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A river runs through it

People are getting together to revive the Noyyal River Tanks System

Photo: S. Siva Saravanan

SPORTING A NEW LOOK Krishnampathy tank

Coimbatore has always been considered water-starved despite being surrounded by mountain ranges due to the scanty rainfall it receives. Now, when people talk about our city, what is discussed besides hospitality, cultured language, beautiful geographical setting, enterprise and cosmopolitan outlook, is its sweet water. What caused this turnaround?

Let us peep into the past and see the various twists and turns in the water scenario of the city.

The city is blessed by two important monsoons — South West and North East. But despite this, the region is short of water as the rains are not evenly distributed through the year. In a water-starved area, even a light shower is important and it should be stored. Our ancestors — predecessors to today's rainwater harvesting planners — thought of a way to store this water. Their forethought has given us the famed `Noyyal River Tanks System'. These interconnecting tanks that hold the water flowing from the Noyyal work even today.

In the book, `Southern India' published in 1914 and compiled by Somerset Playne, it is said "The town is about 1350 ft above the level of the sea, and, it possesses good natural drainage, an excellent water supply, and a temperate climate ... ."

Drainage, water supply and climate are inter-linked. And because of such large water bodies, the climate was also cooler, lending Coimbatore the sobriquet "Poor man's Ooty".

History has an interesting tale of a Chola Prince who received the tanks of Coimbatore as dowry when he married a Chera Princess about a thousand years ago.

We get to know from the inscriptions in the Perur Temple that the Pooluvar community guarded the tanks and a Neer Maniyam — an officer who maintained the tanks — existed even up to the early part of the last century. History has it that as it was the locals who built these tanks, they were exempted from taxes for a few years after its completion. We have a lot to learn from our ancestors on the upkeep of tanks.

Interconnected system

About 30 are fed by the Noyyal's canals. Most of them are inter-connected and fill up one after the other by natural gradient. In all, these tanks cover an area of more than 2,000 acres, thousand of which are within the city itself.

Ancient burial pots and coins have been found in and around the tanks. The tanks also have temples on their banks and records in the Pongali Amman temple on the Kurichi Kulam talk about its antiquity.

Many articles of archaeological and historical importance have also been found inside the tanks and adjoining areas. Some of the pristine rural tanks in the shadow area of the Vellingiri Hills even today remind one of the lakes and mountains of Scotland or Switzerland.

The Imperial Gazette of 1909 talks about the tank system and its benefits to Coimbatore city. This was considered one of the main reasons why the British shifted the Agricultural College here.

In due course, this system, like many others, went into decay. We forgot what our ancestors gave us and did not realise that our sustenance depended on its maintenance.

Both the state and its citizens were equally responsible for letting pollution and sewage degrade the tanks. Growing encroachment added to the problem.

Only now have we woken up to the problem. Siruthuli, a people's movement, got working to restore the lost glory of the Noyyal River Tanks System.

On the 57th year of our nation becoming a republic, the citizens of Coimbatore congregated on the banks of Valankulam to pledge support to make it pristine.

It was truly moving to see people coming together to undo the harm done.

May the work started on Republic Day free the tanks from pollutants and encroachers before Independence Day.

The time has come to stop the blame game and give our rivers and water bodies' the right to eternity.

(Send in feedback to Metromail with `heritage' in the subject line.)

SHANKAR VANAVARAYAR

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