Ancient Wisdom

Ancient Rainwater Harvesting System of Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple

The devotees and tourists who visit the Meenakshi temple are often mesmerized by it’s towering gopurams (gates) and beautiful stone carvings. But very few are aware that the temple has a fully functional ancient rainwater harvesting system installed when it was built.

Meenakshi Amman temple located in Madurai city, Tamil Nadu state of India, is believed to have been built by Kulsekara Pandya in the year 1190 CE, but could very well be much older than this. It is known for the hall of thousand pillars (aayiram kaal mandapam) and 33,000 sculptures. Interestingly, the rain-drain pipes are also camouflaged as pillars and hardly visible to the eyes of a dilettante.  In the picture below you can see a rain-drain pipe.

Pic credit: School of Vedic science

Ostensibly, the water collected by the rain water harvesting system installed in the temple drains to the Golden Lotus tank, which is partially visible to the visitors, and rest of the tank is underground. It is no easy task to collect water from a temple spread across 12 acres of land (48,562 sq meters) into a tank located on one side of the temple compound.

Golden Lotus tank

Here’s an example of how a modern rainwater harvesting system of a simple house (with let us say a height of 3m) will look like.

Modern rainwater harvesting system. Credit: sswm

Now let us extrapolate it to a bigger structure like Meenakshi temple where the gates are as tall as 52m. Add to this the fact that the land needs a certain slope for water to use gravity to move towards one corner of the temple. This is pretty much how water from a wash basin sink or tub drains into one hole. In case of a temple, slope should be such that the devotees who visit it should not feel uncomfortable while circumambulating it. Yes, it is tricky. This is where brilliant civil engineering of ancient Hindus comes to play. The slope decided was such that no one in the temple compound feels uncomfortable, usually 1-2 percent slope works best. This explains why the temple is spread over such 12 acres of land.

Pic showing flow of water towards tank, due to slope
Meenakshi temple in it’s full glory

One look at the map of Tamil Nadu, will tell us why the area requires rainwater harvesting system. Madurai is one of the drier regions, and it lies in the rain-shadow area of the Indian subcontinent. Rain-shadow areas usually receive lesser rainfall as they lie on the other side of hills.

Madurai lies in the rain shadow area

The Golden Lotus tank underwent certain modifications to it’s structure in 2011 by the government of Tamilnadu. IIT madras in collaboration with the government worked in restoring the capacity of the tank which was hindered by a modification under taken 20 years earlier.

Meenakshi Amman temple located in southern India is one of the many wonders of ancient Hindu structures. There are many more to be explored. But alas, very often people do not look beyond the superficial architectural beauty of such temples. Each temple is like a book ready to be deciphered, if you will.

Old pic of Meenakshi temple, credit-merepix

An article by Levina

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