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The Meenachil (Malayalam: മീനച്ചിലാർ) River flows through the heart of Kottayam district of Kerala state, India. The river, 78 kilometres (48 mi) long, flows through Poonjar, Teekoy, Erattupetta, Palai, Ettumanoor and Kottayam before emptying itself into the Vembanad Lake at Kumarakom, the famous tourist place of Kerala.
The Meenachil River is formed by several streams originating from the Western Ghats. The general elevation ranges from 77 m to 1156 m in the high lands and less than 2 m in the lowlands and 8 to 68 m in the midlands. The Meenachil has a watershed area of 1208.11 km². The river has a total annual yield of 2,349 million cubic metre and an annual utilizable yield of 1110 million cubic metre. The river has 38 tributaries including major and minor ones. The river has 47 sub watersheds and 114 micro watersheds.
The 78 kilometer long Meenachil river is the holy river in Kottayam district. It is also called Gauna Nadi, Kavanar and Valanjar. The name Meenachil comes from Goddess Meenakshi of Madurai, the deity of the ruling Karthas of Meenachil. Meenakshi became Meenachi and later Meenachil. According to legends this river starts from the Kamandalu of great sage Gauna Maharshi like the river Kaveri from Agasthya Maharshi's Kamandalu. Hence this river got the name Gauna Nadi. Gauna Maharshi filled his Kamandalu with Sapthanadi Theertham (water from the 7 holy rivers -Ganga,Yamuna, Saraswathy,Sindhu, Narmmada,Godavari and Kaveri). A beautiful idol of Lord Subrahmanya was also kept in his kamandalu. He was eagerly waiting for the Darshan of Lord Sree Rama in his return journey to Ayodhya after killing Ravanan. Sree Raman was accompanied by large number of devotees like Vibhishanan, Sugreevan and Angada in the Pushpaka Vimana.So Maharshi Gauna could not see Lord Sri Rama and Sita Devi properly. So the angry Gauna threw the kamandalu away and the idol of Subrahmanya Swami came out. These incidents occurred on a hill and since then the hill is known as Kudamuruttimala. This flow of water became a river and thus the present Gauna nadi was formed. Along with the flow of the water, the idol was carried away to the Vishnu kshetram in Kidangoor and was later installed in a new sreekovil. This is the present Kidangoor Subrahmanya Swami Temple. So the water in Gauna river is as holy as the Sapthanadi Teertham. Later Sree Rama and Sitha Devi gave darshan to Gauna Maharshi. Rama advised Gauna Maharshi to continue his Tapas. Gauna Maharsi then started his journey along the river bank and at last reached a beautiful village and decided to stay there. He started worshipping Lord Shiva there and attained moksha. After that this place became a great forest. This place is now famous as Kadappattor and the idol of Shiva worshipped by Gauna Maharshi is now famous as Lord Kadappattoorappa.
Narada Maharshi, Veda Vyasa Maharshi, Parasurama, Pancha Pandavas and Panchali were also associated with this river. Kavanar is the Malayalam equivalent for Gauna nadi. Arattu of many temples in Kottayam district is being carried out in this river. Some of these temples are Bharananganam, Lalam, Puliyannoor, Kadappattoor, Kidangoor, Amayannoor, Ettumanoor and Kumaranalloor. It flows through the Kidangoor, Ettumanoor and Kumaranalloor Brahmin gramams and through the taluks of Meenachil, Vaikom and Kottayam. Another legend associated with Meenachil river is that those who get Neelakkoduveli from this river in the month of Karkkidakam will become wealthy. Only the Brahmins staying on the northern side of the Meenachil river were allowed to attend the Murajapam in Sree Padmanabha Swami Temple, Trivandrum
The Meenachil has four main tributaries:
1. The first tributary, the Teekoy River originates at Vazhikkadavu near Wagamon and flows through Vellikulam, Marmala, Mavadi and Teekoy. It drains the largest quantity of water though a substantial part of the water is now being diverted to Idukki reservoir through a 4 km long tunnel constructed by the Electricity Board at Vazhikkadavu. Seeing this tributary flowing down the deep gorge near Vellikulam from the Wagamon Road is a visual treat. Numerous streams and brooks join this river in its 25 km length to Erattupetta where there is a major confluence of the Meenachil River.
2. Another tributary is formed by the stream originating at Illikkal kallu near Thalanadu and flowing through Mankombu and Vakakkadu and the stream originating in the Melukavu hills and flowing through Edamaruku. These two streams join together at Randattumunni at Edamaruku and flows south-eastwards and joins with Teekoy River at Ettonnil Kadavu near Kalathukadavu and flows southward to enter the northern side of Erattupetta (meaning a confluence of two streams). At Erattupetta it joins south of Aruvithura the third tributary, Poonjar, which enters the southern side of Erattupetta. Aruvithura forane Church is a famous church that is situated on the left bank of Meenachil river at Erattupetta.
3. The third tributary, the Poonjar, originates from the southern valley of the Kurishumala hills and flows through Adivaram, Peringalam and Poonjar. It is joined by various streams flowing through Vengathanam, Chennadu, Maniamkulam, Kunnonni and Cholathadam.
4. The fourth tributary, the Chittar, flows through Chettuthodu, Kalaketty, Variyanikkadu, Chemmalamattam, Thidanadu and joins the Meenachil at Kondoor, 4 km downstream, west of Erattupetta.
In addition to these main tributaries, there are about 10 major streams and 20 minor streams joining the Meenachil at various places. Some of the important ones are:
- The Aakkal thodu, which flows through Anjoottimangalam, Kalekkandam, Narianganam and Plassanal and joins the Meenachil at Panackappalam.
- The Ponnozhukum thodu, which flows through Elikkulam, Mallikassery, Vilakkumadam, Edamattom regions and joins the Meenachil near the Shree Krishna Swamy temple, Bharananganam.
- The Lalam thodu, which flows through Karoor, Mundupalam and the northern regions of Palai and joins the Meenachil at Palai, near to the old private bus station.
- The Meenachil thodu, which flows through Chengalam, Urulikunnam, Njandupara, Paika, Poovarany, Meenachil regions and joins the Meenachil at Arunapuram, near St. Thomas College, Palai.
- The Chakini thodu, which flows through Maridom, Cherpunkal regions and joins the Meenachil near the Cherpunkal Bridge.
- The Pannagam thodu, about 30 kilometer long which starts from 14th mile of KK road region and flows through Madapattu, Mattakkara, Arumanoor, Ayarkkunnam regions and joins the Meenachil near Punnathara, Kidangoor.
- The Kattachira thodu, which flows through Kuravilangadu, Kadappoor regions and joins the Meenachil near Kattachira.
The Kerala State Electricity Board has constructed two tunnels near Wagamon to divert the water from the Meenachil to the Idukki Dam. One is from the Vazhikkadavu check dam to Karinthiri and the other from Koottiyar to Kappakkanam.
The Kerala Government has recently (2006) accorded high priority to the implementation of the Meenachil River Valley Project. The project aims at diverting excess water from the Moovattupuzha river into the Meenachil River basin by constructing a tunnel from Arakkulam to Melukavau. Once implemented the project will help in increasing the availability of water in the area.
There are a few serious issues affecting the environment of the Meenachil river basin. Some of them are:
- Water pollution due to disposal of urban and domestic waste into the river all through the banks of the river especially at urban centers like Erattupetta, Palai, Ettumanoor and Kottayam.
- Uncontrolled legal and illegal mining of river sand leading to depletion of water table.
- Illegal construction of numerous check dams.
- Diversion of upstream water to Idukki dam from the Vazhikkadavu Mini Dam.
- Illegal fishing, destroying marine life.
- Excavation of clay and sand from paddy fields for the brick and construction industries.
Economic and cultural importance of Meenachil River
Meenachil river is the major river in Kottayam district and lakhs of people and many major towns and cities like Erattupetta, Palai, Ettumannur and Kottayam depend on this river for drinking water and water for commercial activities. In earlier days when road transport was not developed much, kettuvalloms used to transport goods through Meenachil up to 2 km above Erattupetta and take agricultural products like copra to Alleppy port. Thousands of farmers use water from the river for agriculture. It is the natural channel for the discharge of rain water into the sea from eastern hills of Kottayam dist. In its banks have come up major cities and commercial centres which also are cradles of the culture of this area of Travancore. Meenachil river water enters the Vembanad lake before reaching the sea and has a major share in shaping the water bodies in and around Kottayam towards western coast and the backwaters. During monsoon the river can be full or flooding the nearby low lying areas on many occasions. People who live near the river and its tributaries indeed are deeply concerned about the decline of the river's water retention capacity due to loss of tree cover, top soil loss and excessive legal and illegal sand mining and also the serious water pollution issues due to garbage disposal to the river all though the banks of the river. There is now acute shortage of water in summer. The mighty rain-fed river turns almost completely dry in summer. Unless some serious, immediate effort is not taken, Meenachil River will soon become highly polluted affecting lakhs of people who depend on the river.
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