The sacred lakes of Bengaluru

Updated - June 24, 2015 04:02 pm IST

Published - June 24, 2015 07:42 am IST

Lakes across Bengaluru are dotted with shrines that worship different forms of feminine Shakti. Photo: Seema Mundoli

Lakes across Bengaluru are dotted with shrines that worship different forms of feminine Shakti. Photo: Seema Mundoli

“The Pandavas rested here and played with the rocks while waiting for their pot of rice to cook”, narrated a grazer pointing to a few large boulders scattered near the Doddagubbi lake outflow. Similar myths abound about other lakes in and around Bengaluru.

These stories, shared by local residents, underscore the religious and cultural links between lakes and residents extending over generations. The lake not only supports the livelihood of grazers, fishers and agriculturists, but is an important sacred space in the profane city.

A walk along the bund of Doddagubbi reveals the nature of these sacred interactions. Stones, smeared with kumkum and turmeric under a tamarind tree, symbolise the lord Muneeshwara. A shrine dedicated to a goddess, revered as the keredevatha , is on the bund. Lakes across Bengaluru are dotted with these shrines that worship different forms of the feminine Shakti, like Gangamma and Dugalamma. Prayers offered to these shrines sought an abundant supply of water, and protection from disease and disasters like breaching of the lake bund.

The overflow of a lake is a time of celebration of the harvest season for villagers: poojas are held and lamps, in some cases made of paddy and weighing nearly 10 kilos, are floated giving thanks for a bountiful harvest. This practice, however, has been discontinued in Doddagubbi where there has been no overflow for a few years, as well as in lakes across Bengaluru. Other occupational groups like grazers, dhobhis and fishermen too have specific spiritual relations with lakes across the city, aimed at seeking protection for their livelihoods. The dhobhis , for example, construct dome shaped mud structures and pray that clothes entrusted to them are not spoilt.

Nagarkallus , or snake stones, on the lake bund of Doddagubbi are another visible presence of the sacred that are cared for and worshipped. The graveyard adjacent to the lake, shared by Doddagubbi and other villages, is where the ancestors of residents are buried. Religious rites for the deceased, that include offering rice and til, are still performed in lakes across the city.

The cultural and religious links between locals and lakes across the city are rapidly eroding. This is visible even in Doddagubbi, as the surrounding area develops, but those that are still retained provide a peep into a relationship between humans and nature that extended beyond the mere utilitarian.

(This is the third part in the series, "A City's Water Chronicles". The first and second parts were published on Monday and Tuesday: >Blessings and curses: the construction of lakes in Bengaluru and >Sampangi Lake: Lessons from history )

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

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