Learning from history

Water has to be treated with respect and demand management is the key, says S. Vishwanath

The small dusty village of Abhaneri is near the town of Dausa and about 100 km from Jaipur. Here lies a structure which captures the civilisational effort in an arid land to access water in an aesthetic manner. This is the junction between architecture, spirituality and functionality. The Chand Baodi or the Chand step-well of Abhaneri, built in the 8th or 9th century, is about 20 metres deep and is a sculptural interpretation of what later on the artist Escher would capture in his sketches and drawings, tricking the mind to a paradox.

Even in those times, groundwater seems to have been the source for drinking and cooking purposes. The Banganga flows close by but would still have been an ephemeral stream.

Yet a visit to the place brings disappointment. The village itself is in bad shape with rubbish strewn all around. The Chand Baodi has ugly fences stopping people from climbing down. The water is right at the bottom and has moss and algae floating in it. Why is it that we cannot maintain a national treasure better? Is it not possible for the Department of Archaeology, the ASI and the Tourism department of Rajasthan to pay a bit more respect to the construction and to the village?

The very reason for the step-well was the groundwater that became available. The architecture was an aesthetic intervention but followed the water. How does it help to make a lawn in the surroundings and then dig a borewell to spray that lawn with water? We then fertilize it with urea so that it seeps in as nitrates and allows the water to grow algae and moss? What must have been once clear drinking water is now like palak soup.

Is it not possible to invest in understanding the aquifers around and managing groundwater such that the waters can rise to the depth of the well? Is hydro-geology such an impossible science that we do not understand it at all and will do very little about it?

There is a great crisis around water and especially groundwater in and around Jaipur and Dausa. It has to do with groundwater being exploited rampantly and hence the water table falling fast. As a result, saline water is now being spewn by borewells and fluoride is becoming endemic.

The Chand Baodi tells us that water has to be treated with respect and with a spiritual veneration. Demand management is key and understanding groundwater crucial.

The other troubling aspect of keeping water bodies clean is an upsurge in religious sentiment of a certain kind. Lead-painted Ganeshas being immersed in water is one, the throwing of flowers the feeding of fish, the mass bathing is another. These are troubled times for our rivers, lakes, ponds and wells, and religious leaders will have to come forward to ensure that mass public events and festivals do not destroy the very source that is prayed to, water.

Hopefully we will learn from our past and learn fast because we are in troubled times with water in the era of climate change.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 7:42:15 AM |

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