Introduction to Bangalore’s tanks

INTACH’s Parichay at Kudlu earlier this week started off most unusually – with a sacrifice. As one group of people assembled near the Muneshwara temple in Kudlu, waiting for the Parichay (heritage walk) to begin, another set of people had gathered there for a sacrifice of two goats and two chickens.

INTACH Parichay to Bangalore’s Tanks, led by Rohan D’Souza. Pic: Arul Jegadish.

With that auspicious beginning, this Parichay’s walk leader Rohan D;Souza, began talking to the group about Bangalore’s lakes. Or tanks, to be more precise. As Rohan, a researcher at National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), pointed out, Bangalore’s water bodies are not natural so calling any of them a lake is a misnomer.

Rohan gave us a brief snapshot of Bangalore’s topography and the hundreds of tanks that were built in its three valleys (Arkavathi, Vrishabhavati and Koramangala) to harness water. Some of these, like the Agara tank, date back to at least the 9th century. The Kudlu kere is also probably as old: a 9th century inscription mentions the village but not the tank specifically, but it seems reasonable to assume that if the village existed, so did its associated tank.

Our first pause point was at the first overflow weir (now defunct) or Rajakaluve on the tank bund, where Rohan talked about how tanks systems were organised into a hierarchy, based on elevation. At Kudlu, for example, overflow from the Parappana Agrahara tank less than a kilometre upstream would enter the Kudlu tank, while overflow weirs from Kudlu kere led to the next tank downstream, at Haralur.

Kudlu kere. Pic: Arul Jegadish.

This area is situated off Haralur Road, that connects Sarjapur Road to Hosur Road. The Central Jail is situated on the periphery of the kere, at Parappana Agrahara and also some housing projects of Karnataka Slum Clearance Board.

Further down the bund, we came upon the sluice gate through which water was once released into the agricultural lands adjacent to the tank. Rohan also spoke about the Neerganti community who were responsible for maintaining the canals and sluices, in return for which they were given tax-free lands (inam lands). This well-oiled system broke down gradually, beginning first with the abolition of the inam system. With urbanisation came further changes.

As we walked the length of the bund to the other rajakaluve or overflow channel – this one still functioning – Rohan touched on other aspects of changes that have led to the decline of tanks. With the supply of Cauvery water, for example, people stopped being dependent on tanks for their household needs. Other problems arose, such as of large-scale inflow of sewage, which made the water in many tanks unfit for use.

Sewage contaminated water flowing in one of the Rajakaluves connecting the kere downstream. Pic: Arul Jegadish.

In fact, as Rohan pointed out, sewage inputs have led to some tanks transforming from seasonal, rainfed reservoirs into perennial water bodies! All in all, the change in perception from tanks or keres to lakes mirrors a change in their role. From being an integral part of the social, cultural and economic lives of the communities around them, tanks are now being seen as water bodies that need to be protected as pristine oases of nature.

Rohan’s talk brought on some lively discussions among the Parichay folks. One of the participants, Anitha Susheelan, an architect who teaches at RV College, spoke about how if we are to save the city’s tanks rather than merely preserve them, we need to think creatively to re-establish connections between Bangaloreans and the water and tanks around them. Another participant, Priya Ramasubban, spoke at length about her experience of working on a management plan for Kaikondrahalli tank with the residents and communities around it.

All in all, it was an eye-opening Parichay on land-water connections and the impact on tanks of the social change Bangalore is undergoing. Thank you, Rohan, for a great introduction to Bangalore’s tank systems.

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