Kalingarayan Canal is a 140-kilometre (90 mi) long irrigation canal in the Erode district, Tamil Nadu, India. It was constructed by Kongu chieftain Kalingarayan and was completed in 1283. It starts with Kalingarayan dam on River Bhavani, near Bhavani and flows through Erode before terminating near Kodumudi. Recently the canal has suffered from pollution. In 2007 a 12-crore (120 million) rupee programme to develop the canal was announced, funded by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development. Local farmers have asked for a wall to be built on the right bank, to prevent nearby textile workshops and tanneries from discharging waste.
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. It is a notable achievement even by modern standards. He constructed a 56-mile-long (almost 90 km) canal, which today irrigates 15,743 acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare). The Kalingarayan Ayacut is one of the important agricultural areas in the district.
Kalingarayar (aka Kalingarayan) was born as Lingaya Gounder around 1240 AD at Kanakapuram, a hamlet near Perundurai in the present day Erode district. 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).
When the Kongu region was under the rule of Veerapandian of the Kongu Pandya dynasty in 13thcentury AD, Lingayyan joined as a soldier in the army and later rose to the position of becoming a commander and minister to the Pandya king. After the king conferred him the title ‘Kalingarayan’ and provided him the power to rule the northern part of Kongu region, he de-silted several ponds and lakes and laid new roads in the region. As he constructed the 56 mile-long canal with several curves like the crawling of a snake at elevated places, an oral tradition in the Kongu region maintains that Kalingarayan constructed the canal, as directed by a snake!
Transporting large rocks from Ooraatchi Kottaimalai on Buffalo - drawn carts, the chieftain took 12 full years to complete the construction of the canal and a dam to provide irrigation for over 15,000 acres of land. Though Kalingarayan collected tax naming it as ‘Kalingarayan Viniyogum’ from all classes of the society, he exempted the people from the lower strata from paying the tax.
In an age, when many caste-based political outfits work for the welfare of their respective castes, Kalingarayan, passed an order that the descendants belonging to his sect called ‘Saathanthai Kulam’ from the Kongu Vellalar community, shall not have the right to use the water from the canal!
The Kongu chieftain Kalingarayan, who made a vow that he would not get his beard shaved until the completion of constructing the 56 mile-long canal to link Bhavani and Noyyal rivers, was having a sound sleep at his home. As he was tired after spending twelve full years for the project’s completion, his family barber, who knew his chieftain’s vow, shaved his beard while he was asleep. He also kept a mirror in front of him so that he would see his clean, shaven face as soon as he woke up.
As expected by the barber, Kalingarayan was happy to see his new face in the mirror and lauded the barber asking him what gifts he would like to get from him. However, the barber told him the only gift he wanted was that his name would last long for ever in history along with the name of his chieftain.
In contrast to the present age, when most politicians show great interest for their wide publicity, Kalingarayan, who ruled the Kongu region 700 years ago, removed his name from the village’s name ‘Kalingarayan Palayam’ and renamed it into ‘Naavidhan Palayam’ rewarding his barber. Interestingly the Tamil Nadu Government has announced a memorial for Kalingarayan at the same place, which is now called ‘Anai Naasuvanmpalayam’
Kalingarayan began in 1271 with the construction of a small barrage across the Bhavani. It was 1283 when he took the Canal to the banks of River Noyyal at Aavudaiaaparai. Though the distance between where Kalingarayan started and ended the Canal is only 32 miles, Kalingarayan designed it in a circuitous way with as many twists and turns as possible that it measured 56 miles." There are two reasons that attributes to Kalingarayan extending the length. By extending as much as possible the Canal's length, the chieftain wanted to irrigate larger number of lands and in doing so made best use of the natural gradient.
The mean sea level (MSL) at where the Canal begins is 534 ft and ends in 412.48 ft. The other interesting piece of information is that the chieftain wants the Canal to be extended further to River Amaravathi.
Soon after the construction of the Canal, Kalingarayan decided to extend it by building another barrage, which he was unable to complete, though.
To this day the barrage by the name `Ootai anai' (porous barrage) is present at Athipalayam."
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.
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 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.