Bharathapuzha River

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 mineral content.

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 kilometers.

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 Malappuram districts.

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 water supply.

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 name.  

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 scarcity. 

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 Kerala.  

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 environment."

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 Page.

PALAKKAD, May 27, 2012 The Hindu

Sand-mining sound the death knell for the Bharathapuzha

Staff Reporter

Lorries waiting to collect sand

Collector directed to take stern action

Revenue Minister Adoor Prakash on Sunday directed District Collector P.M. Ali Asgar Pasha to take stern action against illegal sand-mining from the Bharathapuzha in Shoranur.

Besides illegal sand-mining, hundreds of acres of the riverbed, dried up during the summer, has been converted into vegetable farms. The authorities have not yet taken any action against this.

Though the Shoranur municipality has issued only limited number of passes to mine sand from the Bharathapuzha, passes issued by local bodies in Thrissur district are used to illegally transport sand from Palakkad district.

The Bharathapuzha Protection Committee secretary, Indanur Gopi, said that illegal sand-mining was carried out with the connivance of the Revenue, Water Resources and Police officials.

Roads were cut through the riverbed in Shoranur recently to smuggle the 40-ft high heap of sand, costing crores of rupees, mined from the river during the construction of the Shoranur-Cheruthuruthy check dam recently.

Hundreds of trucks lined up on the dried-up riverbed, violating the ban on the entry of vehicles on the river course, are an everyday sight in the region. Also, hundreds of people can be seen transporting sand in gunny bags on head loads in the Shoranur-Pattambi areas.

Indiscriminate and illegal sand-mining affects the drinking water supply schemes and threatens the very existences of the river. Sand mining has affected water supply schemes in Ottapalam, Shoranur and Pattambi, which depend on the Bharathapuzha water. Every year the depth of the well dug in the middle of the river course for drawing water for the water supply schemes had to be increased due to the depletion of the water table, Mr. Gopi said.The first biodiversity study on the Bharathapuzha conducted by the University Grants Commission in 2001 had found indiscriminate sand-mining  as the main reason for the degradation of the river. It found that "indiscriminate sand-mining is a dominant environmental issue throughout the river basin. The entire riverbed is cut up and run over by a very large number of trucks that descend on it daily to transport sand for customers all over South India. The situation is disastrous between Pattambi and Thirunavaya, where both legal and illegal sand quarrying goes on unabatedly."

 Despite various studies on the destructive effects of widespread sand mining, the authorities were turning a blind eye to the destruction of the Bharathapuzha river valley system, said P.S. Panikkar, secretary, Malampuzha Dam Protection Committee.

Bharathapuzha, a dying lifeline

By Our Staff Reporter

PALAKKAD, JULY 2. The Water Resources Department, the district administration and the local bodies responsible for the protection of water sources have not taken any step to save the dying Bharathapuzha river, lifeline of the Palakkad, Thrissur and Malappuram districts.

The drying up of the river during most part of the year, particularly in the summer months, had resulted in acute drinking water shortage in the three districts as 175 villages solely depend on the water source of Bharathapuzha.

In many parts of Palakkad district, drinking water is supplied in tanker lorries. Water scarcity had resulted in the destruction of paddy and other crops forcing more than a dozen farmers to commit suicide.

Despite these calamities, the State Government has not cared to take steps to protect the Bharathapuzha, second longest river in the State. The promise to set up the Bharathapuzha Development Authority and the Bharathapuzha Action Plan remains on paper.

`The Master Plan for Drought Mitigation in Palakkad' prepared by the district administration recommended many short-term and long-term measures like improving the existing water supply and irrigation system, control of sand mining, augmenting water availability and afforestation.

The Bharathapuzha basin is the lone drinking water source for 175 villages in the Palakkad, Thrissur and Malappuram districts. For several minor irrigation schemes too, this river is the main water source.

During monsoon, the river gets filled up but soon after the rain it goes dry again. This is because the annual average water discharge through the river is simply allowed to flow into the Arabian Sea.

The discharge recorded by Central Water Commission (CWC) at Kumbidi, 4000 million cubic metres of water, flows from the Bharathapuzha to Arabian Sea annually. But the water stored in all the seven reservoirs of the basin is less than 10 per cent of this quantity. The total quantity that can be stored in all the reservoirs is only 400 million cubic metres. About 96-97 per cent of this huge quantity passes to the sea during the monsoon months.

The Executive Engineer of the Chitturpuzha Irrigation Scheme, V.K. Mahanudevan, in his report, `Practical steps to solve water problems in Palakkad District' submitted to the Government recently said that "our main problem is the scarcity of water during the dry season. The water resources dry very fast immediately after the monsoon. The level of water in the land lowers immediately after the rain and the flow in the rivers and streams suddenly reduce. The ground water in the whole geographical area goes down fast.''

The report said that "our water resources such as rivers, streams and reservoirs are not protected. River water, river sand and river banks are open to anybody. The river banks are encroached upon, sand is mined and water taken without any control or limit and a major quantity of the waste is dumped into water bodies.''

The `Action Plan' of the report include arrangements to provide water-locks with regulating arrangements, check dams along all the rivers and streams, river-side afforestation, river-bank protection, solid waste treatment, catchment area treatment, basinal water management and the augmentation of existing irrigation projects.

But none of these schemes have been taken up by the State Government except the construction of just one check-dam that began in Parali recently.

The former Director of the Rajiv Gandhi Drinking Water Mission, T.N.N. Bhattathiripad, told The Hindu that the protection of the Bharathapuzha is essential for both Tamil Nadu and Kerala. At present, water utilisation is not done in a beneficial manner. If the two States jointly make an earnest effort much can be done. A major portion of the average annual discharge of the river is simply allowed to flow into the Arabian Sea.''

The idea of construction of check-dams for water conservation was first mooted under the Rajiv Gandhi Mission in the 1990s. But only three of the 14 identified sites for check and sub surface dams have been constructed so far. Check-dam construction is the cheapest and most effective way for water conservation.

He said that the 1987 drinking water master plan and the 1992 water policy remained on paper. Water is the priority item for the Central Government, but the State Government is yet to embark on a purposeful programme. The recommendations of an expert committee appointed by the State government in 1997 on the measures to protect the Bharathapuzha is yet to be implemented by the Government. The suggested Bharathapuzha River Water Authority was yet to be established through legislation, he said. A Bharthapuzha Action plan on the lines of Ganga Action Plan is required to save this biggest river basin in the State, the experts said.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bharathapuzha and the Railways

Nila, or Bharatha Puzha (loosely translated as India River), originates in Anamalai hills on the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu, and flows to the Arabian sea, covering a distance of over 209 kms. Most of the distance is in Kerala. The districts of Palakkad, Thrissur and Malappuram are served by this river. The river is often referred to as the Nile of Kerala. The river is entwined with rich culture and is often very closely associated with the history of Kerala. Bharathapuzha formed the border between the Princely state of Cochin and the British ruled Madras Presidency.

When the British laid the first railway line in Kerala, circa 1862, the line followed a more-or-less parallel alignment with the river, starting a little away from Palakkad till Tirunnavaya. The line was laid in a manner that the line never had to cross the Bharathapuzha, except for a tributary of the legendary river. The railway line crosses the Toothapuzha, near Pallipuram. The river also marks the boundary between the revenue districts of Malappuram and Palakkad.

Bharathapuzha has dried from a lively, rushing river to a small stream - a process which was more of man-made than natural. Endless sand mining ultimately resulted in the river ending up in a sad state, that it is now in.

The first railway line across the river was built by some time in 1901-1902. The bridge was part of an ambitious plan by Shri Rama Varma XV, the Maharajah of Cochin, to build a railway line from Cochin to Shoranur. This line was intended to connect the Madras-Beypore line built by the British. The bridge was initially carrying a metre gauge railway line, which was later converted to Broad Gauge. The metre gauge railway line was taken over from the Cochin State Railway by the South Indian Railway in 1916, and was converted to broad gauge in 1930.

The bridge across the Bharathapuzha has been a favorite spot for innumerable film makers in Kerala. Bharathapuzha, in itself, is often associated with romance and many film makers are known to have gained inspirations and marvellous story lines from this river. Many movies, notably Dileep starring Sallapam, had most of its sequences shot in or around the river bridge. The bridge is approximately 750 metres in length.

From my innumerable trips across the bridge, in the past many years, had inspired a desire in me - to visit the bridge once. The sight of a train crossing the 14-span metal bridge is one that anybody would enjoy. My desire to visit the bridge was full-filled this Sunday. Myself and fellow railfan, Deepak Murali, headed to the bridge to spot some trains. We had a brief session, with a good majority of it away from the bridge.

The most notable of our sightings was the Mumbai bound Garib Rath... the red coloured locomotive with a green-and-yellow liveried rake made for a heavenly sight. The short and sweet railfanning session solved a long-time desire of mine. The bridge continues to be an inspiration to scores of writers across the state. The river is also considered religiously important, and many believe that those cremated on the banks of this mighty river attain nirvana.

In the meantime, the railways continue to hug the river and its romance with the mighty lady continues unabated.....

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