TIRUNELVELI: As soon as a boat approaches the Tirunelveli bank of the Thamirabarani river, a slew of mandapams springs up on the horizon, scattered along the river. The mandapams, older than time itself, have been in poor health, especially after the January floods this year.
"They should be restored and protected as mandapams have been the line of defence against floods for years," environmentalists said.
After the flood of 1992, the region witnessed another one this January when the Thamirabarani river brimming with water. Though no casualty was reported in the disaster this year, the major mandapams located in the river were partially damaged.
S Gomathi Sankar, a 29-year-old social science teacher, said, "While mandapams have not been researched properly so far, they were probably constructed during the Pandiya period as a flood control engineering unit. If some of the mandapams near the river are observed, they are placed to stand against the strong currents. A few of the notable mandapams are the Kurukkurthurai mandapam, Sivapoosai mandapam and Thaipoosam mandapam. One could directly see the flow of water losing its velocity while passing through these mandapams. Similar mandapams are constructed across the river at various places in the region. During the January floods, the stone bridge which is more than three centuries older than the Kurukkurthurai mandapam was damaged."
Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers Association Head Narumpunathan said, "There are more than 30 mandapams on the banks and a few even in the middle of Thamirabarani river. While a few mandapams have not been affected, most of them are damaged. When I studied the mandapams, I found most of these were constructed during the Pandiya period and some during the Chola period. They were the heritage sites safeguarding the district for years. The stone mandapams have to be preserved and studied so the future generation can learn the ancient engineering techniques and culture. However, most of these mandapams are damaged or abandoned."
All is not lost yet, it seems, as there have been plans to restore and map these mandapams. ATREE's Agasthyamalai Community Conservation Centre Senior Research Associate M Mathivanan said, "There has been no survey on the number of mandapams built on the banks and in the middle of the Thamirabarani river. Under the Nellai Neervalam initiative, steps are taken to conduct a survey on the mandapams and their condition. After the mapping, they will be restored."
Commenting on the restoration of these structures, Collector Vishnu said, "The mandapams are heritage sites and should be restored under the guidance of experts. A heritage trail will be opened for people to take on a cycle ride and learn about historical sites on the banks of the river."