"Is the tank full?" is a question one puts forward to any one visiting Virudhunagar, a business town in Virudhunagar District , 46Km south-east of Madurai.
The tank referred to here is the big tank ('theppakulam') maintained by the Hindu Nadars Abiviruthi Palasarakku Kadai Mahamai, Virudhunagar.
The 150Year old tank has assumed more significance for the past three months in view of the difficulty experienced by the residents in getting adequate water supply to meet their daily needs.
The severe power cut imposed by the Tamil Nadu Electricity Bord (TNEB) has affected the drinking water supply by the Virudhunagar municipality to a great extent, according to many residence. Consequently , a peculiar situation has arisen where the municipality is unable to supply the required quantity of water to the residents since sufficient electricity was not ;made available to the municipality to pump the water to the distribution points.
Drinking water which is normally supplied to the residents twice a day-about one -and-a-half hours in the morning and one hour in the evening-has been restricted to about one to one and a quarter hours only in the morning.
Residents complained that even in the morning, water supply was very erratic . Even before the power cut, the water supply position though not as bad as it was about two or three decades ago, does not adequately meet the requirements of the residents in all the areas served by the municipality, says Mr. A. Narayanan, an old time resident and businessman of virudhunagar.
Though the power crisis is a State-wide phenomenon, the power shortage in Virudhunagar is so acute that many private industrial and commercial units in the town have setup their own generators even a year ago. In recent months , more and more units have begun to install generators.
As for the water supply position, it would havebeen worse but for the presence of the tank maintained by the Hindu Nadars Abiviruthi Palasarakku Kadai Mahamai. The tank gets its water from a catchment area about 3.2 km north-east of Virudhunagar.
Mr. V.V.V. Rajendran, president of the Virudhunagar Chamber of Commerce and Industries said being located on a high level, the tank serves as a natural overhead tank supplying bountiful water directly as well as through borewells to the general public. Though the tank gets copious inflows during rains, it is also filled up by means of pumping water into it from the nearby Kousigamanadhi. A unique feature of the tank is that all the borewells - both private and public - located within a radius of about half a km around the tank get potable water by seepage from the tank. Another salient feature of the tank is that though it belongs to the Nadrars, all people, irrespective of their caste, are allowed to take water from the tank for drinking purposes. A Mahamai for repairs and reconstruction, according to a trustee of the Mahamai.
On three occasions...
The public are allowed to bath in the tank only on three occasions in a year; on kandasashti, Periyakarthigai and on the day when the tank overflows for the first time in a year.
Mr. SV.P.N.S. Shanmugasundara Nadar, president of the Vijayabharat Chamber of Commerce, Virudhunagar and one of the governing body members of the Mahamai said though the tank was meant only for drinking purposes, the Mahamai had to allow people to take bath in the tank on those three occasions.
The Mahamai however was contemplating steps to prevent anyone from bathing in the tank even on the three occasions to prevent contamination and drawing accidents. About 25 persons have so far died in such accidents, he said.
Virudhunagar which was once a predominant marketing centre for pulses in Tamil Nadu is gradually dwinding in its importance today with the flourishing of similar markets in places like Madurai and Tuticoring. Businessmen from virudhunagar have migrated to other districts of Tamil Nadu and established their business there. A need for a slant towards industrialisation is being increasingly felt among the people, including some traditional traders in the town.
Virudhunagar today boasts of a string of educational institutions right from the primary school to the college level, creating both to boys and girls, including a polytechnic. The Kshatriya Vidhyasala Managing Board, a premiere educational institution founded in 1889 now has under its banner one higher secondary; school, three middle schools, three primary schools, one Balar Vidhyasala nursery school and a higher secondary school affiliated to the Central Board of secondary education, New Delhi.
A unique feature of the Vidyasala is that it imparted free education to all irrespective of caste. Even before the free education scheme was formulated by the State Government. The managing board has now sponsored an English medium school tol be affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education. A new complex to house the school is coming up near Sulakkarai, a southern outskirt of the town at a cost of Rs.30 lakhs.
The town abounds in dhal-manufacturing units, oil and tin industries, but there are no large-scale industries which can provide employment to all the educated unemployed in the town. A new enterprising businessmen have diversified into the manufacturing of chicory coffee powder which is marketed on a large scale to other parts of Tamil Nadu and to Kerala and Karnataka.
Mr. Rajendran said the merchants in the town were unable to get enough labour since a majority of the labourers were attracted towards the mushrooming match industries in Sivikasi, Sattur and surrounding areas.
Mr. V.V.S. Yogan, Secretary, ramnad Chamber of Commerce said industrial estate started ; in Sulakkarai, above Km from Vifudhunagar during the Kamaraj was languishing due to the frastructure among the entrepreneurs units. There are not many industrial estate. New entrepreneurs were establish their units in the industrial to the difficulty in transporting raw Sulakkarai, he paid - Madurai State.
An Historical Tale of Virudhunagar Theppam
Virudhunagar, a major trading centre in Tamilnadu and the headquarters of the present Kamarajar District was ; once known as 'Virudhupatti' because of its primitive nalire. Even during the 19th century, the people led a very hard life. As elsewhere in the neighbouring areas, this virudhupatti had no facilities for education, drinking water, hospitals and even for a place of worship. But only during lie second half of the 19th centurn, lay the infinative of the government officials and also by the cooperation of the leading Nadars of virudhunagar the procers of pragrers bugan one after the other.
Arrival of saravanamuthu pillai as magistrate
Among the so many problems confronted by the people of Virudhunagar, the problem of drinking water was the most needy and urgent one to be solved im;mediately. People had to walk over a distance of five Kilometres to fetch a potful of water. Luckily for the people of virudhunagar, one Mr. Saravanamuthu pillai, a noted public servant, was appointed in 1866 as the magistrate of Virudhunagar. A strong devotee of Lord siva, he was the native of Tirunelveli Town. prior to his appointment here as magistrate, he served in the same capacity first in Valliyour and then at Panakudi. He earned the esteem and repetation of the people for his public works namely; construction of roads, lanks and temples. His urge for doing some good to the people of Virudhunagar did not keep him idle here above his intial reforms.
On his arrival at Virudhunagar, Saravanamuthu Pillai found that the streets were disorganised,. roads for the movement people and goods even to the neighbouring villages were inadequate. As a devoted man of public cause, he vowed to set right the things one after the other. To begin with, he reorganised the streets, to connect the adjoining villages, he constructed a road and planted trees on either sides of it. Then he renavated a small tank infront of Lord Siva Temple in virudhunagar. Further, he constructed a small tank for the use of 'Kassukkara' chettiars of Virudhunagar.
Plan for the construction of a Theppam
After having attended all the minor works, he devoted his attention to find out a permanent solution to the acute water problem. He went round virudhunagar and finally ferend out a small spring which was located in an elevated part of it. Actually the place was covered with rocks and bushes. Even an approach to ilt was difficult . Moreover, the place was dirty and unhygenic. But he had chosen it because of its stratagic position. When the selection of the place was over, he approached the local Nadars who were sufficiently rich and who had the mind to contribute for the construction of a big tank for solving the problem of acute water seareecity. As he expected they had extended their full cooperation and monetary support for this good endover.
Now the enthuriastic Saravanamuthu Pillai wrote to the collector at Tirunelveli for permission to constract a tank in Virudhunagar. The permission was granted in no time. He then contacted the local supervisor namely Sankaralingem and requested him to draw a plan and estimate of the proposed Theppam. He did accordingly Rengaswamy iyer fixed an auspecious date. Saravanamuthu Pillai along with Ponnambala Desihar and some of his friends went to the spot and laid the foundation stone in the year 1866. Soon the work started. Financial assistance from various quarters came abundantly. Besides the local nadars, the nadars who had settled in other parts ; of Tamilnadu for trade purposes also contributed liberally to the noble cause. A list ;of thirteen person who had made liberal contributions is included in the Annexure.
The construction work started as planned. Besides the noted artisans namely Sundram Asari and Mason Massanam, number of other workers were employed for its construction. A large number of womenfolk also was added to the workfor5ce. As promised the nadars who took incharge of various required materials for its construction supplied them in time. They paid for the labourers who were employed for the purpose also. Further some of them local nadars took up the responsibility of paying the labourers employed regularly on mutual agreement. So without much difficulty the work was completed within the specified time.
The Theppam, thus constructed with the initiative of Saravanamuthu Pillai and the cooperation of the local nadars of Virudhunagar resembled the one l at Madurai and Srivilliputhur in size, shape and its architecture. it is square in shape measuring each side 100 feet. Originally its depth was fifty feet. Sufficiently lengthy l and spacious foot steps on all the four sides were provided with semi polished stones. l Three wells, l dug inside the Theppam, was a perennial source of water even during hot summers. Walls measuring three feet high were raised around the Theppam on all sides l wonder to avert any possible danger. In the middle, a sixteen pillared Mandapam with a 'Mantramalai' like roof at l its apex. l Facilioties were provided to light the l Mandapam during l festival seasons. On its ferer corners, l small temples were constructed for worship.
Flooding the Theppam
Now the major problem was tol flood l the Theppam with water. As it k was situated in an elevated place, they selected a much higher place namely 'peralae', ten kilo metres away from the newly constructed Theppam During raining season l they brought the water from perali through an open canal to a neighboring tank known l as 'Velayuthan Madai'. Impurities in the water settled down there itself. The good water was brought to the Theppam through an underground canal which has become the only natural source of filling the tank fill today. The water so collected in the Theppam was used only for drinking purpose. From 1866 to 1937 it served as the only source of drinking water for the people of Virudhunagar. In 1937 Virudhunagar became a municipality and it gradually took up the task of providing good drinking water to the people. Now Virudhunagar is a well developed town and the people have least scarcity of water. But for purpose other than drinking the people largely depended on the Theppam. As long as it is full, the ground water level in an around Virudhunagar are quite satisfactory and they could get water through hand pumps and wells. Hence they space no efforts, even today, to see that the Theppam is always full.
Yet its utility value now a days is much less compared to the days of its construction. When it was constructed, it was viewed as an immense do to the people of Virudhunagar. In those days people used together around the Theppam with joy and gaiety because its water was so dear to them as milk and honey. To praise its glory, a poet by name Kumarayanadar from Virudhunagar, composed a song on its 60th anniversary celebration day is 1926. To preserve the prestige and sanctity of the Theppam land owners around it have instructions to construct only multistoried buildings. No thatched or filed houses or shops are permitted. Above all it is well maintained and even today people are not allowed to take bath in it except on two festival days namely Thiru Karthigai and Kantha Sassdi This special concession was granted only recently.
During the festival days, the Theppam is nicely decorated with colourful lights. Today the Theppam stands in the midst of the Virudhunagar down a land mark and symbol of the great imaginations and initiative of Sri Saravanamuthu Pillai as well as the carious efforts and graceful contributions of the Nadar Community.
1. Devaraya swanikal paramparai
2. Kumarayya Nadar, A, A. Theppakula Sindhu, 1927
3. Some Virudhunagar Municipal Records
4. Interview with the Municipal Chairman Mr. R. Chokker
5. Interview with the leading Nadars who had business establishment near Theppam etc.
The Historical Tale of Virudhunagar Tank Nadar Teppam
V.V.S. Kesavan B.Sc., (Merchant)
103, Bazaar Street,Virudhunagar.
Sources are scanty but information about the tank, which is situated beautifully in the Central elevated part of the Virudhunagar town are in plenty. It was constructed in the year 1866 with the sincere initiative of Seravana Muthupillai, the then magistrate of Virudhunagar. The local nadars of Virudhunagar cooperated with him and made available all the required resources. The nadars who were settled in other parts of Tamilnadu for trade purposes also contributed liberally for this good endeavor. For a long time it has been the only sources of water supply to the people of virudhunagar. Hence, I feel, it is be fitting to present a paper to the learned audience, who know very well that "Life originates in Water" and also depends mainly on it.
My paper portraits the circumstances and efforts for its construction as well as the costs, workmanship, its lasting nature and utility with the help of the available sources. No doubt, going into its past will be a glowing tribute to the people of Virudhunagar who had undertaken its construction with such foresight, intelligence and skill before a period of a century and more.