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Rejuvenating ancient sources to combat water scarcity

The groves and the Indrayani river which sees a gathering of more than a lakh pilgrims during wari season.  

In the backdrop of the acute water crisis gripping Maharashtra, environmental groups, in conjunction with the local administration, have embarked on a unique initiative to rejuvenate ancient water sources of the famed pilgrim town of Alandi, 28 km from Pune.

The project aims at rejuvenating 52 puratan kundas or ancient water reservoirs located around Alandi which is the birthplace of Dnyaneshwar, the 13th Century saint, poet and philosopher and one of the pivotal figures of the Bhakti movement in medieval India.

This initiative is being carried out by All World Gayatri Pariwar (AWGP), an NGO, in conjunction with the city-based Biospheres, and the Rotary Club of Pune.

With Alandi’s residents struggling with water scarcity, this initiative aims at rejuvenating these extremely polluted kundas while conserving the town’s natural water heritage and ecologically reviving the depleted groundwater table.

“Quite apart from the intense religiosity and spiritual sanctity of this place is an important environmental and social significance to this project. Given the paucity of water in Maharashtra and with natural resources depleting at an alarming rate, the rationale is to conserve our natural water heritage,” Sachin Punekar, founder-president of Biospheres, told The Hindu.

Dr. Punekar said that once these reservoirs were cleaned, people could use them as alternative potable water sources and other purposes as in earlier times.

“The ancient name of Alandi was ‘Alankapuri’. So we see this initiative as a journey from Alandi to Alankapuri by restoring its ancient environmental heritage,” said Shailendra Patel of the AWGP, urging the State government to bestow natural heritage status on such patches of land and conserve them.

Since times immemorial, the water in these reservoirs was used not only for drinking and other purposes but also had medicinal uses.

“However, the aura of holiness associated with these kundas has long disappeared as people now use them to dump sewage and solid waste. Coupled with the flow of effluents, a floating population of 25,000 only adds to the pollution which gets worse during the ‘wari’ season where more than a lakh pilgrims end up dirtying these reservoirs,” observes Dr. Punekar.

Near Alandi lies a dense grove at Siddhabet, sited on the confluence of the Kuberganga and Indrayani rivers. This grove is home to the ‘wisdom tree’ or Ajaanvruksha (Ehretia laevis) where Saint Dnyaneshwar is believed to have taken his samadhi in 1296 CE at the tender age of 21.

The abhangas (devotional poetry) of the poet-saints Eknath and Dnyaneshwar speak of an increase in one’s knowledge after chewing the leaves of this tree.

A number of live springs which form the water source for these ancient reservoirs originate in these groves which is rich in biodiversity.

Pointing out to the significance of this grove, Dr. Punekar says the grove, with its strong historic-religious association, acts as a natural groundwater recharge for a number of these ancient reservoirs or kundas.

“This project also aims to conserve such groves around temple towns that are rich in biodiversity, but are reeling under the onslaught of urbanisation. With such strong associations with Dnyaneshwar’s life and work, the key to preserving the grove and cleaning the kundas is sensitising people by making them aware of their spiritual heritage,” Dr. Punekar said, adding that it was essential to address the problem of cleaning the entire Bhima river basin (whose tributary is the Indrayani river) to rejuvenate these water springs and kundas.

“It is imperative to preserve the hillocks around Alandi and Dehu where these groves are sited. This natural water heritage has to be preserved for future security of the livestock in this area as well,” he said.

Dr. Punekar said the need of the hour was to secure these natural water resources through proper monitoring after the environmental groups had finished cleaning the reservoirs.

“The council will aim at conserving these water sources which can certainly function as alternative sources to tide over the crisis in times of drought,” Sameer Bhumkar, CEO of Alandi Municipal Council, told The Hindu.

However, he pointed out that there were formidable obstacles to be surmounted.

“The municipal council is already short-staffed. We will require the support of NGOs to maintain these stretches. The task of cleaning and then conserving these kundas is an uphill one requiring the participation and cooperation of the locals,” he said, adding that the historical and ecological significance of these water bodies needed to be stressed upon.

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Printable version | Mar 3, 2021 12:57:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/rejuvenating-ancient-sources-to-combat-water-scarcity/article27153864.ece

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