The Story of the Kalingarayan Anicut

An engineering wonder of the past that connects rivers and helps impound water

Somewhere around the year 1270 King Kalingarayan visits the neighboring kingdom to discuss a possible matrimonial alliance for his son the price. In the kingdom, the head chef who is present there asks his companions what type of rice should he serve the king and one of his coworkers replies that the king who rules barren and unfertile lands can know no difference between the types of rice and that anything could be served. Knowledge of this conversation reaches the king and is angered by the remark so he returns to his kingdom determined to make the lands fertile enough to strengthen agriculture. Therefore, the king thinks of ways to improve water management in his kingdom and arrives at the conclusion to build an anicut with an irrigation canal that originates from it.

His plans to build a canal and an anicut were greatly contested by the public. Rumors had spread that the king was going to waste people’s money to satisfy his own ego and this idea was not accepted by many. In an effort to regain the trust of his subjects, the king moved his palace to a place that couldn’t utilize the benefits of his plan. He also swore an oath that he and his family would never use the water from the canal or the anicut. The people replaced their trust with the king and the twelve-year-long project was started.

The king was a great visionary of his time and made phenomenal progress in implementing his plan. He didn’t just create a canal that starts from the Bhavani River and joined the river Noyyal. His intellectual thinking led to the creation of a canal that was 90km long which is longer than a canal that could have connected the rivers directly. The shorter canal, which would have only been 52km, was not built because of the benefits offered by the longer one.

This extension in the length of the river helped reduce the velocity of the river because the river was full of twists and turns which also helped in recharging the groundwater table. The canal was also designed in such a way that the water would flow against the force of gravity from a lower area to elevated land. The ambitious king extended the canal further to meet the Amaravati River.

The purpose of building the anicut was to divert water from the river Bhavani and to use it for the canal. The initiatives taken by the king are still helping the people even after 700 years of its construction. This idea of his has also earned a spot in the history books as one of the world’s first-ever river-linking projects.

Today the Kalingarayan anicut and the Kalingarayan Canal stand as a symbol of India’s culture and heritage. The government is taking initiatives to increase tourism around them and has already built a memorial hall alongside a children’s park. The government has also made efforts to stop the pollution of such a historical wetland by the industries present nearby. They have constructed concrete walls along the bunds to prevent the mixing of industrial waste effluents. A small canal parallel to the current one has been constructed to carry sewage waste. The hopes for a better future come from the past just like how the waterbody will serve the future.


Published by LakesOfIndia

Lakes of India is an E.F.I initiative aimed at sensitizing the larger public on freshwater habitats across the country. A blog platform where one can read about lakes across India. You can become a guest blogger to write about a lake in your hometown and initiate an action to protect that lake.

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