Udumbara Radio-History of Bengaluru’s water Resilience

The episode talks about the history of water resilience in Bengaluru. In this episode, Dr. Harini Nagendra and Sandeep Anirudhan chart the evolution of the water resilience of Bengaluru from hundreds of years ago. Dr. Harini Nagendra is an ecologist with a PhD from the Indian Institute of Science. Her main area of focus is the study of urban ecosystems. She has authored several books and currently works in the Azim Premji university as a professor in sustainability. Her interest was due to a personal motivation. She got involved in a lake restoration near her house in Sarjapur and that’s how it all started.

Sandeep Anirudhan is the founder of the AIKYAM community for sustainability. He is an economics major and an ex-serial entrepreneur. However, now he calls himself a ‘bankrupt monk’. His passion for sustainable farming and living lead him to discover the Bhoomi College’s year long sustainable program. This was just the beginning of his community driven sustainability initiatives. His journey started when his father passed away. He quit his job after that and started his quest in sustainability. In a span of 15-20 years, Bengaluru transformed from a green garden to a concrete village. The lakes were all polluted and all the resources almost destroyed, and the people didn’t even flinch. This ignorance was what evoked his passion in sustainability.

There are varying versions of Bengaluru’s history.  Some people believe that the place got its name because of some baked beans, some people believe that it was because of it was the land of the Bunga tree and some say it was representative of the color of a particular rock.

A variety of coins were found in Bengaluru which indicates that the city was the center of some trade route. This is difficult to believe since the city isn’t near any water source so the concept of trade in out of the question in such a place. But in spite of this there was evidence suggesting otherwise. Inscriptions on copper plates and stones from the 6th century tell us about how the settlements were formed in and around Bengaluru. This city was ruled and built by the Cholas, Hoysalas and the Vijayanagara empire. The Cholas were known for building tanks to harvest the rainwater. It all started with this lake in Villipuram. The lake was dug out and filled with rainwater which supplied water to the nearby villages. This provided water for the cultivation of the paddy downstream and water for millets upstream. Many such lakes and tanks were dug out and the rainwater was harvested. These lakes and tanks were connected so that when the lakes overflowed, the excess water would get collected in wetlands which could be used for cultivation. Also, on either side of the lake, open wells were constructed which was used to harvest the groundwater. These were usually used by people of different caste for different purposes. Smaller ponds or Kuntes were also built which served different purposes including cattle washing, cloth washing, for drinking, agricultural purposes as well as domestic purposes. The thing about all these local water bodies such as lakes, tanks and kuntes was that the boundary wasn’t fixed. During the monsoon season, the water would overflow to the neighboring  lands and help in cultivation of paddy. In the summers, as the water receded, one could find fish and if it receded further, you could find rubber grass which was used as cattle feed and honagone soppu, which was consumed by the people. Overall, there was food for the people throughout the year in spite of the city being away from a perennial source of water. This was possible only because of the water resilience of the place.

In addition to these local water bodies having functional uses, they were also a part of people’s culture. People back then were more connected with nature and felt the innate need to preserve their natural resources. When Kempegowda set up the city back in the day, he built many lakes and planted innumerable trees. All rulers after also paid great heed to these lakes and wells and made conscious efforts to add to these resources.

Even after the British took over, this tradition continued for a while. Around 1809 when the British cantonment was constructed near the Ulsoor lake. After this, Sankey tank was constructed by Colonel Sankey and it was the largest tank that was constructed in Bengaluru. After this, the British declared that there was no place to build anymore lakes. In following years, many lakes were drained out to accommodate the many projects of the British. This included making places available for playing pool, for breweries and for bungalows. Due to this reckless way in which they handled the water resources, there were severe droughts between 1888 to 1891. This led to water being brought in from outside through pipes. This led to a drastic shift in the way people thought about and treated water resources. They lost their connect with nature. They didn’t put in effort to maintain it anymore because water was coming in from outside. This ultimately led to the demise of local water bodies.

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