The Mariamman Teppakulam and stories of its origin are often raved about in Madurai’s rich history. Builders in 1645 dug clay from the Vaigai banks to make bricks for building the Thirumalai Nayak palace. At some point, a pond-like structure was formed out of the digging.
King Thirumalai Nayak decided to replicate the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple’s ‘Golden Lotus Pond’ at the digging site. According to a book titled Madura, A Tourist’s Guide, an illustrated tour guide that was first published in 1913, this structure measures 1000 feet by 950 feet and it is almost a square.
“The sides are faced all round with cut granite and surmounted by a handsome parapet of the same material, just inside which is a granite paved walk, five feet wide, runs all round the tank. Flights of steps, three on each side, run down at intervals to the water’s edge,” states the book.
The Madura Country by J. H. Nelson, a book of records from 1868, raves about the striking architectural marvel that the Teppakulam is. The central mandapam is aesthetically built and has idols of Hindu gods and animals. British men and women often walked along the tank in the evenings to get a whiff of fresh air.
“The whole effect is exceedingly tasteful; particularly as the tank always contains water,” the book stated.
It has been four years since the pond has had any water. The theppa-ther (float festival) that happens in the Tamil month of ‘Thai’ is now a thing of the past and mere a ritual sans water, according to a resident A. Shanmuganathan.
“When there was water, Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswarar would be taken on the float around the tank. Now they are carried by men afoot,” he says.
Empty liquor bottles and matchsticks are found on the steps of the tank and garbage is strewn around along the lawn-like foundation.
“It is difficult to walk along the tank during rainy season as there is a foul smell emanating from the tank. At the weekend, the tank turns into a picnic spot. People eat food and dump plastic covers,” says T. Kanakavalli, a resident of Anuppanadi.
Corporation workers regularly visit the spot and clean it about four times a week but people continue to dump plastic waste, she says.
Men can be found taking a nap at the inside mandapam and youth play cricket inside the tank.
N.S. Rajendran, a resident of the area for 58 years, says that many men drink liquor inside the tank and urinate along the walls. “It is a holy space but it is defiled by many people,” he says.
The tank comes under Madurai’s Smart City Mission. The beautification of the tank is currently in the ‘Detailed Project Report’ stage, according to Corporation Commissioner S. Aneesh Sekhar.
An official from the Corporation said that the area would be monitored regularly to prevent people from urinating the place. Dumping of garbage would be curbed, he said.