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Introductory

The Union Territory of Pondicherry constituted out of the four erstwhile French establishments of Pondicherry, Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam.

Name sake : Several explanations are offered for the name Karaikal. There is no doubt that it is a combination of two words,'karai' and 'kal'. Both 'karai' and 'kal' have several meanings, of which the more plausible one being "a canan made of lime mixture". According to Julien Vinson, the town is said to have been known as Karagiri in Sanskrit. The Imperial Gazetteer gives to the name of the town the meaning of a 'fish pass'.

This Karaikal area formed an integral part of the Pallava kingdom in the eighth century(C 731-796). Poet Sekkizhar (992-1042) describes the town as "vanga malik kadar karaikal", the 'Karaikal of many vessels on the coast' in his Periapuranam. In that the poet relates the life story of one Punithavathiar who abandoned the pleasures of material life and devoted herself entirely to a life of prayer and penance to signify her devotion to Lord Siva. He called her 'Karaikal Ammayar', conveniently after the town which must have been famous already.

Geography

Karaikal is a district of Puducherry UT and is embedded in the Nagappattinam and Tiruvarur Districts of Tamil Nadu State.

Latitude lies between 10o 49' and 11o 01' northern latitude about 150 kms. Longitude lies between 79 o 43' and 79o52' eastern longitude about 150 kms. Area : 161 sq. km. has a population of 2,00,222 as per the 2011 census.

Karaikal town about 16 kms. north of Nagappattinam and 9 kms. south of Tarangambadi is the regional/district headquarters. Karaikal region/district is made up of  one Municipality and five Commune panchayats viz. Karaikal,   Kottuchcheri, Nedungadu, Tirunallar, Niravi and Tirumalarajanpattinam respectively.

Topography

Forming part of the fertile Cauveri delta the region is completely covered by the distributaries of Cauveri. Covered completely by a thick mantle of alluvium of variable thickness, the lie of the region is flat having a gentle slope towards the Bay of Bengal in the east. It is limited on the north by the Nandalar and on the south-east by the Vettar. The group of rocks known as Cuddalore formations is met with in the area contiguous to Karaikal region in Nagappattinam District.

Water Resources

The main branches of Kaveri below Grand Anicut are the Kodamurutti, Arasalar, Virasolanar and the Vikramanar. Although Arasalar and its branches spread through Karaikal, the waters of Kodamurutti and Virasolanar also meet the irrigation needs of the region.

The Arasalar having a total run of 24 km. enters Karaikal region, a little east of Akalanganni. It forms the natural boundary line separating Niravi Commune from Tirunallar on the north-west and Karaikal on the north-east.

The Nattar, branching off from Arasalar at Sakkottai in Thanjavur District, runs a distance of 11.2 km. in a south-easterly direction across Nedungadu and Kottuchcheri Communes before emptying itself into the sea.

The Vanjiar fed by Arasalar, takes its course along the northern boundary of Tirunallar Commune, drops on a south-easterly curve towards Karaikal Commune and merges with the Arasalar, south-east of Karaikal town after covering a distance of about 9 km.

The Nular, also fed by the Arasalar, runs a distance of 13.77 km. before it joins Vanjiar north-east of Karaikal town.

The Puravadaiyanar and the Tirumalarajanar are the branches of Kodamurutti.

Puravadaiyanar runs through Tirumalarajanpattinam Commune for a distance of 5.3 km. before it empties itself into the sea, south-east of Melvanjiyur.

The flow of Tirumalarajanar which forms the natural boundary line between Niravi and Tirumalarajanpattinam communes runs a distance of 5.13 km. before it enters the sea, north of Pattanachcheri.

The Nandalar takes off from Virasolan and meanders across the northern boundary of the region through Nedungadu and Kottuchcheri Communes for a distance of about 15.15 km. before it finds its outlet into the sea a little south of Tarangambadi.

Underground water resources :

Karaikal region gets most of its water for irrigation from Kaveri and as such ground water resources in the region have not been fully developed. Here the water table lies at depths of 3-4 metres below ground level and during summer declines to 6-7 metres below ground level. In a number of villages filter point wells piercing sandy materials down to about five metres and fitted with hand-pumps supply fairly good quality water. In many cases the quality of shallow ground water is rather poor. In the past, several attempts were made to tap ground water by means of deep tube-wells for drinking and agricultural purposes.

The region is occupied by alluvium consisting of sands and clays. Data of bore-holes put down in the vicinity of Karaikal indicate that the thickness of the alluvium is possibly of the order of 68 meters. The alluvium is underlain by the Karaikal beds of Pliocene age consisting of sands, gravels and clay. Wells in and around Karaikal range in depth from 3.5 to 10.7 meters, with the maximum depth of water level in summer being of the order of six meters.

Ground water in Karaikal is developed chiefly by means of dug wells or filter-point wells piercing blown sands and alluvium. A few bore-holes not exceeding 50 meters in depth drilled in the vicinity of Karaikal were reported to have been abandoned on account of the poor quality of water in the granular zones in the alluvium. However the data of a deep bore-hole put down at Karaikal in 1884 indicated that confined aquifers overlain by a think bed of clay could be expected to occur below a depth of 90 meters in and around Karaikal which is expected to be a source of potential water supply, if tapped by tube-wells.

To the south and west of Muppattankudi and towards Mathur further west, sands are met with down to depths of 8 to 12 metres below surface. Wells tapping these sand yield water in plenty. About 1.6 km. South-south-east of Nedungadu, in the western portion of the region, confined aquifers have been tapped by a tube-well. In a number of tube-well attempted down to depths of upto five metres only brackish water is reported to have been met with. A tube-well down to a depth of 61.7 m. near Akalanganni is said to yield brackish water.

Karaikal town gets its water by means of a battery of a shallow interconnected open wells and an infiltration gallery in the bed of Arasalar. A few villages between Akalanganni and Karaikal also get their water supply from this source. The town faces difficult water supply position during the months of April-June, when there is no flow in the Arasalar. Owing to the limited extent and thickness of sands in the bed of wells in Arasalar in the vicinity of the well site, attempts to increase the number of wells in Arasalar bed have been unsuccessful.

The Geological Survey of India, in a report(1965) had suggested to probe the bed of Nandalar to find out areas where sands may be sufficiently think, so that wells or infiltration gallery could be constructed for augmenting water supply to Karaikal and other villages. The report had also suggested the drilling of a few exploratory bore-holes piercing the deeper aquifers in order formations so as to tap, if possible, ground water of good chemical quality by means of tube-wells in the north-western portion of Karaikal region under proper technical supervision.

Geology

Karaikal is an important stratigraphic horizon which indicated the prospects of 'oil shows'. This in turn attracted the attention of the Geological Survey of India between 1959-61 and later on the O.N.G.C., who carried out detailed studies for determining the possibility of the occurrence of oil.

Geological formations :

The Karaikal area is completely covered by a thick mantle of alluvium and no exposures are met with any where. The following are the geological succession of the formations :

Recent and Sub-recent           ...     Blown sands, alluvium
Pliocene                                     ...     Karaikal beds
Mio-Pliocene                             ...     Cuddalore formations

Mineral wealth :

The following are the minerals met with in the region :

Brick clays : Brick clays are won from banks of Arasalar about 1.6 km. almost south-west of Pudutturai over an area of 0.6 sq. km. Clayey soils are also employed for making bricks near Mel_Kasakkudi, Nedungadu, Ambagarattur and Vadamattam. Indicated reserves of 1.3 million tonnes have been computed, of which the padugai lands along the Arasalar will account for 0.83 million tonnes.

Kankar : About 0.4 km. in a northerly direction from Mel_Subbarayapuram village, small amounts of pisolitic kankar are found. It is obtained from a depth of about 1.2 km.

Sea Shells : Sea-shells collected from the coast are made use of in making lime for local use. Lime kilns were observed to the west of Karaikal town, near T.R.Pattinam and Akkaravattam.

Ilmenite and garnet sands : Ilmenite and garnet occur in varying concentrations in the beach sands along the Karaikal coast over a stretch of about 10 km. and varying in width from 20 to 100 m.

Oil : It may not be out of place to mention about the prospecting for oil going on in the area, as a result of the favourable structures and thick sediments deciphered first by the geophysical division of the Geological Survey of India, and later on by the Oil and Natural Gas Commission.

Flora & Fauna

Historical resume : The earliest writing on the Indian flora commenced actually with Garcia da Orta. Between 1560 and 1610, he published his works on the Indian plants, in Portuguese and Latin languages.

The first systematic work on the floral wealth of the western regions appeared by the end of the XVII century (Rheede 1673-1703).

The flora of a region can be presented in different ways to suit the professional botanists, the agronomists, the phytogeographers or the uninitiated laymen. Among the several possibilities the one which is found suitable for our purpose here is to group them according to their natural habitat. The classification adoped here is based on the ecology of the plants in each region of the Territory.

Classifications : Situated as it is in the Kaveri delta, the irrigation facilities permit the cultivation of rice over large areas. The sugar-cane (Saccharaum officinarum L.) (Tam. Karumbu) is cultivated here only as a subsidiary crop. The cultivation of millets is very little or practically nil.

The seashore plants : Among the littoral species tolerating a certain amount of salinity in the soil and in the water, the following five are the most common and remarkable ones :

Excoecaria agallocha L (Tam. Tillai).
Clerodendrum inerme Gaertn. (Tam. Sangankuppi).
Acanthus ilicifolius L. (Tam. Kaludai Mulli).
Solanum trilobatum L (Tam. Tudulai).
Pandanus tectorius Sol. (Tam. Talai).

Among the littoral species, the plants which tolerate very little traces of salinity of soil and thrive well on the coastal-sands are Cocos nucifera L. (TamTennaimaram) (Eng. Coconut palm) and also the shrubby and very spinous Prosopis spicigera L. much planted for shade along the sea-coast.

A little interior in the country, on the sea-sands, appear the Casuarina equisetifolia Forst. (Tam. Cavukkumaram). Hibiscus tiliaceus L.(Tam. Nirparutti) and Thespesia populnea Cay. (Tam. Puvarsam). The last two trees belonging to the Malvaceae family are almost identical but Hibiscus differs from Thespesia by its larger leaves and round indehiscent fruits.

Alongwith these plants thrive some herbaceous or suffrutescent ones, very conspicuous everywhere:

Croton bonplandianum Baill. (Tam. Eliamanaku)
Calotropis gigantea R.Br.(Tam.Erukku)(Eng. Gigantic swallow-work)
Jatropha glandulifera Roxb. (Tam. Adalaycedi)
Datura fastuosa L. (Tam.Karu-umatai) (Eng. Thorn-apple)

Plants growing near or in fresh water : In this region, where fresh water runs abundantly throughout the year, the hygrophytic flora is naturally well developed. A good number of hygrophytes can be met with near Uzhiapattu (Niravi Commune). The principal plants growing along the water edges are given below:

Arborescent Vegetation :
Borassus flabellifer L.(eng. Palmyra palm; Tam. Panaimaram)
Acacia arabica Willd. (Tam. Karuvelamaram; Eng. 'Babul tree')
Barringtonia acutangula Gaertn. (Tam. Samutirappalai)
Pongamia pinnata (L.)Pierre (Tam.Punkamaram; Eng.Pongam oil tree)
Phoenix sylvestris Roxb.(Tam. Iccamaram; Eng.'Wild date palm')

Shrubby and herbaceous hygrophytic vegetation :
Hemarthria compressa L.
Arundo donax L.
Hibiscus (H. vitifolius L.) (Tam.Manjal Tutti)
Tribulus terrestris L. (Tam.Nerinji) (Eng. 'Ground Burnut')
Indigofera enneaphylla l.
Tephrosia purpurea Pers. (Tam. Kolinji)
Saccharum spontanum L. (Tam. Peykarumbu) (Eng. 'Wild Sugar Cane')
Stachytarpheta indica Vahl. (Tam. Simai nayuruvi)
Nymphaea pubescens Willd. (Tam. Alli) (Eng. 'Water Lily')
Lemna polyrrhiza L.  (Eng. 'Duck weeds')
Ipomaea reptans Poir. (Tam. Vellaikirai)
Asteracantha longifolia (L.) Nees. (Tam Niumulli)
Stemodia viscosa Roxb. (Scrophulariaceae)
Neptunia oleracea Lour  ( Leguminoseae)
Phyla nodiflora (L.) Greene (Tam. Poduthalai)
Sesbania aegyptiaca Pers. (Tam. Karuncembai)

The avenue trees :
Polyalthia longifolia Hk. f. & T.
Thespesia populnea Cav. (Tam. Puvarasam)
Syzygium jambolanum Lamk. (Tam. Navalmaram)
Samanea saman (Jacq.) Merr., (Tam. Tunkumuncimaram)
Gicus benghalensis L. (Tam. Alamaram)
Lannea Lannea coromandelica (Houtt). Merr.,
Madhuca longifolia (L). MacBride (Tm. Iluppaimaram)
Kigelia pinnata DC. (Tam. Marachurai)

The hedge plants :
Jatropha glandulifera Roxb. (tam. Adalaycedi)
Votex meqimdp :. (Tam. Nocci)
Morinda tinctoria Roxb.
Prosopis spicigera L.
Banbusa arundinacea Willd, (Tam. Mungil)
Lawsonia inermis L. (Tam. Marutonri)
Ficus hispida L.f.(Tam. Kattu attimaram)
Zizyphus mauritiana Lam. (Tam. Ilantamaram)
Aegle marmelos Corr. (Tam. Vilvam)
Euphorbia antiquorrum L. (Tam. Sadurakkalli)
agaves
Cissus quadrangularis L. (Tam. Pirandai)

The garden plants :
Tectona grandis L. (Tam. Tekkumaram) (Eng. Teak)
Moringa oleifera Lamk. (Tam. Murunkaimaram)
Azadirachta indica Adr. Juss. (Tam. Veppamaram) (Eng Margosa)
Terminalia catappa L. (Tam. amantimaram) (Eng. Indian almond)

Trees and shrubs met with the gardens of Karaikal :
Areca catechu L (Tam. Pakkumaram)
 Bougainvillaea glabra Choisy.
 Carica papaya L. (Tam. Pappalimaram)
 Cassia fistula L. (Tam. Carakkonrai)
 Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn. (Tam. Ilavam)
 Cicca acida (L.) Merr. (Tam. Arinellimaram)
 Corypha umbraculifera L. (Tam. Kudaippanai)
 Croton spp.,
 Delonix regia Rafin. (Tam. Mayirkkonraimaram)
 Ficus religiosa L. (Tam. Aracamaram)
 Hibiscus spp.,
 Leucaena glauca Benth.,
 Caesalpinia pulcherrima Swartz.
 Roystonea regia Kth.  etc.

Climate

Karaikal, situated on the east coast of India, near latitude 11oN in the deltaic region of the Kauveri, experiences tropical maritime type of climate with small daily range of temperature and moderate rainfall.

Rainfall :  Karaikal has an annual average rainfall of about 126 cm. 68 percent of which occurs during October to December. The amount of rainfall during the south-west monsoon period is small, being less than 20 per cent of the annual. November is the rainiest month, accounting for about a third of the annual total. The range of variation of annual rainfall is wide. Variability of annual rain fall is fairly large, so that significant variations in rain fall from year to year may be expected. Drought conditions with the annual rainfall of less than 75 per cent of the normal may be expected once in three years on an average.

 In a year there are on an average about 55 rainy days, ie. days with rainfall of 2.5 mm. or more.

Temperature, humidity, cloudiness and surface winds : The level of temperatures in Karaikal is about the same as in Pondicherry. December and January are the coolest months with the maximum at about 28o C and the minimum at about 23oC. Minimum temperature as low as 16oC may sometimes be recorded. The diurnal ranges of temperature are generally small throughout the year, being highest (about 10oC) in May and June, and the least (about 5oC) during November to February.

The level of humidity and the pattern of cloudiness and surface winds are the same as in Pondicherry. Although slight variations in the month wise occurrence of depressions and storms are noticeable, thunder-storms generally occur during April to November, particularly in April, September and October.