Rivers of Tamil Nadu

“Neer indri amaiyadhu ulagu” is a famous statement from the great Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar. It means “there is no life without water”. Water forms the base for life and almost all civilizations took place near water beds. Agriculture flourished with water sources, and man advanced in his actions by building dams and lakes for massive water storage. Tamil Nadu, the southernmost state of India, is an agricultural land. There are several freshwater bodies that support agriculture in this state. Let us have a look on a few rivers of Tamil Nadu.


Kaveri is one of the most important rivers of south India which travels a length of around 800 kilo meters. It touches almost 3 important states of south India – Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The origin of this river is in the Kodagu hills of Karnataka. In Tamil Nadu, it enters the state through Hogenakkal falls at the Dharmapuri district.

From there on, it flows through Erode, Karur, Tiruchi and Thanjavur districts, flourishing agriculture on the way. Kaveri forms the base for agriculture in many parts of Tamil Nadu. During ancient times, kingdoms of south India flourished with fertile lands irrigated from the waters of Kaveri. There are many tributaries originating from Kaveri, in both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

The oldest dam of India, Kallanai, is built across this river. Near Trichy, it divides into two and then re-joins, to form an island town called Srirangam. The river finally drains into the Bay of Bengal, at Poompuhar, Tamil Nadu. There are major disputes between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu regarding the sharing of water. Both the governments are still struggling to find a solution for it.


Bhavani river is the second longest river in Tamil Nadu, next to Kaveri. It flows to a distance of 215 kilo meters. It is one of the tributaries of Kaveri river and it is primarily used for agriculture. Originating from the Nilgiri hills, it covers mainly Erode and Coimbatore districts.


Noyyal is a tributary river originating from Kaveri at Vellingiri hills. It meets the source Kaveri at a village called Noyyal, from where the river got its name. This river was once a great source of water for surrounding villages and it had an excellent network of canals for water storage. The tanks and canals fed by the river were known to be constructed many centuries ago. But, over the past decades, this water management system was not managed properly and rainfall over the region also reduced to a great extent.

Noyyal was highly under media coverage a few years ago. This was due to a large number of complaints regarding water pollution. Major textile industries around the region of Tiruppur and Erode released their discharges into the river, and hence polluting it badly. Later, this activity was brought under control and the dying units were strictly monitored.


The river Palar or Paalaaru in Tamil, is the next longest river flowing in Tamil Nadu. This river also originates in Karnataka. The origin of Palar is at Nandi hills. This river covers three states namely Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Northern parts of Tamil Nadu, including Chennai, benefit from this river. It flows for a distance of around 348 kilo meters.

Over the years, Palar has seen extremely dry months. But the heavy rains during December 2015, refreshed the river, making north Tamilians to rejoice over it. Though heavy rainfall caused severe damage due to floods, dried up rivers caught up speed after many years. This river, in particular, is used to fill up lakes for water storage. It mainly supplies drinking water to Chennai and other northern districts of Tamil Nadu. Beneficiaries of Palar include residents from Thiruvallur, Vellore, Chennai and Kanchipuram districts. The river drains into Bay of Bengal at Vayalur.


The river Vagai flows mainly in and around Madurai district. The Pandya kingdom prospered on the banks of Vaigai. They ruled Madurai and contributed largely for the development of Tamil language and culture. The bank of Vaigai is considered as one of the elements that contributed largely for the development of Tamil literature through Madurai Tamil sangam.

The river originates from Varusanadu hills of Theni district, Tamil Nadu. This lies close to the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. From then on, the river mainly flows around Theni and Madurai districts. It finally empties itself into the Bay of Bengal at the shores of Ramnad district.


As most of the rivers originate outside Tamil Nadu, Thamirabharani is a river that originates, flows and drains entirely in Tamil Nadu. It rises from the Podhigai hills, flows along Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi districts and drains into Gulf of Mannar at Punnakayal of Thoothukudi district. The river is a perennial river which flows throughout the year. But, due to exploitation such as sand mining and pollution, its flow gets disrupted. It was under media coverage claiming exploitation of water resources by coke companies.

Rivers are the blood vessels of earth. They provide freshwater and nourish dry earth. Once exploited, they either dry up as drought, or come back as flood. In any case, humans are at loss. Hence, it is important to preserve water resources and protect them from damage.

Featured Photo: Kaveri by lensnmatter under CC BY 2.0

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