The recent decision by the State Government to take up rainwater harvesting once again in right earnest is most welcome. It is almost twenty years since the RWH scheme successfully filled the Kapaliswarar Temple tank in Mylapore and it is time that the same is replicated in other tanks that have gone dry. That said, nothing can be done to bring back to life the various water bodies that once existed in abundance all around Chennai. These have long been filled in to make way for the city’s expansion and several of them are remembered only in name.
One of these is the Lake Area of Nungambakkam. Tank Bund Road and New Tank Street are but two roads that commemorate the existence of the Nungambakkam lake that was in many ways a feeder to its larger and more important neighbour – the Long Tank of Mylapore. The latter at one time occupied 70 acres to the west of Mount Road. This was in the early 1920s acquired to form the nucleus of what we now know as Theagaroya (T) Nagar. What was left of the Long Tank became the Mambalam Tank, which too was eventually filled in, leaving behind a Lake View Road in that area!
But to come back to the Nungambakkam tank – its original extent is not clearly recorded, but from the old maps it is possible to guess that it was roughly bounded by Tank Bund, Valluvar Kottam, Kodambakkam High and Mahalingapuram Main roads. Over the years it had shrunk, and by the time the tercentenary of our city was celebrated, in 1939, it was a “stagnating pool in monsoon time, menacing public health”. It had taken 300 years to degenerate from a life-supporting resource to a health hazard! That the people and not the lake were responsible for this was clearly not in the wisdom of those days.
The perception that the Nungambakkam Lake was a public menace led to the Corporation converting it into a landfill. Housing colonies developed on it, all of them still at a lower level than the roads. A part of the reclaimed land came to house the first Corporation High School, inaugurated in 1926. It functions even now. The space next door was home to a cricket ground, which made way for the tennis stadium in the 1990s. In 1958, a part of the lake land was allotted to Bala Bhavan, a school founded by the Nungambakkam Ladies Recreation Club. In 1963, the school renamed itself the Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan and became the nucleus of the PSBB chain.
The lake was to vanish in the 1970s, becoming home to Valluvar Kottam. Modelled on the Tiruvarur temple car, the building was intended to be a memorial to Tiruvalluvar, a public hall and a research centre. It has remained a memorial at best.
What of the lake? It has a memorial too – the Erikarai Mariamman (Goddess on the tank bund) temple still stands on Kodambakkam High Road!
This article appeared in the Hidden Histories column of The Hindu on June 7, 2014
You may want to read about other ‘lost’ or vanishing landmarks of the city –