An Iconic Symbol of Madras

Ancient Tamil culture had the wonderful practice of addressing the city by its river. Rivers were considered sacred and treated as blood running through veins of the country. They treated river as a mother. As far as Madras is concerned there are many rivers and lakes but Cooum stands out. Cooum was addressed and attached with Madras right from the ancient times. For a city many icons comes and stand as a face for a while but very few will remain irreplaceable. Cooum is one such icon which is irreplaceable. One cannot study the history or the current status or the future status of Madras without Cooum. Cooum is a river which cannot be ignored when the name Madras is told.

The Cooum River divides the north and central Madras. The name of the river is said to be derived from the Tamil terms such as Cuppam(Deep Pit) and Coovalan(Expert in ground water and river and all water resources). The history of the river goes way to centuries when it was lively and lives were dependent on it. The river was the source for drinking water, transportation and navigation. The navigation through this river has a lot of credits to Indians as they used not only for trade within the country but also outside the country too and archaeological facts prove this. The river had many natural banks and one such is even named Amaintha Karai (Naturally formed bank) now known as Amjikkarai. The river was once considered as a Thames of south India. Bearing all these fruits the river is less than 45 miles of length. No river in the world has this much pearls in its crown of this length.

Beyond this financial and socially integrated status the river also formed a sacred part. Ancient scriptures suggest that once bathed in Cooum your sins are washed away. Even well-known philanthropist Pachaiyappa Mudaliar used to bath in the river before offering his prayer daily. This river was compared to even the mighty Ganges and said it has the same sacred powers of that the Ganges.

It was in the later stage of the twentieth century the Cooum River started getting polluted. At the early 1950s the river had around 90 species of fishes and due to toxicity it was reduced around 40 at 70s. Now it is no more a habitat for the aquatic creatures nor does it support the living around the area. The river once considered a path to salvation is waiting for its redemption. Many attempts to revamp the vein of Madras went in vain. It has now become the storage place of all industrial and habitat’s wastes. Cooum now is synonymous to the waste, toxicity and ardent odour of the sewage.

The facts and face of the river may have changed so as the city of Madras. But one thing that never changes is the historic bonding of the river to the city. The river is not perennial but as a cultural icon of Madras it is perennial. The deep pit hides lot more secrets in its dirt so is the city of Madras, it too hides lot more secrets to be unraveled. The river Cooum was a cultural icon of Madras, is a cultural icon of Madras and will always be the cultural icon of Madras.

Post by: Gopalakrishnan Krishnasamy

The views expressed in the posts and comments of the Madras Week blogs do not reflect the positions or opinions of British Council. They should be understood as the personal opinions of the author. British Council is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied here.

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