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Title: Vaigai  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Madurai, South India, Pandyan Dynasty, Madurai district, Paramakudi, Chronology of Tamil history, Eṭṭuttokai, Pattuppāṭṭu, History of Tamil Nadu, Tirumangalam, Madurai
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


 - location Tamil Nadu, India
 - location Bay of Bengal, India & India
 - elevation 0 m (0 ft)
Length 258 km (160 mi)
 - average 36 m3/s (1,271 cu ft/s) [1]
Discharge elsewhere (average)
 - Peranai 28.8 m3/s (1,017 cu ft/s) [2]

The Vaigai [3] is a river in Madurai, Tamil Nadu state of southern India. It originates in the Periyar Plateau of the Western Ghats range, and flows northeast through the Kambam Valley, which lies between the Palni Hills to the north and the Varushanad Hills to the south. The Vattaparai Falls are located on this river. As it rounds the eastern corner of the Varushanad Hills, the river turns southeast, running through the region of Pandya Nadu. Madurai, the largest city in the Pandya Nadu region and its ancient capital, lies on the Vaigai. The river empties into the Palk Strait in Ramanathapuram District.

The Vaigai is 258 kilometres (160 mi) long, with a drainage basin 7,031 square kilometres (2,715 sq mi) large.[4]

Etymology and History

The following story is told about the birth of the river Vaigai. Meenakshi, the daughter of a Pandyan king, was an incarnation of Parvati. From a very young age, she made up her mind to marry Lord Shiva and none else. Her family was initially against this but eventually consented to her wish and arranged the wedding. Sundareswara (Siva), being an ascetic, came to the wedding without any family or relatives accompanying him. Disappointed at this, the Pandyan king angrily showed Siva the huge amount of food prepared for the bridegroom's relatives. Siva pointed to a friend he had brought with him saying 'He will consume all the food that you've made'. This friend was a Rakshasa named Kundodhara. After Kundodhara finished all the food that was prepared, He became very thirsty and started asking for water. All the wells and canals in Madurai were not sufficient to quench his thirst. Then, Siva asked Kundodhara to put his hand out and opened a small part of his hair lock and Ganga began to flow into his hand. After quenching his thirst, The rest of the waters began flowing in Madurai as the Vaigai river. Vaigai means 'put your hand out' in Tamil.


The main tributaries of the river Vaigai are, the river Suruliyaru, the river Mullaiyaaru, the river Varaganadi, the river Manjalaru and river Kridhumaal. All these rivers, except Kridhumaal join with the great Vaigai river nearer to the places around the Vaigai Dam which is situated in Theni district, whereas Kridhumaal joins Vaigai in Madurai.

Vaigai gets major feed from the Periyar Dam in Kumuli, Kerala. Water from the Periyar River in Kerala is diverted into the Vaigai River in Tamil Nadu via a tunnel through the Western Ghats. In summers, the Vaigai river ends up dry very often. The water never reaches Madurai, let alone flowing into places past Madurai.


The Vaigai Dam is built across the river near Andipatti, in the Theni district of Tamil Nadu. It provides water for irrigation for the Madurai district and the Dindigul district as well as drinking water to Madurai and Andipatti.[5] Near the dam, the Government of Tamil Nadu has constructed an Agricultural Research Station for researching the growing of a variety of crops, including rice, sorghum, blackgram, cowpea and cotton.[6]

The Periyar Dam was built in 1895 by John Pennycuick, who implemented a plan proposed over a century earlier by Pradani Muthirulappa Pillai of Ramnad. The dam was built by the British Army Engineering corps for the Travancore kingdom. The first dam was washed away by floods, and a second masonry dam was constructed in 1895.

"Greater than the mother bearing child/Greater than the child that is born/Every breath is Periyar/Every word is Periyar/In every place, in all the world/As far as Periyar water flows/Your name will stand-Pennycuick-your name/Though written on water, will always stand".

That is how Anthony Muthu Pillai (1863-1929) had paid tributes in Tamil to John Pennycuick, the engineer who had taken up the "audacious and unprecedented feat" for transferring some water from the Periyar river in Travancore State to the Vaigai basin in Madras Presidency. This basin was described by Poet and lyricist Vairamuthu, who hails from this area: "It is a different world. Another planet on the surface of the earth. Ignored by the clouds, cursed by nature and dry land, passed by the Gods with their eyes tightly shut..."


Coordinates: 9°21′N 79°00′E / 9.350°N 79.000°E / 9.350; 79.000

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