ago next week, has meandered on, stoic in the face of the assaults on it.

>Madras thrived on her banks

A group of history enthusiasts has brought a fresh perspective to the image of the river.

>The scene of great battles

A city grew on the banks of the Cooum, but did you know that they have been sites of the clash of civilisations?

>For them, Cooum is not synonymous with sewer

The Cooum, as strange as it might sound to some, still remains a lifeline to many villages in Tiruvallur district.

>Cooum snippets

In the first-person account that follows, one R. Premsingh writes, “I wish to draw the attention of the Corporation authorities to the stinking smell emitted by the Cooum river.”

>Cooum: Madras' engine of growth

Nearly everything that was and is notable in the city took root along my banks, from the houses of the powerful to the centres of commerce

>Staving off the sewage threat in Cooum

Chennai Metrowater seems to be trying to actualise the big dream of cleaning Cooum river through small steps.

>What's in a name?

A group of history enthusiasts has brought a fresh perspective to the image of the river.

>When crocodiles swam free in Cooum

If you walked by the Cooum about a 100 years ago, you may just have spotted the Cooum crocodile

>Cooum: High tide of artistic expression

From cinemas and bookstores to theatre performances and architectural marvels, I have witnessed this great city reaching new creative heights over many decades.

>Chennai Corporation to play a key role in Cooum makeover

Following a resolution by the Chennai Corporation Council this summer, the civic body is set to do a study on the restoration of heritage landscape along the Cooum river.

>On Islands Grounds and the Cooum

Do you know that Island Grounds owes its name to the Cooum?


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Printable version | Nov 30, 2020 11:58:10 AM |

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