Which is the Oldest Dam in India?

The Oldest Dam in India & world's oldest dams still in use

First Dam in India

Kallanai Dam (Grand Anicut) is the oldest dam (first dam) in India. Dams are barriers built across rivers to restrain the flow of water and this water confinement helps to stop the natural course of river and directs the water to a different place. In earlier times, dams were built for the development and human purposes which included:

  1. To solve irrigation issues across various states of India
  2. Generation of hydroelectricity
  3. To regulate flooding

With the evolution of society, significance of dams has decreased as they are now considered to be responsible for environmental degradation and societal destruction. They are no more regarded as symbols of progress and growth rather are criticized as causing displacement and rehabilitation.

The Kaveri River rises from Kodagu in Western Ghats in Karnataka and flows to the Bay of Bengal with certain drainage area residing in the state of Tamil Nadu. During the peak of monsoon season, river Kaveri gets flooded which swamps large areas creating number of problems and difficulties for the local people.

Kallanai Dam also referred to as Grand Anicut is the diversion dam constructed to restrict the natural flow of Kaveri River. It is regarded as the oldest dam in India which is still in use and saved the people residing in surrounding areas from the furies of flood created by an excessive flow of water.

Oldest Dam in India Kallanai Dam- Grand Anicut
Oldest Dam in India Kallanai Dam- Grand Anicut

in Quick View

Kallanai Dam, also known as Grand Anicut, is the fourth oldest dam in the world. It still serves the people of Tamilnadu, India. The dam was constructed by King Karikala Chola of the Chola Dynasty in the 2nd century AD. The dam is located on the River Kaveri, approximately 20km from the city of Tiruchirapalli.

The dam provides water for irrigating 400,000ha of land along the Delta Region. The structure measures 329m in length, 20m in width and 5.4m in height. Improvements were made to the dam in the 19th century by Arthur Cottons, a British general and irrigation engineer.

Quick Facts about Kallanai Dam

  • Kallanai Dam is the oldest dam in India.
  • Fourth oldest dam in the world.
  • Built across Kaveri River in south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
  • Located 15 Kms from Tiruchirapally district of Tamil Nadu.
  • At a distance of 4 Km from Lalgudi Railway station.
  • Kallanai is also called as ‘Grand Anicut’.
  • Built nearly 2000 years ago by Chola king Karikala.
  • Built to improve irrigation and also to prevent his kingdom from flood.
  • Basic anatomy of the dam included sinking big stones to divert the river.
  • The dam was re-modeled by British Engineer Capt, Caldwell in 19th
  • The dam is 329 mtr long, 20 mtr wide and 5.4 mtr high.
  • Caldwell raised the height of the dam by 69 mtrs thus increasing its water holding capacity.
  • A dam named ‘Lower Anaicut’ was also built across Kollidam (coleroon) River a major tributary of Kaveri to prevent siltation.
  • Ancient dam irrigated an area of 60000 acres.
  • Modern re-modeled dam irrigates an area of one million hectares.

Location of Kallanai Dam

It is easily accessible from major cities as it is located 47 km south east of district Thanjavur in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Tiruchirappalli district is 16 km away from Kallanai Dam and is connected to Chennai and New Delhi through various means of transport.  The entire Grand Anicut consists of three major regulators which are categorized as:

  • Head of Kaveri
  • Vennar
  • Grand Anicut Canal

Apart from the head regulator, a sub regulator on the Northern bank of Kaveri discharges flood waters into Kollidam which is actually known by the name Kallanai. The unique feature about this dam is that it is highly effective and efficiently created in comparison to modern dams of the 21st century.

History of Kallanai Dam

The oldest water regulating structure in the world was constructed by Chola Dynasty ruler Karikal Cholan in the 2nd century A.D. Kallanai is considered to be the earliest work in South India for the development of water resources. The dam was re – constructed by the Britishers in the 19th century.

In the year 1804, Captain Caldwell, a military engineer, was appointed by the British administration to study the Kaveri River and draft a plan to promote irrigation for the delta region. He examined the entire area and initiated a report stating that “huge amount of water passed onto the Kollidam leaving behind a small volume for irrigation purposes”.

Kallanai Dam Construction Technique

He proposed a solution to raise the construction of dam initially which was implemented and the height of the dam was increased to 69 centimeters which ultimately intensified its capacity as well. British contribution is not only seen in terms of Kallanai dam but they also paid relevant attention to boost irrigation in the state of Tamil Nadu. In 1837 Sir Arthur Cotton authorized the construction of two large regulators across Coleroon, the major tributary of river Kaveri:

  • The first regulator was constructed at the head of Coleroon called Upper Anicut which helped in the diversion of water to the Delta.
  • The other regulator was identified as Lower Anicut which was considered as a terminal point from where water was placed in Veeranam Tank.
  • These regulators saved Delta from deterioration due to silt deposits.

Structural and Technical Details of Kallanai Dam

In structural terms, finest dams are identified through architectural design and material used. The constructional method to be adopted largely depends on conditions of the area where dam needs to be constructed, material availability in combination with labor affordability, accessibility to transportation networks. Earlier dams were built with masonry, earth fill and rock fill, but in terms of modern construction of dams, they are made with absolute concrete.

Kallanai dam is built with uneven stones, which is 329 meters in length and 20 meters (at base) in terms of breadth. It is constructed with large boulders i.e. the dam was initially built with rocks and at a later stage it was remodeled with concrete during the time of Britishers. The material used for the dam was solid rocks which were cut through the process of punching hole, wooden wedge, adding water and breaking.

The rocks were directly positioned in the path stretching to the river Kaveri and stones were placed in respected places. The major limitation of this process is that high intensity thrust cannot be initiated to place the stones so in this circumstance, stones were immersed into the river through loading process.

Through this process, stone were placed in the bottom and another stones are then placed on the top and erosion process automatically fits the stone in the right direction. The sand bed on the river Kaveri provides extensive strength and durability to the strong structure built at the first stage and displays knowledge of our engineers and ancestors.

Contemporary Relevance

Agriculture is not only the main source of livelihood for the people living around Kaveri Delta but also whole of Indian sub-continent majorly dependent on agriculture. Cultivation is the main occupation due to fertility of the soil which is ideal for growth of crops such as pulses, sugar cane, banana etc.

This aspect rightly summarizes the area as “Rice bowl of South India”. In today’s times too, Grand Anicut feeds number of people living in different parts of India. Food security of the state mainly depends on Kaveri River basin which is popular for rice production.

Pros and Cons of Kallanai Dam

In consideration with contemporary relevance, biodiversity of the region is being threatened as population is getting intensified but agricultural conditions in the area have decreased due to change in rainfall pattern. Shortage of water can only be enhanced through rain water harvesting strategies and techniques.

Farmers need to shift from pulses cultivation to high quality flower, vegetable and fruit production which would bring in rich dividends which were destroyed through agricultural cultivation as it requires heavy rainfall at appropriate times. Awareness needs to be generated at local level to initiate new methods which would bring in more resources to the farmers.

Fishing is also a major activity which can be undertaken for survival purposes by the farmers which will not make them dependent only on agriculture solely.

Drainage issue is another major consideration of people living near Kallanai Dam. Ensuring irrigation supply is one issue and draining the surplus water is another. This surplus water is accumulated through floods, and heavy rains. The terrain slope near the delta region is mild which takes longer time for water to flow down the drainage system. This destroys and damages the crops as they are immersed in water for longer duration of time which even reduces the fertility of the soil.

De-silting of drainage rivers being carried towards the delta, should be carried out more efficiently by classifying the worst affected area in combination with calculating the flood intensity in the area and flood carrying capacity of drainage rivers. Drainage rivers should be cleaned which means that weeds should be removed that damages the environment altogether.

Aquaculture farms are found all along the coast of the delta. These aquaculture farms are designed in the form of tanks with raised embankments on four sides and are positioned in the small gap between farms through a small chain.  This chain of tanks turns into a fort wall averting floodwater from approaching the sea immediately. Aqua farms are created to block the heavy flow of water which takes longer time for water to reach small gaps in farms.

Amazing Facts about Kallanai Dam

You might be wondering that how is Kallanai considered as a tourist destination? The Grand Anicut is an operative dam, a tourist destination, and a significant symbol of Indian history. During the British era, Indians were deliberated as backward and their intelligence was questioned but the British rulers were shocked to observe the construction technique of Kallanai dam which completely changed their perspective about Indian rulers and its people.

This gives us a feeling of India’s rich and integral history. It’s a true marvel and the Karikal Chozan building near the dam has only been an addition element to its appeal. The most interesting fact about the dam is its water dispersal technique which should truly be studied by future generation.


The oldest dam structures like the Kallanai dam were constructed to perfection. Engineers allocated to build modern dams should refer to the construction techniques of the older dams which are still running strong even today. This will in turn modify the thought process as modern day dams are meant for destruction and replacement. Thus, we should borrow construction strategies of earlier rulers and engineers which without destroying the environment have made structures which are still durable and in use.

FAQs about Kallanai Dam

Q1) Where is Kallanai Dam located?

Ans- The Kallanai Dam is located in Tiruchirapally district of Tamil Nadu.

Q2) Who build the Kallanai Dam?

Ans- The dam was constructed by the chola king Karikalan in 2ndcentury A.D.

Q3) On which River is the Kallanai Dam built?

Ans- Kallanai Dam is build across the river Kaveri.

Q4) How old is the Kallanai Dam?

Ans- The dam was build nearly 2000 years ago.

Q4) What is the world ranking of Kallanai Dam?

Ans- It is the fourth oldest dam in the world.

Q5) What was the main purpose for building the Kallanai dam?

Ans- To divert water of Kaveri for irrigation.

Q6) Is Kallanai Dam is used for hydroelectric production?

Ans- No, the dam has no hydro-electric production plant and is purely used for agriculture and containing flood.

Q7) Who remodeled the Kallanai Dam and when?

Ans- The dam was remodeled by a British Engineer Captain Caldwell in 1804.

Q8) What is other name for the Kallanai Dam?

Ans- Kallanai Dam is also known as the Upper Anicut.

Q9) What is the length and width and height of the Kallanai Dam?

Ans- The dam is 329 mtr long, 20 mtr wide and 5.4 mtr high.

Q10) How much area of land was initially irrigated by the Kallanai Dam?

Ans- Nearly 60000 acres.

Q11) How much area does the Kallanai Dam irrigates today?

Ans- Almost 1000000 acres or 1 million acres.

Q12) What is the Kallanai Dam Timings?

Ans- Kallanai Dam Timing is 10am – 6pm.

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