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Dry now, yet picturesque

Best between October and February, says SOMA BASU

PHOTO: SOMA BASU

PERANAI Ancient

Peranai, as its name suggests, means `big dam'. But it is more than a reservoir as it is a storehouse of history, religion and, of course, Nature. On my return from Pachalur, I decide to check out Peranai, as suggested by the Forest Officer. "On your way back from Oddanchatram to Madurai, why don't you take a slight detour and visit Peranai which is in Nilakottai Taluk," he asked.

I set out without much ado. As luck would have it, after a couple of wrong turns, I find myself on the approach road through Usilampatti, instead of Nilakkottai. I ask for directions to Peranai and the locals point to a small hill.

I begin to wonder whether it is a dam or a hillock? Not one to give up easily, I motor on till I reach Vikkiramangalam, roughly 2 km from the Usilampatti main road. I find myself nearing a small hillock — Siddharmalai. The ascent is easy and I reach the top in no time.

Impressive view

The view of the Peranai Anaicut, surrounded by picturesque countryside, is impressive. But I cannot pause for long as evening is fast approaching and I am yet to reach my destination. My journey downhill takes me to a large natural cavern called the `Pancha Pandava Padukkai' (Bed of the Five Pandavas) on the southern side of the hillock. Inside, there are two rows of beds with raised pillows chiselled out of the rock.

I learn that the inscription on the rock face traces the origin of the name of Madurai city — `Mathirai' (City of Walls). And that Siddharmalai was among the nine hills around Madurai where Jainism once flourished.

I then proceed to Mettupatti village, which is situated in the northern direction, approximately 2 km from the hill, and take the road to Nilakkottai. About 10 km later, I cross Nilakkottai Town on the Madurai-Kodai Road and then complete the 17-km stretch to Peranai. At this dam site, the Vaigai is supposed to be in full flow. But it is now dry. However, what catches my eye are the 110-year-old regulator and the bridge constructed by the British. The freshly painted structure, with its perfectly aligned wheels, make a pretty picture against the crimson sky.

Peranai is a fine picnic spot between October and February, provided the monsoon sets in and water is released from the Vaigai Dam. Peranai is actually a unique confluence of waters from several damsthe Vaigai Dam, the surplus from the Maruthanathi Dam in Dindigul, and the Manjalar, Varadhanathi Dams in Theni. It is not a separate catchment area but collects and diverts water released from the Vaigai every year to irrigate 2,00,000 hectares in Madurai District.

The water from the main river simultaneously flows into the Peranai Anaicut. The regulator diverts it to a parallel link canal. Walk across the bridge, constructed in 1892, and you reach a village called Anaipatti where a 300-year-old Anjaneya temple is located. The waist-high deity, carved out of black stone, is believed to have surfaced from under the ground. When the Peranai is in full flow, the deity seems to be floating on the water. The temple is said to have been constructed by Queen Mangammal in 1702 after Lord Anjaneya appeared in her dream and asked her to start digging the spot. But, only half the idol could be excavated. Be it a visit to this ancient temple, a picnic at the regulator, or a trek to Siddharmalai, Peranai makes an interesting RLT.

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