On river-washed antique plains

Riverine moods: An abandoned coracle on the dry bed of the Cauvery in June shows the intensity of the summer. All is forgotten as the river springs back to life with the onset of the monsoon in the upper reaches, with such woven craft dotting its course from Pannavadi on the right bank of the Mettur dam to Eriyur on the left bank. Fishermen now use fibreglass varieties.
Ebb and flow: A fisherman on a fibreglass craft crosses the river in September.
Seasonal shifts: Crops sprout on the riverbed as the river retreats in summer. People in the nearby villages raise short-term crops with water pumped from the riverbed. As the river returns, farming stops and fishing takes over.
Tide turns: As the river returns, farming stops and fishing takes over.
Return of the god: The Nandi idol of the abandoned Jalakandeswara temple at Sampalli village, 4 km from Pannavadi village, built around the 11th century by the Cholas, is visible in the dry season. When the British decided to construct the Mettur dam in 1928, the residents of the submerged Sampalli were rehabilitated at Puthu Sampalli. The temple was also shifted to the new habitation.
Back under water: The Nandi is on the verge of submersion early in September.
Hide and seek: A church, nearly 200 years old and 3 km upstream from the Nandi idol and about 7 km from the Mettur reservoir, comes back in view only to go under water again.
Till next summer: The church goes under water again
Beached, buoyant: A boat waits for water till the river breathes new life into it.
Ripples of life: The river breathes new life through its course.

When the Cauvery recedes during drought, out come lost landscapes and artefacts


After entering Tamil Nadu through the Hogenakkal falls, the Cauvery passes through Sampalli, Pannawadi and Kolathur and flows down to Bhavani and Erode and Mayanur in Karur district before entering Tiruchi. It is in this district, of all the eight it runs through, that the river reaches its widest expanse — between Musiri and Kulithalai — and becomes Aganda Cauvery, or the wide river.

The Cauvery in spate is a vastly different beast from the Cauvery in drought. The landscape under the swirling waters emerges during drought years, when a massive Nandi idol rises majestically from the dry riverbed and a swathe of green overtakes the muddy waters as farmers plant crops on the new-found patches.

During the Chola period, several centuries ago, the Cauvery was flowing just 2 km from Sampalli village on the southern side. By the time the British completed the Mettur dam, 15 km away, in the early 1930s, the village, along with the Jalakandeswara Temple complex and the Nandi idol, was submerged.

By local history, the residents were shifted to upper Mettur, where they took their idols and erected new temples. Because of its size, the 21-foot-tall Nandi and its pedestal could not be shifted. Hence the idol and the temple complex remain under water only to reveal themselves every time the levels fall. Now the residents of Kolathur, Pannavadi and other villages raise a paddy crop when the water level is good and maize and other dry crops when the flow dips. And the people go fishing in coracles.

Like any river that supports a population and is revered for its munificence, the Cauvery is a source of drinking water, irrigation, fish and rich alluvial soil that is a farmer’s dream.

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