Blessings and curses: the construction of lakes in Bengaluru

Inscriptions found at Begur, and those on the temple foundations at Doddagubbi. Such inscriptions reveal the origin of lakes in Bengaluru. Photos: Harini Nagendra and Hita Unnikrishnan  

Epigraphical inscriptions found on hero stones, temple foundations, pillars, and metal plates reveal the origins of lakes in Bengaluru.

One of the oldest inscriptions, of AD 870 near Agara lake, reads, “The Irvvuliyur odeya, Irugamayya’s son Sirimayya, fixed sluices to the two tanks, had the eastern tank built, and obtained the bittuvatta of the three tanks.” An important motivation for the construction of lakes was the granting of bittuvatta, agricultural grants of irrigated lands below the lake, to the founder. Lakes were not isolated entities, and along with them, grants frequently included dry lands above the lake, irrigated lands below the lake, and trees and wells in the vicinity.

The construction of a lake was often the starting point for the emergence of settlements, as an inscription from AD 1307 found in Vibhutipura recorded. Local residents “having cleared the jungle in the tract of land adjoining Peru­Erumur, levelled the ground, built a village, constructed a tank by removing the sand, and named the village Vacchidevarapiram”. Maintenance of lakes was an expensive effort, as seen from a grant supporting the upkeep of a cart to desilt Agara lake.

Inscriptions provide fascinating insight into the spiritual motivations that drove people to engage in this endeavour. An inscription of AD 1266 from Domlur describes the grant of two lakes for the worship of the god; to save a kinsman, and to ensure victory to a local chieftain. An inscription from AD 1266 near Krishnarajapuram describes tank construction by a woman to gain merit for her family. A lake near Kengeri was gifted in AD 1340 for the service of the goddess, along with “animals, cattle, birds, and all living beings”.

Grants of lakes were given for periods of time ranging from 21 generations to infinity (“as long as the sun and the moon endure” or “as long as the rocks, the Cauvery, the grass and the earth endure”). Violators were cursed with horrific punishments: to incur the sin of having slaughtered cows and Brahmins, to be born as worms in dung, and perhaps the worst: to be born “the husband of his own mother”.

Over time, the social prestige associated with community work for creating and maintaining lakes has become eroded. We need to draw on some of these practices to move towards a resurgent community-oriented practice of lake management.

( Harini Nagendra is professor of Sustainability at Azim Premji University )

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 3:37:37 AM |

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