The Bharathapuzha River in Kerala is also known as Nila, Kuttipuram Puzha and
Ponnaniyar and is the backbone of Kerala.
The Bharathapuzha River is the second longest river in Kerala with a
length of 209 kilometers. It is also known as Nila, Kuttipuram Puzha and
Ponnaniyar. The river originates in the Annamalai hills located in the Western Ghats region in Tamil
Nadu. It flows in the west direction along with the many of its tributaries
including the Tirur River through Palakkad Gap, Palakkad, Thrissur and
Malappuram districts of Kerala. For the first forty kilometers, Bharathapuzha
River flows in the northwards direction till Pollachi. The Kannadippuzha and
Kalpathippuza, the tributaries of Bharathapuzha meet at Parli and flows in the
west direction as Bharathapuzha River. The Bharathapuzha River then surrenders
itself into the Arabian Sea at Ponnani. Gayathripuzha River, Kannadipuzha River, Kalpathipuzha River and
Thuthapuzha River are the main tributaries of the Bharathapuzha. The Thutapuzha
River merges with Nila at Pallippuram making the waters of Nila richer in
The tributaries also branch out and form several tributaries, which are the
distributaries of the Bharathapuzha River. The tributaries of Thuthapuzha River
are Kunthippuzha, Kanjirappuzha, Ambankadavu, and Thuppanadippuzha. The
tributaries of Gayathripuzha are Mangalam, Ayalurpuzha, Vandazhippuzha,
Meenkarappuzha and Chulliyar. The tributaries of Kalpathipuzha are Korayar,
Varattar, Walayar and Malampuzha. The tributaries of Kannadipuzha are Palar,
Aliyar and Uppar.
The Bharathapuzha River is not navigable in most parts except in small parts
where it joins the sea. With a drainage basin of 6,186 square kilometers,
Bharathapuzha basin is the largest river basin in Kerala. Out of the total drainage
area two thirds, which is 4400 square kilometers, is in Kerala and the
remaining 1786 square kilometers is in Tamil Nadu. The major towns situated on
the bank of the Bharathapuzha River are Palakkad, Parli, Killikkurussimangalam,
Ottappalam, Shoranur, Pattambi, Thrithala, Thiruvegappura, Kudallur, Pallipuram
and Kumbidi.The Parudur village and the town of Pallipuram are situated at the
meeting point of Thuta River also called Thutapuzha.
There are several dams constructed across this river of which the Malampuzha
dam is the largest built across Bharathapuzha and its tributaries. Other dams
constructed are Walayar dam, Mangalam dam, Pothundi dam, Meenkara dam and
Chuliyar dam. These irrigation projects irrigate an area of 773 square
The Bharathapuzha River is the backbone of
Bharathapuzha River which has a length of 209 kms is the
second longest river in Kerala. It is considered as the Nile of Kerala and is
also called as Nila. It is also known by other names such as Kuttipuram puzha
and Ponnaniyar. This river originates from Anaimalai hills of Western Ghats and
flows towards the west direction. On the way many rivers join Bharathapuzha and
finally flow into the Arabian Sea. The river spreads across the Palakkad and
The river has many tributaries some of which are Thuthapuzha, Gayathripuzha,
Kalpathipuzha, Kannadipuzha etc. The river is not suitable for navigation except
at areas where it joins the sea. The Bharathapuzha basin is the largest river
basin in Kerala. A portion of this river is in Tamil Nadu also. As most of the
river lies in dry areas such as Tamil Nadu and Palakkad the water flow is
comparatively less. The construction of dams also resulted in less water flow.
There are 11 reservoirs in this river and there are still some under
construction. The largest of all the dams in this river is the Malampuzha dam.
Some other dams include Walayar dam, Pothundi dam, Chulliyar dam, Meenkara dam
etc. The water from these reservoirs is useful for irrigational purposes. There
is a Regulator cum bridge constructed at Thrithala, the main aim of which is
The Bharathapuzha has got some cultural heritage also. It is on the banks of
this river in Shornur, that the famous Kerala Kalamandalam is located. The
birth place of Kunchan Nambiyar which is Killikkurissimangalam is also on the
river banks. Besides these there are several pilgrim centers such as Thiruvilwamala
Sree Rama temple, Thirunavaya temple and Panniyur Sree Varahamurthy temple. A
Hindu ritual called as Pithru Tharpanam in which people pay homage to their
late relatives is performed from the river banks. Cremation of many persons is
also done from here.
Bharathapuzha, The Legendary River.
- JJ Vellara
- Central Service, Calicut.(S.Rly). April 26, 2006
Anyone who had voyage by rail across or in and out of
Kerala will have something in familiar - enticing memories of river
‘Bharathapuzha' or ‘Nila', the legendary river that adjoin the railway line to
the south side.
Right from Parli (The Railway station next to Palakkad) to
Tirunnavaya (the last station on the banks of the river on the route; placed in
history by virtue of ‘Maamaankam' - a festival celebrated in olden times once
in twelve years) and any traveler who suffers the monotony of remaining in the
‘iron box' for day or night gets relieved once he get a glimpse of the river;
for it is a relinquishing sight for anybody.
When your ears get bespoke to the rack-tacks of the iron
wheels, your eyes will take you to the green landscape extending beyond the
shores of the river. Paddy fields, plantain cultivations, coconut palm trees
and mango gardens run past your view while the distant hills accompany you for
a while, while you enjoy the greenery, and natural coolness of the atmosphere,
except if it is a dread summer.
However you are to get disappointed if you expect to see
water pervade down the river, for it has turned out to be rivulets in
course of time, owing to various changes in ecological patterns as well as
regional castings, such that river fill up to the banks only in monsoon when
rainwater gush down at its fullest swing. For a Keralite, or a
‘Malayalee' as they prefer to be expressed, the river is everything. Just like
in any other part of the world, this river too play the vital role in the
culture and history of the place.
The river divides the state into two - north-south which
causes a rift not only in the land but slightly to the cultural background too.
Unlike other parts of Kerala, the area have vast stretches of open plain land
adorned by the view of the distant horizon which is not possible elsewhere in
the region owing to generally dense vegetation and hilly terrain. (The sight in
Kuttanad area of Kerala, festooned with paddy fields and backwaters is similar
to this, but do not have the imagery of blue mountains in the distant as
backdrop). The charm of the region has fascinated many a poets that you can see
the lyrics cuddling the river and the shores in their poems in olden days. As
of now, most of the Malayalam film directors opt the scene of the river for
their finest frames. As for the railway line, while laying the railway track,
the British chose to follow the path of the river east-west up to the plain
land, as a more or less flat terrain gesticulated them to build up the line
while linking it to Malabar Coast of North Kerala for the onward continuation
to south Canara(Karnataka).
The river ‘Bharatha-puzha' got its name from the epics where
‘puzha' means just river and Bharatha though correlates to the word
‘Hindustan', here refers to Bharathamba (Godess mother of Bharath - India). The
river feeds people like their own mother - (the water is divine - be it for
drinking, irrigation or other uses) that should be the allusion behind the
The river has its geography spread over the districts of
Palakkad and Malappuram in Kerala and has its origin from the Annamalai in
western ghats near Pollachi in Tamil Nadu and traverse a distance of about some
100 km through forest area as brooks and streams; and swathes the mainland for
125 km by virtue of its tributaries supplementing it en-route before
amalgamating into sea at Ponnani. Ponnani is the oldest port and one of the
trade spots of Malabar, which await to be on the rail map on completion of the
Guruvayur-Tirur link line project.
The prominent Malampuzha Dam intercepts the river near
Palakkad, gateway of Kerala (Palghat as the Britishers have named it and still
in Railway nomenclature as the place is bordered on the east by that part of
Western Ghats) where Southern Railway has one of its Divisional HQ. All along
its path the river never let you down offering a splendid scenery of the flora
and fauna as it glides along and try to catch up with your train; and your
trail thoughts, of course.
It beget you envisage the nature's beauty through a drapery
of mist when your eyes gaze into the distance. The area remain virgin
sans frills of tourist mania, save for the intruders indulged in trading
of sand, which is now an inevitable product for builders, being smuggled out
day and night despite restrictions. Railway line have an inseparable
association with the river, right from its inception to this day, running
parallel for most of the distance; a pleasant scene as far as railway tracks
all over India are concerned. Erstwhile engineers considered this river-terrace
ideal for laying rail-line not only because it holds a flat terrain but also owing
to ecological reasons. The river serves scores of drinking water projects and
lift irrigation schemes all along and nearby places, such that even Guruvayur
Temple township lying in 35 km apart, fetch water from Bharathapuzha. Thus Rly
Stations situated along this portion on the route sparingly face water
When the train glides down the Walayar ghat and enter
Palakkad; to the north you can see the huge rising walls of Malampuzha Dam,
which serves a huge area of cultivation, and also attracts lot of
tourists every time. All along its path the sight of the river takes you back
into archives; if you are a lover of history, or nature even. But the river
will turn you down if you expect navigation over its waters, save during rainy
season. Numerous dams constructed on its tributaries help to preserve water for
irrigation, but make it dry except at the river mouth.
The river or ‘Nadhi' as it is the word in Malayalam,
originates from the Western Ghats as any other river in Kerala and has its name
as Amaravathipuzha but so many small rivers add on its course as tributaries.
The first one is Kalpathipuzha, the continuation of Malampuzha where the dam is
situated and the second one is Gayathripuzha, third is Thoothapuzha , the main
tributary and last one is Tirur puzha which often happens to be a branch
whenever water is splashed back during high tide owing to proximity to the sea.
Of these, Thoothapuzha which emanate from the unique ‘silent
valley' in Western Ghats, cross the rail track and joins the flow from the
north side. Just as river catchment spreads to distance, it's cultural basins
spread across distance and time, as any river being a natural water resource,
is the cause of evolution.
This river has a rich cultural heritage of its own as its basin
has given birth to so many laureates in the field of fine arts, literature,
poetry and also remain a stone plank in history of hordes of warriors too. Thus
the area influenced by this river extends from and to about fifty kilometers
north south. Kerala Kalamandalam renowned for the classical arts like
‘Kathakali', ‘Koodiyaattam', ‘Ottanthullal' and other dance forms, is just on
the banks at Shoranur , the major Rly junction and the nerve centre of Rail
traffic on the route. The famous Ayurveda treatment centre of Kottakkal which
is also another famous place for entrepreneurs of ‘Kathakali' lies at a
nautical distance at a higher altitude from where you can see the gliding river
afar. Tiruvilwamala the abode of Villwadrinathan, Avatar of Lord Vishnu is just
stone's throw away from Lakkiti Station which happens to be also the birthplace
of Kunchan Nambiar, founder of "Ottan-Thullal" a unique dance-art form from
Historians are of the opinion that a cultural migration
across western ghats had taken place during the erstwhile rule of Pallava
Dynasty. A part of the populace from Deccan plateau also migrated to this side
and they settled for the fertile strip to become their domicile, giving rise to
a culture-rich tradition. Thus the land-belt begot the title of birthplace to
so many eminent personalities - from art aesthete Kunchan Nambiar to the
eminent poet Vallathol; the present day personality of the trait being
Jnanapeedhom honoured orator and cine-expert Shri M.T.Vasudevan Nair.
Each Railway station on the route too has an inseparable
historical note connected with the river which you can explore if you are
ardent enough but ignored here to consolidate the subject. So next time when
you travel by rail over the area, look out and view the river with a new
perspective lest you may miss the charm.
The Dying River
The most important river system of Kerala,
Bharathapuzha (Nila), which is the lifeline of Palakkad, Malappuram and
Thrissur districts, is getting dried up as the water flow to the river has come
to a standstill in most of its courses during this summer.
Though the river usually gets dried up during summer in
small patches, this is the first time in the last several years that it got
completely dried up in large stretches.
Thus for aU practical purposes, the holy river is dead,
thanks to the ecological imbalances created by human wantonness.
Out of the 44 rivers of Kerala, this river was the most
exploited and neglected one. The Government did not pay heed to earlier
warnings about the imminent dangers facing the holy river.
A victim of PAP pact
The half-a-dozen dams, constructed across its tributaries
under the Parambikualm Aliyar Project (PAP) inter- State water sharing
agreement between Kerala and Tamil Nadu, have resulted in this sad state of
affairs of Nila. The major chunk of water from these dams that would have come
to the Bharathapuzha and Chaliyar river bas.ins was diverted to Tamil Nadu
Of late, the PAP agreement has become controversial due to
the shortage of irrigation water for paddy cultivation in the Chittur taluk of
Palakkad and water flow to Bharathapuzha.
Though the State Government had demanded its Tamil Nadu
counterpart to revise the PAP agreement and release more water to Kerala, it
had failed to highlight the fast death of Bharathapuzha river.
The question here is not the technicalities involved in the
violation of an agreement, but to avert the death of a great river system. Many
feel that the State Government should have taken it as a political issue with
Tamil Nadu, to save Bharathapuzha.
An expert committee appointed by the State Government to
study the problems of Bharathapuzha in 1997 found that the river faced a host
of problems. The report said that excessive sand mining, lowering of water
table in and around the river, lowering of the river bed, encroachment on
banks, contamination of water, and erosion of river banks were the major
problems faced by the river.
The committee report warned that, "with the present
rate of extraction of sand, it is clear that the reserves would not last more
than five to six years, even assuming that such extraction is permitted in
spite of the consequent impact of serious degradation of the river channel and
The committee, in its first report submilt<'d 10
thetitate Government in lilly 1991, recommended a local b sand extraction
during monsoon months. II al recomended a han on inter-State transportation:
sand from rivers in Kerala, entry of vehicles in the channel to collect sand.
these recommendations not implemented by the Government and the w destruction
of the river continued unabated res the present plight of Nila . Even the
restrictions mining directed by the High Court were more than implemented by th
authorities concerned, t activists of the Save Bharathapuzha Committee said.
Mr. M.T. Vasudevan Nair, noted writer, told The Hindu here
today that he was greatly pained at the near loss of this holy river to Kerala.
Mr. Vasudevan Nair, who hails from Koodallur on the banks of Nila, said most of
his works are tales of Nila. He said the river is almost dead due to ecological
imbalance created by human being. Dr. N.M. Namboodiri, who is working on
"Project Nila: a study on its cultural heritage", said that the
evolution of society in this part took place on the banks of this sacred river.
There were 300 temples on the banks of the river controlled by the Zamorin's of
Kozhikode. JllJ~,. Political war on the banks of Nila and the markets emerged
here also had historical importance.
A recent study on the "Environmental problems on water
resources of Bharathapuzha river system", by 1Mr. K.K. Nair, a
professional Y.~ydrologist, said that loss of the na'll;ural springs was a
major rea:~on for the drying up of this rive\[. "Once the basin had a
number of natural springs, which t. ad supplied the water to the thir crop of
paddy cultivatioJ 1 in valleys. Now-adays most f them are drying up before the
s' -fond harvest."
He said that"~' the name of development aln ost aU
sources of the river had b n blocked by constructing as mucl~ as 11 dams in
different loca~on on the river-head. After st<.o ring the capable quantity
of water>l1'lJ~ dams are closed. Therefore the. ~ water which can be stored
by . These dams is being blocked and diverted through the canals. Besides this,
the remaining water on the upper areas of the dams is also diverted through the
canals by the dams. Hence the entire water on the upper region is being blocked
and diverted through the canals. This has reduced the sources of the river.
Bharathapuzha may soon become part of history if urgent steps
are not taken to revive this holy river.
By G. Prabhakaran PALAKKAD, MARCH 17. The Hindu Regional