SALEM: As hundreds thronged Mamangam near here on Tuesday to observe Aadi Perukku, the irony was quite evident. They were marking an age-old tradition, which used to be celebrated with ritualistic fervour on the banks of Thazhampu Odai, under a shower of artificially-pumped water.
Thazhampu Odai had vanished with the passage of time and march of modernity, but the village — located less than three km from the Salem city outskirts — continues to draw people from 18 surrounding villages for Aadi Perukku festival.
According to a myth, the Pancha Pandavas had visited the village, which was reeling under a drought at that time. They were in need of water desperately to wet their parched throats. One of them used an arrow against a wild animal, which pierced the ground. Then a spring of water occurred on the ground and the five brothers had their fill. That, according to local oral traditions, was the origin of the Mamangam spring, said Venpura A Kathirvel, a social and environmental activist who has been fighting for the restoration of the Odai that once flowed near the natural spring.
The natural spring existed even in the modern times. In the British era, the barren lands between the villages around Mamangam were found to be rich in magnesite ore and were leased out to mining companies. A buffer zone, however, existed between Mamangam and the mining pits. During the 1970s, late Chief Minister MGR sanctioned a scheme for supplying water from the spring to the neighbouring villages, which often went dry. A well was dug around the spring and its water filled the well. This water was then supplied to the villages.
Slowly, Thazhmpu Odai stream vanished due to encroachments on its course. At Mamangam, only a shallow pool (which has no water now) exists as if to remind one of the old stream. For the first time, the well has gone dry, thanks to illegal mining on the buffer zone and illegal pumping of water by the mining firms. The natural aquifer system had been disturbed and the natural spring has dried up. The well has almost gone dry.
Although some villagers took up the matter with the officials, the illegal activity did not stop.
As the dried-up Odai would not stop the people from holding their traditional festival, an innovative solution was found to make water available for the fest. An electrical pump was used by the locals, to make an artificial spring.
People from 18 villages brought the ‘utsav deity’ to Mamangam. They had a nice time taking a ‘dip’ in the artificial shower and carrying out other ritualistic traditions attached with Aadi Perukku. But will such measures last? Nothing can replace a natural spring for long. And its time to make amends to save the Odai.