The remains of the Long Tank Lake at the heart of the city of Chennai is now what the city-dwellers call as T.Nagar. The lake once occupied 70 acres to the west of the Mount Road and was largely replenished by the Lake Area of Nungambakkam, which too has now taken the form of Tank Bunk Road and New Tank Street. (Sriram V., 2014)
The lake’s vanishing journey began prior to the 1920s with a surge in population. To make room for this population which had grown from 398,000 in 1871 to 527,000 in 1921, by the Madras Town Planning Act of 1920 the lake was sealed with concrete to accommodate new dwellings (Muthiah, 2015). With the Mambalam Housing Scheme Town Planning Trust, the faster the water from the lake was ousted making way for Theagaraya Nagar or T. Nagar (Ramakrishnan, 2019). The region was largely bought by Justice Party leaders and personalities and takes its name after the father of the Justice Party, Sir Pitty Thyagaraya (Keerthana, 2012). For all those wondering why Mambalam was hit hard with 2016 floods or Vardah among other lakes to cement localities, well it is because water is finding its way to where it belongs.
Once T.Nagar was established, the feeder was not too far from urban development since the stagnant water became a breeding ground for mosquitoes. By 1971, the Nungambakkam lake too was filled up and the land became Valluvar Kottam. (Keerthana, 2012)
The lake was boomerang-shaped, spreading over 6 km in length. Much of today’s Boat Club activities happened on this lake. Until this lake was present, it was considered the western limit of the city and the region beyond the tank was categorised as another village – Mambalam village. The southern point of the tank was called the Mylapore Tank and it has been recorded in history through the words of Robert Bruce Foote in the early quarter of the 20th century who referred to it as the “Mylapur tank” (Ramakrishnan, 2019). As a geologist, Foote on observing numerous marine shells close in the tank’s vicinity proposed that the lake “could have been a saline lagoon in the distant past which later became a freshwater lake after the sea receded.” (Ramakrishnan, 2019)
The region on the western part of the tank was home to trees called Maha Vilva Ambalam and paddy fields (Madras Musings, 2016). In line with the same, considering it is a freshwater lake, it ought to have also contributed to the water demands in the city for essential purposes. By the 1970s no evidence of the lake existed and with rapid urbanisation, the region is now surrounded by concrete.
Looking at the history, it might be too late to recover the tank owing to the fact that it is close to a hundred years since the lake began to be encroached upon. Recovering the lake would cost the city heavily for the entire region’s population of approximately 2 lakhs would have to be relocated and the economic activities would be disrupted. However, once a lake area, it is always one, and efforts can be taken to capture the surplus water received in these regions during the monsoon season to meet the ever-growing demand for water in the city.
Keerthana, R. (2012, May 1). Once upon a time in Thyagaraya Nagar…. The Hindu. https://www.thehindu.com/features/downtown/once-upon-a-time-in-thyagaraya-nagar/article3436296.ece
Madras Musings. (2016, December). Rambling in West Mambalam … with Janaki Venkataraman « Madras Musings | We Care for Madras that is Chennai. Madras Musings. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from http://www.madrasmusings.com/vol-26-no-16/rambling-in-west-mambalam-with-janaki-venkataraman/
Muthiah, S. (2015, October 24). Better in Madras than at Essex. The Hindu. https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/madras-miscellany-better-in-madras-than-at-essex/article7800117.ece
Ramakrishnan, V. (2019, June 16). The price that Chennai continues to pay for Long Tank and T Nagar. DTNext. https://www.dtnext.in/News/City/2019/06/16042057/1152290/The-price-that-Chennai-continues-to-pay-for-Long-Tank-.vpf
Sriram V. (2014, June 6). Locating a lost lake of Madras. The Hindu. https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/locating-a-lost-lake-of-madras/article6089792.ece
Thiyagaraya Nagar, Chennai | Locality. (n.d.). GeoIQ. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from https://geoiq.io/places/Thiyagaraya-Nagar/6t9w98G4P0