Word origin: Dam

There was a time when the rivers freely flowed. They meandered with all their grace and at places gushed with all their might. Many civilizations grew on their banks, for the rivers not only met their water needs, but also brought fertile soil. Despite all their goodness, they sometimes turned destructive. They flooded lands and razed towns, and destroyed the very things that they helped build. It was as if the rivers had a will of their own.


Then, men thought of controlling the rivers. They built barriers on their paths, stopped their flow, stored the waters and diverted them. These were built at different parts of the world, in different ages, and called with varying names. The one name that became popular in all languages was the Dutch word Dam.

Kirshnaraja Sagar (KRS) Dam


The word entered the English language in the 14th century. The word was first used for the body of water that was confined by a barrier. For instance, the Cauvery water stored in KRS, would be called dam, and not KRS. Later, the word was stopped being used for the stored water and was applied to barrier. This changed meaning is still in use. For now, we call KRS a dam and not the water stored in it.


Coming back to the Dutch, the dams were vital for their survival, since Netherlands is a low lying country. Dams were built to regulate the water level and prevent the sea from entering marsh lands. These dams often marked the beginning of the city. The dams also gave their names to the city. This can be seen in the name of the Dutch capital Amsterdam. It gets its name from the dam through the Amstel River, built in the 12th century.  As the dam continued to be built and strengthened over the centuries, it grew wide enough to become the town square and was called the Dam square. It turned into the hub of commercial and government activity. Though the mouth of the Amstel River is filled, and the now the Dam Square is covered with land, the name stuck to it. Another Dutch city Rotterdam too got its name from the dam through the river Rotte.


The earliest known dam in the world is the Jawa Dam in Jordon built around 3000 BC. It held back waters of a stream and diverted it for irrigation. Evidence also exists of an earlier dam Sadd-el-Kafara built by the ancient Egyptians 2650 BC, for flood control. The dam is believed to be under construction for 10-12 years, before being destroyed by a flood.


The world’s oldest dam, still in use is across the Cauvery, in Trichi in Tamil Nadu. The Kallanai dam or the Grand Anicut was built around the 2ndcentury AD by the Chola king Karikalan.  It was constructed to store water and regulate it for irrigation through canals in the delta region. The dam splits the river Kaveri into four streams; Kollidam Aru, Kaviri, Vennaru and Puthu Aru. Built with unhewn stones, the dam runs a length of 1080 feet and is 60 feet wide. The British made later additions and improvements to it, which has helped to keep it functioning.


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