Articles- THE HINDU —



Villages of Chengalpattu are dotted with a large variety of water bodies. There are the vast erys, meant mainly for irrigation. Then there are the madavus, big long channels, which bring water to some erys, and take away surplus waters from the others. There are also the thangals, smaller than the erys, yet fairly big and often beautifully landscaped. Besides, there are the kuttais and the kulams, small ponds, sometimes lined elaborately with stone or brick masonry structures, and sometimes completely unlined, amounting merely to depressions in the land.

These sources of water, which in the eighteenth century covered more than 1/8th of the surface area in the region, along with the greenery of the woods, toppus and gardens, which together occupied another 1/5th of the area, must have provided a certain grandeur to the whole region. Residential areas of most villages, it seems, were especially surrounded by woods and erys, and were extensively covered by thangals, kuttais, kulams, toppus and poonthottams.

Most of the great buildings of the relatively better off houses in the region have fallen to ruins. The woods have been reduced to shrubbery, and the toppus and poonthottams have been either abandoned or brought under the plough. But, most of the water bodies still survive, and when they are filled with water, they seem to make the desolate ruins come to life again. Thus the almost deserted village of Nattarsampattu also acquires a peculiar attraction, with the deep kulam in the south, opposite the Pettai street, where the residents of the village can be seen bathing and swimming, and the vast thamarai kulam with a thick growth of lotus flowers on the north, just beyond the Reddy street, where village women bathe and wash their clothes, and on whose banks young men from villages around gather to enjoy an outdoor feast or an afternoon siesta.

Siruvanjur, adjoining Nattarsampattu on the south-east, however, was a village of woods and waters. Of the 357.5 hectares of land, that the village had, as many as 116 hectares were under woods, 95 hectares were under erys, and another 10 hectares were under the 11 kulams and kuttais, that dotted the village habitation. Cultivation in the village amounted to only 75 hectares of irrigated nunja and less than 8 hectares of unirrigated punja lands. Most of the remaining lands were either under greenery or under water.

Productivity of the cultivated lands of Siruvanjur was high, averaging to about 4 tonnes per hectare. In 1762 the village produced 326 tonnes of paddy on 83 hectares of lands. Besides this there were 40 tonnes of other grains, pulses and oilseeds, obtained from the same lands. For a village of just 76 households, a third of whom were engaged in productive activities other than agriculture, this level of annual production of grains indicates a fairly high level of prosperity.

But the real prosperity of Siruvanjur probably was not in the yield of its lands, but in the beauty of its habitation and surroundings. Some of this can be experienced even today, thanks to the various kulams and kuttais, which have survived the depredations of the last two centuries, and also thanks to the thorny bushes of Velikattan, which though considered by the villagers to be a recent wild invasion of little value, have enveloped the residential area with a protective cover of green.

Approach to the village of Siruvanjur today lies through the bed of the south-west ery, which it shares with Nattarsampattu. Siruvanjur is in fact the major partner in this ery, claiming 20 hectares of the total water-spread area of 32 hectares. People of Nattarsampattu complain that Siruvanjur people have cut the inlets into this shared ery and diverted the flows of water to the 2 erys further south, which irrigate exclusively their fields. It is true that the shared ery passing through the middle of Nattarsampattu and lying on the south-west of Siruvanjur is now completely dry. The bed of the ery has consequently become the main passage to Siruvanjur. In the days when the ery used to get filled up, the way to Siruvanjur must have been along the north bank of the ery, and those coming into the village would have encountered this stretch of water for kilometers before entering the village.

Going along a path so full of water and greenery you entered a village that was beautifully laid out in small mohalla like streets. There were 8 separate streets housing the 66 households of the Oor, besides the Colony which at that time had 10 Pariar households. The Colony occupied an area of 2.5 acres, and the Oor with its 8 streets was spread over about 20 acres. Each of these streets, it seems, was organized around a kulam or a kuttai, and if one were to go by the looks of the village today, these streets must have been surrounded by thick greenery.


These days as you cross the bank of the ery and enter the village the first house you come across is that of the Valluvan. This isolated house, lying outside both the Oor and the Colony, has such a thick cover of vegetation around it, that at a cursory glance, the house is likely to be missed. In the eighteenth century the Valluvan house commanded the largest area in the village. Built on 160 square yards of land, it had a backyard extending to about 7,000 square yards. On this vast site today there stand three small houses, all belonging to the Valluvans. The courtyard between these houses is neatly swept, and the common backyard is covered with a variety of trees.

The Valluvans used to be the priests of the Colony and also dealt in herbs and other forest produce. Valluvan women, engaged in cooking on their separate chulhas in the courtyard, tell us that they used to provide marundu and mantram, herbal medication and invocatory prayers, for the villagers. Nowadays their men go out of the village probably to ply their paltry trade in dried herbs on the streets of Madras city. But when these traditional physicians and priests return to their garden-like abode in Siruvanjur, they must be once again experiencing to some extent the dignity and prestige that the profession of their forefathers once enjoyed.

In addition to the Valluvan, the eighteenth century Siruvanjur also had a Kudumi household, and Kudumis too were concerned with medicine. English summary of the village records refers to the Kudumi as the snake-doctors. People of Siruvanjur seem to have forgotten about the Kudumi household, and today it is not possible to locate the site of the Kudumi house. But according to the records, this was the second biggest house in Siruvanjur, after that of the Valluvan. The house had an area of more than 416 square yards, with a backyard extending to almost half an acre, and another backyard of 720 square yards. The size of the Valluvan and Kudumi houses indicates that these were perhaps among the more important people of the village, and Siruvanjur was a health care centre for the neighbourhood. This specialisation of the village perhaps had to do with the particular beauty and salubriousness of the habitat of Siruvanjur.

The next house you encounter in Siruvanjur is the one that used to be the home of the lone muslim household of the village in the eighteenth century. There were very few muslims in this region at that time. Of the more than 62,000 households in 1,948 localities for which we have data only 671 were of the muslims. And most of these 671 lived in relatively bigger habitations, and often in groups of more than 5. Thus 431 of the 671 muslim households were clustered in just 31 localities, which between them accommodated only 10 percent of the total population of the region. Yet, there were 65 localities with a single muslim household each, and Siruvanjur was one of them.

Most of the muslims have left the localities where they had only one or two households. The muslim household of Siruvanjur also left the village in some distant past. The house now serves as an office and baithak for the village talaivar, the panchayat leader, who is from the Colony, and seems to be one of the most prosperous and influential persons of the village. He has also built a thatched shed next to the muslim house for parking his tractor. The vacant lot in front of the house he uses as a threshing ground for his harvests. All this has made this place on the outskirts into one of the more lively centres of the village.

J. K. Bajaj and T. M. Mukundan
Centre for Policy Studies
April 1991

 Siruvanjur: The beauty still beckons