In the heart of the bustling city of Chennai lies an unsung hero, a silent observer of history, and a forgotten conduit of life – the Buckingham Canal. Located amidst chaos and urban sprawl, this waterway weaves its way through the city, telling stories of the past, reflecting the present, and offering a glimpse into the future. Embark on a unique journey as we explore the captivating history, meandering routes, and hidden potential of this enchanting canal!
Construction of the canal began almost two centuries ago in 1806 under the supervision of the eminent engineer, Sir Arthur Cotton. It was envisioned as a trade route to facilitate transportation and boost commerce between Chennai (then known as Madras) and its neighboring regions.
The Buckingham Canal, which runs from Viluppuram District in Tamil Nadu to Kakinada City in the Andhra Pradesh district of Kakinada, is nearly 800 kilometers. The canal makes its way through bustling cityscapes, rural villages, lush paddy fields, and tranquil backwaters. Its winding path offers a delightful passage, allowing one to witness the vibrant tapestry of life along its banks.
During the great famine of 1877 and 1878, more than six million people died throughout the country. Just like the rest of the major cities in the country, Chennai too was badly affected badly due to the same. The 8 km stretch connecting the Adyar and Cooum rivers, was constructed during these years as a famine relief project. And because the link was constructed on the orders of the then-Governor, the Duke of Buckingham, the canal was given the name Buckingham Canal in 1878. Locally, it has been affectionately called the “Nadu Thukkaram Pathi” (meaning “Canal of the Holy Man”) due to its association with the revered Tamil poet and philosopher, Thiruvalluvar.
Another less-known fact about the canal is that during British rule, it played a critical role in India’s struggle for independence. It served as an underground route for freedom fighters, offering a means of transportation and communication, away from the eyes of the British authorities.
However, as Chennai grew into a metropolis, the Buckingham Canal gradually faded from the city’s eyes. It was neglected and urban encroachment took over the waterway. However, in recent times, there has been a renewed interest in reviving and restoring its glory, recognizing its potential as a cultural, ecological, and recreational asset. In fact, during the 2021 state elections, DMK made a promise to restore the canal to its old glory.
The Buckingham Canal, when revitalized, has the potential to be transformed into a thriving ecosystem, with plenty of flora and fauna. By rejuvenating this historic waterway, we not only preserve our heritage but also create a sustainable future for the city of Chennai.