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Kallanai Dam. Source: Elamaran Elaaa / Adobe Stock.

How Ancient Kings Split a River & Fed Millions (Video)


In antiquity, the Chola Dynasty of southern India demonstrated remarkable ingenuity in managing water resources, particularly in the fertile plains of Tamil Nadu. The ancient Chola caves, dating back 1,800 years, reveal a sophisticated system of river manipulation. The kings strategically placed regulators, not traditional dams, along the Kaveri River, dividing its flow into multiple channels. This clever engineering allowed them to transform one river into five, expanding the reach of irrigation and turning the region into a flourishing agricultural hub. The key to this hydraulic marvel lies in the head regulators, adeptly controlling water levels and directing flow into various channels.

The Cholas, notably King Karikalan, exhibited foresight by understanding the vital role of water in civilization. They created a network of over 2,000 bed regulators, 1,500 canals, and 24,000 field channels, maximizing the arable land and yielding an astounding 200 million tons of rice annually. The legacy endures, as evidenced by the still-functioning Kallanai Dam, showcasing the Cholas' enduring impact on water management. This ancient wisdom, seamlessly blending culture and practicality, serves as a source of inspiration for sustainable water solutions globally.

Top image: Kallanai Dam. Source: Elamaran Elaaa / Adobe Stock.

By Robbie Mitchell

Robbie Mitchell's picture


I’m a graduate of History and Literature from The University of Manchester in England and a total history geek. Since a young age, I’ve been obsessed with history. The weirder the better. I spend my days working as a freelance... Read More

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