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Thamirabarani River - தாமிரபரணி ஆறு

The Thamirabarani River (also spelt Tamaraparani,Tamiraparani or Thamiravaruni, Tamil: தாமிரபரணி) originates from a peak in hills of the Western Ghats above Papanasam in the Ambasamudrammarker taluk and flows through the Tirunelvelimarker & Tuticorinmarker district of the Tamil Nadumarker state of southern Indiamarker. The Thamirabarani is one of only two perennial rivers in Tamil Nadu, the other being Cauvery .

It is called as Tamraparni River in olden days and it is also associated with Srilanka.



The Thamirabarani contains traces of copper, hence its name (Thamiram means copper in Tamil). The copper content gives it a distinct reddish shade. The river has also been historically known as Porunai.


It originates more than 2,000 metres above sea-level in Agasti Hill, a part of the Annamalai rangemarker on the eastern slopes of Western Ghats in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, near the peaks of Aduppukkal Mottai, Agastya Malaimarker and Cherumunji Mottai. It flows roughly east and enters the Gulf of Mannarmarker of the Bay of Bengalmarker near [Tuticorin]. At 130km it is a relatively short river.

The Thamirabarani basin is situated between latitudes 8.21' N and 9.13' N and east of longitude 77.10' E. The 40 metre Vanatheertham waterfalls are located close to the origin of the main river. The Papanasam Reservoir is 16km downstream. It is fed both by monsoons and by its tributaries.

In the year 1992, there was an unexpected flood in Thamirabarani, which claimed hundreds of lives.

The river is mentioned in ancient Sangam and Tamil texts. There is an ancient script written as Thamirabarani mahathmiyam.

Ancient history

thamirabarani river

Spelt differently as Tampraparani, Tamraparni, Tamiravaruni, etc., the river is mentioned as the Porunai nathi in Tamil poetic literature. It gets recognition and is referred to as the renowned one in Sanskrit literature references to which are as old as that of the Puranas and Epics.

The meaning and origin of the name Tamiraparani is reasoned out differently. Bishop R. Caldwell, in his book, A History of Tinnevelly discussed the various interpretations of the word ‘Tamiraparani’ at length. According to him the meaning of the name Tamiraparani in itself is sufficiently clear, but its application in this connection is far from being self-evident. Tamara means, red, parani means parana, a tree which has leaves. Tamiraparani might, therefore mean a tree with red leaves, but, this is a strange derivation for, the name of a river and the ideas naturally suggest itself that some events or legends capable of explaining the name lies beyond. He further discussed the similarity of the name Tamiraparani and of the old name of the present Sri Lanka which was called in olden days as Tambrabane and tried to find out the political, cultural and anthropological intercourse of the land of the river with that island. He concludes that it seems more natural that Tamiraparani, the tree with the red leaves should have been first the name of a tree, then of a town, then of a district and then of a river (it being not uncommon in India for villages to adopt their names from remarkable trees).

Some scholars interpret the name Tamiraparani as Tamiram (Copper) + Varuni (stream or river). They ascribe this origin as the bed of the river is of red soil and when the water flows on the red soil it gives a copper like appearance. The Greeks of the Ptolemy’s time refer to this river as Solen.

Origin of Tamiraparani

thamirabarani canal

The Tamiraparani originates from the peak of the Periya Pothigai hills of the Western Ghats above Papanasam in the Ambasamudram taluk. The great river like the Cauvery, but unlike most of the other Indian rivers, is fed by both the monsoons – the south west and the north-eastern and is seen in full spate twice a year if the monsoons do not fail.


The Tirunelveli Sthalapurana associates the origin of the river with sage Agasthiyar. It states that when Agasthiyar was requested by Lord Siva to move to the South, Parvathi Devi, the divine consort of Siva filled the sage’s font meant to hold water for poojas (kamandala) with the water from the Ganges and on his arrival at Pothigai, he released it and the water ran as Tamiraparani.

Prior to the bifurcation of the Tirunelveli district, the Tamiraparani was the only major river in Tamilnadu which had its source and end in the same district. After bifurcation, the river traverses the two districts of Tirunelveli and Tuticorin before joining the Gulf of Mannar of the Bay of Bengal at Punnaikayal in Tiruchendur taluk of Thoothukkudi district.this river is a famous in south india.


Distances indicate approximate distance along the main river where the tributaries join.
  • The Peyar, Ullar, Karaiar, Pambar Rivers all join upstream of the Papanasam Reservoir.
  • Servalar River (22km).
  • Manimuthar River (36km) originates in the Agathimalai Ranges and joins near Ambasamudrammarker.
  • Gadana River (43km), itself fed by the Jambunadhi and Ramanadhi Rivers. The Gadana has 6 anicuts and a reservoir of 9,970,000 m³, and irrigates 38.87 km² of wetlands. The Ramanadhi has 7 anicuts, a reservoir of 4,300,000 m³, and irrigates 20.23 km² of wetlands.
  • Pachaiyar River (61km) joins near Gopalasamudrammarker. It originates from the Kalakkadu reserve forests at about 1,300 m above sea level. It has 12 anicuts and irrigates 61.51 km² of wet and dry lands.
  • Chittar Rivermarker (73km) runs almost parallel to Thamirabarani till its confluence.

river cheranmahadevi

The many anicuts, dams and reservoirs on the Thamirabarani river, along with those on the Manimuthar River, provide a large proportion of the water for irrigation and power generation for Tirunelveli District.

Course and tributaries

From the source to sea, the total length of the river is about 125 km, of which its course in Tirunelveli district alone is about 75 km Originating at an altitude of 1725 m above MSL at Periya Pothigai hill ranges and integral hill track of Western Ghats in Ambasamudram taluk, it passes through the taluks of Tirunelveli and Palayamkottai of Tirunelveli district and Srivaikundam and Tiruchendur taluks of Thoothukkudi district. In the Ghats, the chief tributaries of the river are the Peyar, Ullar, Karaiyar, Servalar and the Pambar. These rivers join the Tamiraparani and enrich its course before it reaches the plains. The first tributary which enriches the water of the Tamiraparani in the plains on the right side is the Manimuthar. Then comes the Gadananathi, which joins the Tamiraparani at Tiruppudaimaruthur. Before the Gadananathi's entry into the Tamiraparani, the Gadananadhi is joined by the rivers Kallar, Karunaiyar and Veeranathi or Varahanathi which joins the river Gadananathi about 1.5 km north-east of Kila Ambur. The river Pachaiyar is another tributary which joins the Tamiraparani near Tharuvai village in Palayamkottai Taluk. One of the important and affluent tributaries of the Tamiraparani is the Chithar or Chitranathi which arises in the Courtalam hills and receives supply from the rivers Gundar, Hanumanathi and Karuppanathi. The Chithar empities itself into the Tamiraparani in Sivalapperi Village.

The river drains with its tributaries an area of about 4400 sq. km. As most of its extensive catchments areas lay in the Western ghats, the river enjoys the full benefit of both the monsoons which make the river perennial. Since all its tributaries are arising from the Western ghats, the river is prone to heavy floods especially during the northeast monsoon.frytty

Tamirabarani river system

The important irrigation channels branching off from both the banks of the river Tamiraparani are, South Kodaimelalagian channel, North Kodaimelalagian channel (Kodaimelalagian anaicut), Nathiyunni channel (Nathiyunni anaicut), Kannadian channel (Kannadian anaicut), Kodagan channel (Ariyanayagipuram anaicut), Palayam (Palavur anaicut) channel, Tirunelveli channel (Suthamalli anaicut), Marudur Melakkal, Marudur Keelakkal (Marudur anaicut), South Main Channel and North Main Channel (Srivaikundam anaicut). Of these the first seven anaicuts were constructed during the period of ancient and medieval rulers and the last anaicut namely the Srivaikundam anaicut was constructed and completed by the British in 1869.

List of dams across Thamirabarani river
  1. Kodaimelaalagain anaicut 1281.67 Hectares
  2. Nathiyunni anaicut 1049.37 Hectares
  3. Kannadian anaicut 2266.69 Hectares
  4. Ariyanayagipuram anaicut 4767.30Hectares
  5. Palavur anaicut 3557.26Hectares
  6. Suthamalli anaicut 2559.69Hectares
  7. Marudur anaicut 7175.64Hectares
List of channels:
  1. South Kodaimelalagain channel
  2. North Kodaimelalagain channel
  3. Nathiyunni channel
  4. Kannadian channel
  5. Kodagan channel
  6. Palayam channel
  7. Tirunelveli channel
  8. Marudur Melakkal
  9. Marudur Keelakal
Below are the views of Thamirabarani streaming at Cheranmahadevi


thamirabarani anaicut

Photo of Thamirabarani Bridge construction work.