I didn’t know about this place until someone in Trichy mentioned it to me in passing. Apparently at Kallanai stands one of the oldest dams in the world. The dam is said to have been built by Karikalan Chola, a great king of ancient Chola Dynasty. The exact date of his rule is debatable since most references to this great king is from Sangam literature. His reign and the construction of the dam are generally dated to the 2nd century AD.
I am curious to see this ancient dam, known in these parts as the Grand Anicut. The name is a strange union of English and Tamil. I take a bus from Trichy. The bus drops me right at the dam. Anything I had imagined about the dam falls flat on the face. The scenary is pleasant. The flow and breadth of Cauvery is impressive. Sadly the dam looks new. It is brightly painted. Try as I might, I cannot picture this as a dam 2000 years old.
To go in search antiquity is a strange pursuit. You expect to see something old and crumbling but not fully lost to the depravities of time. You expect a partial ruin that strikes a fine balance between preservation and imagination. To see a dam that looks as good as new and fully functional is a little disappointing. If I am disappointed in it as a tourist, I am happy to see that this ancient dam has been superbly maintained by the government. This is an important dam that irrigates a good part of Tanjavur district.
Modern additions to the dam are visible such as automatically controlled sluice gates. There are more modern parts of this vast complex such as the canal constructed by Col. W.M.Ellis in the 1930s. A statue of the Cholan king decorates a shady corner of a park. Even in the heat of midday, I see couples walking in the parks. The government has also spent lots of money in making the surrounding area a picnic spot.
There are plenty of birds here and a look at the piers tells me why. When the gates are open, the rush of water brings down shoals of little fish downstream. For many of these birds, this is prime fishing area. But its not just the birds who are interested in these fish. I see a few guys dropping down nets from the dam’s high walkway to flow beneath. They let the net stay in the flow for a few minutes before hauling up a modest catch. It really should be illegal to catch fish in this manner but does anyone really care?