Srivilliputhur is an indicator town that has witnessed everything from what we know as tales from ancient history to today’s political gossip. A sleepy hamlet with 70,000+ inhabitants, this ancient temple town is one of those well planned Cultural Capital now in the hands of negligent citizens.
The skyline of Srivilliputhur is held firm and high by the majestic RajaGopuram of the DivyaDesam. It catches your eye from almost every corner of the village and beyond. A true delight to just stare at, this Temple Tower has its own stories to tell. The idols adorning the tower towards the tapering tip tell us everything about the water, crop and animals in the region.
Based on records from the British archives to much earlier songs of the Alwars, Srivilliputhur’s prosperity and significance in South India is well understood. From H.E. Thirumalai Naickar to the British Raj and the present day political establishment this town has given them all something.
A 5mins chat with the residents gives us an idea of their Srivilliputhur specific patriotism. Their faces brighten up, when they point to the Rajagopuram and share their bit of knowledge on it. A quick argument breaks amongst a group of friends as to whose facts on the temple and the surrounding ponds are correct. The friendly chat gets heated up but is all forgotten over a fresh glass of Palm fruit and “Pathani” (fresh palm extract.)
Despite their tremendous growth in their respective careers, this group of friends make it a point to visit their town for the annual Temple Car festivities.
This time they decided to take up the much needed efforts to restore and revive fresh water bodies in this rain shadow region of TamilNadu….
Thus… With them starts my journey at Srivilliputhur in Search of Water!
The 69th Independence day was a reality check in my case. My trip to Srivilliputhur has only given me a broader understanding of the larger problem looming large over our heads, however, conveniently being ignored.
For how long?
Our day starts at the Thiruparkadal. A mystic name to a pond, this beautiful waterbody overlooking the Rajagopuram was once a freshwater source for Srivilliputhur. Today it is covered by a depressing layer of hyacinth and being filled with an addictive flow of domestic sewage. One of the smallest yet most significant waterbodies for the town, the Thiruparkadal has been considered for a bus terminus in the past. It is the resident’s firm resistance that still has the waterbody to the least in dry conditions. However, it’s not long before its taken over. Hence it is vital that this ancient water source is revived at the earliest.
There is hope! The town residents are eager to get the pond restored to it’s original glory. A positive ray of hope, as the community gets involved in the conservation it ensures sustainability to the project.
From the Thiruparkadal we set on a three hour journey to cover the interlinked upstream tanks.
The Chakkara Kulam is today a hardened cricket pitch.
The Thirumakulam is vast expanse of dry lake bed, whose inlets are archeological wonders, a neatly carved square granite culvert that would flood the depths of this box shaped waterbody.
The waterbody is the comfy zone for locals who love their drinks, they ensure to mark their territory with a line of leftover plastic cups.
Where is all the water? Just miles away from the western ghats, these waterbodies sure did get their dose of water from the hills if not from the clouds. It continues to rain in the hills, however, the water no longer reaches these dry lake beds.
The channels have been built upon or have excess weed growth. In addition to this, wealthy farmers and industries upstream tap all the fresh water for their private consumption thereby leaving Srivilliputhur brown and dry.
It is a drought like situation with cracked lake beds and thorny weeds decorating the channels for miles.
There are so many lives dependent on these waterbodies from the Grizzled Squirrel to the 70,000 people who are largely farmers and their livestock. Restoration and revival of these waterbodies has reached a crucial juncture, if not Now, then Never!
Layers and tonnes of polythene cover this important channel that once carried with it Fresh Water to lower tanks, today this is a stagnant drain! Water borne diseases, increased heat and moreover the pitiful state of having to Buy Drinking Water are the immediate repercussions!
Unchecked and untreated domestic sewage freely flows into these freshwater bodies, there is negligible levels of awareness in the local community in the need to conserve these, however there is large scale worry and fear about water security. The gap between worry and inaction, when bridged would ensure immediate conservation of these pristine habitats.
The Chakkarathalvar overlooking the lake is said to be the guardian, human beings sure have superpowers, as we have left the almighty himself clueless!
The search for water didn’t go well for the first two days, with nothing but high levels of motivation and chaotic thoughts about how and where to start the restoration this journey was coming to a dry end…
Not Until, This Happened!
When the rain gods showered in optimism to remind us although bad it’s all not over!
When the clouds took over and sent the mighty sun packing…
Stay connected on this journey with EFI to revive and restore Srivilliputhur’s freshwater bodies.
Photos n content: Arun Krishnamurthy
Special Thanks: Shri Rangarajan Pandey
(Whose mission is to revive his native village’s fresh water bodies.)