The Splendorous Cauvery River Celebrated As an Icon of Culture

Aadi Perukku is a festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu in South India to show our gratitude to nature, especially to the river Cauvery. It is celebrated on the 18th day of the Tamil month of Aadi. Aadi Perukku falls on 2nd or 3rd of August every year. Hence “Padinettam perukku” – Padinettu signifies eighteen, and Perukku denotes rising, writes Sowmya Venkatachalam.

Author Prema Nandakumar says the prologue to the epic Manimekalai refers to the Cauvery coming to the Chola region. "King Kantaman’s penance to quench the thirst of his land that was struck by drought moved Sage Agastya, who poured out water from his kamandala to flow forth as a river. Goddess Jambapati welcomed the river as the Venavaa Theertha Vilakku — “Quencher-light of this land’s water thirst, come! There is a story connecting the river to Rishi Kavera."

She recounts the tale of  Queen Alamelamma, who had jumped into the Cauvery with all her jewels cursing that part of the river to become a whirlpool, the nearby land of Talakadu to be swept over by sand (maralaagi) and her husband’s enemies to be forever childless. Talakadu today is a vast expanse of sand on the left bank as the river changed course. The famous Keerthi Narayana temple and a few others have been excavated from the sand dunes; some thirty more remain buried, she writes.

"At Srirangapatna is Adi Ranga, an early peaceful temple dedicated to Ranganatha. After Srirangapatna’s Adi Ranga, we have the Madhya Ranga temple at Sivasamudra, where one can watch the magnificent drop of the Cauvery — a distance of 98 metres. There is also an ancient temple for Someshwara here, which Adi Sankara visited and established a Sri Chakra."

As the devotees follow the course of the Cauvery into the Chola land, they soon arrive at Antya Ranga, the island of Srirangam, where the premier temple of Vishnu for all Srivaishnavites is located.

Prema Nandakumar says that Srirangam is also a major presence in Emperor Krishnadeva Raya’s sublime Telugu epic, Amukta Malyada. It concludes with the marriage of Ranganatha and Andal at Srivilliputtur. Both of them come to Srirangam and to this day they sport in the sandal-scented groves on the banks of the Cauvery while guarding their devotees everywhere with love and compassion.

As one author Sadagopan Iyenger says, apart from the other hall marks of civilisations, the civilisation that the Cauvery gave birth to is endowed with a unique feature  - Spirituality.

Divya Prabandas are replete with references to this beautiful river and the "Azhwars appear incapable of avoiding the Cauvery, whenever they sing the praises of the Lord who lies on its banks. True to their love for Nature and its magnificence, reflecting the multi-faceted splendour of the Lord's Creation, Azhwars praise the Cauvery and its bounties. "The waters of the great river appear to wash the Lord's tiruvadi gently and massage it with its wavy hands-"Tiruvaranga peru nagaruL teNNeer Ponni tirai kaiyAl adi varuda paLLi koLLum karumani" says Sri Kulasekhara Azhwar.

Iyengar says the name Cauvery is synonymous with that of Sri Ranganatha, who is identified by Azhwars as "Ponni sEr Tiruvaranga!"- you can't think of Sri Rangaraja without Cauvery occupying your thoughts simultaneously, and vice versa.

In literature and music too the Cauvery has been revered. Prema Nandakumar refers to Silappadikaram, where Kovalan and Madhavi reach the banks of the Cauvery to enjoy the breeze. "Kovalan strums his lute and the river gets prayerfully personified as a lovely damsel walking with flowers in her tresses, the fish darting like her glances and the bees buzzing around. More than fifteen centuries later comes Tyagaraja who hails her as a young bride flowing forward to meet her bridegroom, the ocean Samudra Raja, in the Asaveri kriti, ‘Saarivedale...’

Thyagaraja says:

Behold the sprawling flow of this river kAvEri!

Behold the charming, sprawling flow of the blessed river kAvEri – the gem of maidens - praised by this tyAgarAja -

with a frightening roar at a distant place,

full of grace at another place, and

perennially, at a slow pace at yet another place,

as koels sing notes playfully (along the banks),

after looking up and praying to the Lord of SrI rangam,

as She comes to see the Lord of tiruvaiyAru (panca nadISvara) - the livelihood of Fourteen Worlds,

as brahmins worship Her on both banks with jasmine flowers extolling Her as ‘rAja rAjESvari’ and

as She bestows desires abundantly to everyone without differentiation!

Behold the sprawling flow of this river kAvEri!

"Muthuswami Dikshitar uses the glowing image, ‘Akshaya rupa akhanda Kaveri’ while describing the residence of Siva in the Kedaragowla kriti, ‘Neelakantam bhajeham,' says Nandakumar.

"A special mention must be made here of the Grand Anicut or Kallanai constructed by the Chola king Karikalan in the second century AD and the fourth oldest water regulator structure still in use. With granaries always overflowing, those were times of joy. Nor can we forget the temple halls set apart for expounding the epics and puranas. None went hungry, not even the guileless poor on the banks of the Cauvery, as recorded by Shankar Ram in his works (The Love of Dust and The Children of the Kaveri) and N. Raghunathan’s inimitable short stories, in Rasikan Kathaikal," says Nandakumar in an article for the Hindu newspaper.