After being parched for 25 years, Devyani pond in Rajasthan’s Sambhar Lake is full to the brim — thanks to local efforts

For the past 25 years, it was a dry pond, surrounded by long grass and grazing cattle, barren ghats and temples yearning for devotees — an apt description of famous poet Rahim’s immortalized verse Bin Pani Sab Soon.

Thanks to a section of youngsters’ zeal and community mobilisation, the historical Devyani, one of the holiest of ponds in Rajasthan, has regained its lost glory. The revival has been possible by diverting water from a nearby overflowing dam which was causing havoc in fields and salt pans during the monsoon.

Popularly known as Sab Teerthon ki Nani (grandma of all pilgrim places), Devyani is situated in Sambhar Lake, 75 km from Jaipur. One of the protected monuments in Rajasthan, it finds references in ancient mythological and holy scriptures as old as the Puranas. There is even a reference to Guru Dronacharya’s son Ashwatthama’s penance at the Devyani pond after the battle of the Mahabharata.

The pond derives its name from Devyani, the daughter of Guru Shukracharya, who was a great master of sanjivani vidya (the skill to revive the dead). A holy dip is considered sacred particularly on the occasion of Buddh Purnima, when an annual fair is also held.

The pond had completely dried up due to erratic rains and encroachments in its catchment area. Over the years, several plans were made to revive the pond but nothing seemed to work. While everyone else accepted it as destiny, the hard work and ingenuity of a few youngsters achieved the unthinkable.

It was no child’s play to fill the pond spread over nearly 20,000 square yard area through artificial measures. After the flash floods in Sambhar Lake town in 1977, the town never had good rains. With growing number of anicuts and farms obstructing the catchment area of Devyani, the pond gradually dried up. There were efforts by Nagrik Vikas Samiti, a non-profit people’s forum, to restore and clean the pond in the ‘90s. But lack of good showers meant the pond remained parched. Even if it rained in surrounding villages, the water never made way to Devyani.

Thanks to a blessed monsoon this year, the nearest Jaitpura dam overflowed making way to the Sambhar Lake, incidentally, the country’s largest salt lake. As the downpour continued, the overflowing water started submerging the salt panes, threatening the quality of salt in the area. The neighbouring fields, too, started getting inundated.

“Wish this water could be diverted to Devyani,” thought Siya Ramji, Sarvesh Shukla and Heera Lal Tanwar, living in the vicinity of the pond. But this “if” was indeed too big a stake, said Pawan Modi, who later joined the action along with his friends like Ashok Kayal, Devendra Bhargary, Vijay Prajapat and others. But they neither had resources, nor any technical knowledge or experience. Though they had one thing -- the will power and a keen desire to see the Devyani pond refilled with water. They grew up hearing stories of a once lotus-filled Devyani but they never saw in its original glory. They knew the task was not easy and the challenge was great. Still worth trying, they thought.

They had to act really fast since the water could just drain away if no quick measures were taken up to store and divert it to Devyani. It was necessary to clear the bamboo bushes and other wild weeds from the pond. Soon young volunteers from Shyam Prem Mandal, Volleyball Club, Khatik Samaj and others joined hands.

After a quick clean-up, a small storage tank was dug up with the help of a JCB machine and an experimental drill was conducted. It worked and they all decided to pump the water as quickly as they could. They hired more digging machines, tractors and powerful pumps with the help of individuals and organisations, built another storage tank near the pond and started pumping water to the pond. Their task was made easy with continued downpour. They were able pump in at least one feet water every day to the pond. Within seven days, the Devyani was brimming with 9ft. water. The whole restoration project cost them Rs. 3.50 lakh only, a feat which other government schemes worth over Rs. 40 lakh could not accomplish over the years.

Since Devyani is one of the protected monuments, the State Urban Development Department and INTACH had got a study conducted by DRONAH in 2006 for developing Sambhar Lake town as a heritage site. But unfortunately, despite strong recommendations, no concrete steps have so far been taken up. The youngsters have shown the way and it is hoped government agencies will now ensure that the pond retains its splendour in future.

The forthcoming month of Karthik will be particularly full of activities as lots of rural devotees will head for a holy dip at Devyani. The ghats will once again resound with bhajans about the holy pond.