Sampangi Lake: Lessons from history

Though replaced by buildings, it reclaims its identity during monsoons.

June 23, 2015 03:45 pm | Updated 06:12 pm IST - Bengaluru

Lamps are lit at the one remaining tank (kalyani) during Shivratri. Photo: Harini Nagendran.

Lamps are lit at the one remaining tank (kalyani) during Shivratri. Photo: Harini Nagendran.

This May, after intense rainfall in Bengaluru, the Sri Kanteerava Stadium became partially submerged in water. For a few days the stadium, built on the bed of the Sampangi Lake, reverted to its original function.

Of considerable antiquity, Sampangi lake’s inception is accredited to the founder of Bengaluru, Kempe Gowda. The lake supplied water to the cantonment. Ragi was cultivated upstream while the areas downstream irrigated paddy. The fertile agricultural landscape that once surrounded the lake has made way for densely packed concrete buildings and congested roads.

Around the lake, many tanks ( kalyanis ) were placed, supplying water for domestic use. Most of these have been filled up and built over. Only one remnant kalyani can be seen now, in Sampangiramnagar. Also credited to Kempe Gowda, it has ornate stone carvings of fanciful lions and stout human figures.

Mud from the lake bed was used to make bricks, and fodder grass harvested by livestock owners, activities that were later prohibited. Conflicts over use emerged between British bungalow owners, regimental polo players, and local horticulturalists, which dragged in the Mysore kings and the British Residency.

By 1898, Sampangi Lake ceased to be an important water source, with the Hessarghatta reservoir providing water to the Cantonment. Sections of the lake were swallowed by prominent educational institutions, hospitals and even by Cubbon Park. Traditional communities like the Bastharus (fishermen) migrated away and were replaced by migrants who saw the lake as an environmental hazard.

Drained by 1937, the lake bed used to host carnivals. The growing city needed a sports stadium, and Kanteerava stadium was built on the lake bed by 1946. The farmland around the lake was acquired to construct residential layouts and the lake became a distant memory. Centuries­old festivals such as the Ganga Pooja, when hundreds of lamps were lit and floated on the water, were discontinued.

The lake is worshipped during the annual Karaga festival.

During other times, it draws a few diehard believers ­ the fisherman who feeds Brahminy kites with fish from the remnant tank, and the community that lights lamps around the kalyani to celebrate Shivaratri.

The lake though reclaims its identity during monsoons, when it collects water as a low lying depression, no matter its name. Nature, as always, has the last word.

(This is the second part in the series, "A City's Water Chronicles". The first part was published on Monday: >Blessings and curses: the construction of lakes in Bengaluru )

Hita Unnikrishnan and B. Manjunatha are from the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment. Harini Nagendra works on Sustainability at Azim Premji University.

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