The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Taming Cauvery, with dam of stones 1900-yr structure anchors history

Grand Anaicut (Tamil Nadu), June 28: For nearly 2,000 years, the surging waters of the Cauvery have pounded this wall of rock and stone. But it has not only survived the onslaught. It has anchored an entire civilisation.

The 1,900-year-old Grand Anaicut, believed to be the brainchild of an ancient Tamil king, was built to “tame” a swollen Cauvery. Checked in its flow, the rushing torrent turned into life-nurturing water. The proof lies in the lush fields, about 16 km downstream from Tiruchirappalli.

Historians and civil engineers say the Grand Anaicut ' or a dam made of stones ' is the oldest surviving structure on the river and spawned others that stabilised the vast Cauvery delta irrigation system, which accounts for about two-thirds of the irrigated area in Tamil Nadu.

“It is to Karikala Cholan’s genius that we owe this cluster of regulatory structures here,” says public works engineer V. Sivakumar, pointing to a statue of the Chola king on a caparisoned elephant.

Before the dam was built, the Cauvery in full flow is believed to have swept down unchecked in a roiling mass. All the water got diverted, which meant nothing to irrigate the land. Noticing this, the Chola king ordered his men to “keep on dumping stones and rock pieces in a certain pattern until they settled on one side to help store water”, said an engineer, quoting from legends.

The Grand Anaicut is not a major reservoir like the one at the more widely known and much upstream locale of Mettur, but its place in history is secure. “It is called Grand Anaicut as it became the base for other irrigation structures that came up in modern times,” the engineer added.

During the 1830s, 10 “under-sluices” were constructed, thanks to the efforts of British engineers like Lt C.E. Faber and Sir Aurthur Cotton. Improvements on the structure included the construction of a 1100-foot-long “bed regulator” in 1926 and a “covering sluice” to de-silt the accumulated sand.

Another British engineer, Col Johasted, constructed the “head regulators” during 1883-86, while the Grand Anaicut canal, designed by Col W.M. Ellis and built during 1929-31, irrigates the southern parts of Thanjavur district. Because of heavy floods, some of the under-sluices have breached and been rebuilt. But nothing has happened to the base structure, the Grand Anaicut, so far, Sivakumar said.

After five years, thanks to the good inflows in the Cauvery’s catchment areas, the Mettur reservoir was opened on June 12. By the night of June 16, the Cauvery waters had roared down to the Grand Anaicut. “It is a good beginning for this crop year,” Sivakumar said.

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