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Water Heritage


                                                                                                                                          The Hindu, New Delhi,  9th January, 2015

There is much to be learnt from distant villages in terms of water sustainability and engineering knowledge.

The landscape is one of rocks and red soils and it is high above the city of Kolar. The seven villages here are called the Shatashrunga. For many years there was no motorable road and so the villages were quiet and peaceful. The road arrived, the buses did and finally the tourists, in droves to visit the holy places in the area.

Up here the land is rocky and there are few places to cultivate. Farmers have struggled over decades removing rocks and tilling the hard soil. Nature, however, has given a reward. Groundwater is plenty. A couple of springs are found and in general wells contain water at 10 to 20 feet. So the farmers have built wells in plenty. With dry stone masonry as is the norm. To lift the water they had resorted to the beautiful Persian Wheel, a garland of pots, which would dot the landscape.

But things have changed. The old farmers have died. Land has been sold to urban ‘farmers’. Electric lines have arrived with their intermittent power supply and so pumps have sprung up everywhere. Thimmanna the farmer was about 80 or 90 depending on his mood. He would swear that as long as he was alive he would retain his ‘bucket machine’, as the Persian Wheel was referred to. He passed away last year. His sons are not that keen to retain the Persian Wheel and so slowly it has fallen apart. What is so important about it? This was perhaps the last Persian Wheel in operation for Karnataka. It is the end of an era which perhaps lasted a few centuries here but about a 1,000 years in the country.

As one moves around and takes a look at all the beautiful open wells here one notices that most are now derelict. Absentee land-lords do not make for good upkeep. Yet one is in for a surprise. A small new well has sprung up. It is square in shape and no more than a few feet deep. There is good water. It is but to cultivate a small patch of land growing vegetables. The farmer from the shepherd community has rigged an old water lifting device called the Yeta or the Etram.

It is a pivoted long lever of wood with a weight on one side and a bucket on the other to lift water. By shifting the weight it is possible to continuously lift water. This too is a heritage device and is nice to see a living heritage.

One wishes that we had the wisdom and understanding to recognize such areas the Shatashrunga hills as water heritage and conservation zones and did our best to keep the wells, the Persian Wheels and the Yeta going. There is much to be learnt here in terms of water sustainability and engineering knowledge. But this too will be a distant memory and soon we will fall short of water.

If you have the time do visit Kolar, go up the Anthargange hills and see the last living water lifting devices of a heritage that lasted many years. Go in the evening when the sun’s rays at dusk light up a red soil landscape with amazing colours and see the water wisdom of the ancients.

zenrainman@gmail.com

http://www.thehindu.com/features/homes-and-gardens/water-heritage/article6772125.ece