The pioneer in linking rivers in India is a Kongu Vellala Gounder by the name of Lingaya Gounder. He constructed the 90 mile long Kalingarayan Canal as early as 1283.
Kalingarayar (aka Kalingarayan) was born as Lingaya Gounder around 1240 AD. He rose to become the Uthara Mantri (Chief Minister) of Pandya King, Veera Pandian (reign 1265 – 1280). He is believed to belong to Saathanthi Kootam (clan).
In recognition of his excellent performance, the King Veera Pandian conferred on him the title Kalingarayan, which is the name used for the dam and the canal built by him. He is now commonly referred to by this name.
The river starts with a dam in Bhavani (in current Erode District) and connects Bhavani River and Noyyal River crossing rivulets on the way by using aqueducts. A notable achievement even by modern standards.
The works of Kalingarayan is best understood from the words of Dr Francis Buchanan (aka Francis Hamilton or Francis Buchanan-Hamilton), 1762 to 1829, a Scottish Physician who made significant contributions as geographer while staying in India. After the defeat of Tipu Sultan and fall of Mysore in 1799 Buchanan was asked by the then British Governor General of India, Marquis Wellesley to survey the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar. Buchanan visited these regions during 1800 and 1801 and his findings are published in three volumes under the title “A journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar”. As part of this study, Buchanan visited Erode on 7th November 1800 and wrote in his journal regarding the Kalingarayan Canal as follows (excluding italicized text added for clarity):
At the time of Buchanan’s visit the canal was noted to be irrigating over 3500 acres.
Currently, the canal runs 56.5 miles and terminates at Kodumudi and provides irrigation for close to 16,000 acres of land in Kongu Nadu. It is reported that Kalingarayar was also planning to connect the canal to Amaravathi River and built a dam near Athipalayam for this purpose. However, this extension was not completed.
Other works and Death
Kalingarayan is not only known for his engineering skills but also for being a visionary and for his able administration. It is believed that Kalingarayan let lower caste persons blow conch (சங்கு) and play instruments during good and bad occasions; plaster their houses on the outside and wear footwear.
Though not much is known about his death, his selfless work will continue to be appreciated by all the people in Kongu Nadu for a long time.
Recognition, commemoration, honours and memorials
- Tamil Nadu Government ordered establishment of a memorial statue at Nasuvampalayam in Erode District in 2013.
- Kongu Kalingarayan’s statue was unveiled in 2007 near his native Vellode on the occasion of 725 years of completion of the canal.
- A Journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar (1807) Vol II
- Books on Kalingarayan Canal and History of Erode by Pulavar Se Rasu, (2007)