Envis Centre, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Govt. of India

Printed Date: Saturday, June 10, 2023


Down Brick Lane is a weekly column to highlight the need for a legal framework to protect Chennais heritage buildings which not only contain stories of the city but also stand testimony to local skill

Joeanna Rebello Fernandes | TNN 

On the stepped banks of a small temple tank in Thiruvanmiyur stand a few scattered egrets,adding a lyrical edge to an already pastoral scene.One egret,however,has fallen lucklessly to its side,its stiff legs inches off the ground.This minor anomaly aside,the managers of the Marundeeswarar Temple,to which this tank is attached,must be commended for their efforts to prettify a temple extension,which is often overlooked,even if this exercise involved co-opting plaster-of-Paris birds.

The temple,dedicated to Marundeeswarar,a form of Shiva,is one of Chennais oldest,among its most lovely and,belief has it,uniquely curative.Built in the 7th century,the temple once flanked a vital route called Vadagaperuvazhi,which led from Thanjavur to Andhra Pradesh in the Chola period.That road ran along what is now East Coast Road.Where once traders,journeymen and even Valmiki,scripter of the Ramayana,stopped by the temple and revitalised themselves at its tanks,tourists,pious locals and students of architecture and history now populate the place and observe it from behind fences.

In their 2004 study,Temple Tanks of Chennai,M Amirthalingam and N Muthukrishnan refer to the sthalapuranam,the history of the temple,which records the genesis of the temples water bodies.It says Valmiki requested Shiva to squeeze his locks (which held the Ganga) and release five drops of water,which materialised in two tanks,a lake and two wells.

Having once extended over vast tracts of land,piecemeal sale of property cost Marundeeswarar three of the water bodies.Its lake is now interned beneath the Thiruvanmiyur bus stop.Of the two tanks,the smaller one,the chithiraikulam,measures 2,500sqft and is within the temple complex.The larger one is called Marundeeswarar Theppakulam or more popularly Thiruvanmiyur Tank,a 67,818sqft listed Grade 1 structure in the Padmanabhan Heritage Report.

Although entry is restricted,both tanks are open to the public from 5.30am to 6am every day for morning puja and during the float festival, says P Lakshmikantha Bharathithasan,the officer assigned to Marundeeswarar Temple by the Hindu religious & charitable endowments department.By the 80s,the theppakulam was down to its last drop.For S Rajappan,it was the end of an era.


Rajappan,the temple chairman for  three years,was born and raised in Thiruvanmiyur.He spent his childhood at the big tank,swimming in it and watching people conduct their daily ablutions.I almost drowned in it at age 6, he recalls.The tank was 20 feet deep then. The water is three feet deep today. Intach and Rotary Club restored both tanks in 2008.The theppakulam was restored at a cost of Rs 50 lakh,but water depleted quickly after it was refilled.The tank bed was sandy,allowing water to percolate.We laid out clay on the bed and that held the water, says Rajappan.The float festival,redirected to the small tank for three years,returned home

The small tank,the chithirakulam,four feet deep today,is in a corner of the compound,gated and fringed with shrubbery.This egret-flanked tank is referred to as Jenmanasini.Legend has it you will be free of rebirth if you bathe here.That facility is unfortunately no longer available to the world-weary.

This tank cost 5 lakh to restore, Bharathithasan says.Repairs have routinely been executed at both tanks,which harvest rainwater,and the steps and surrounds are swept twice a week.The state spends 50,000 a year on its maintenance.
Intach state convener S Suresh cites Marundeeswarar as a good example of a well restored temple tank.The temple was expanded up to the 17th century, says Suresh,The chithirakulam may have been part of the original temple complex and the theppakulam added later, he says.

While all minds are bent towards preserving the tanks structural integrity,returning them to their function of recharging the groundwater table will require an exertion of will.Only regular desilting of the tanks and rainwater harvesting in the neighbourhood will return them to their utility as aquifers, says Nanditha Krishna,honorary director,C P Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation.Judging by what has been achieved here so far,you could say the tank is half full.Theres room yet for improvement.