Wednesday 31 July 2013

Biting the hand that fed us

This tank not only supplied water to the residents of  Bangalore but it was also the place where large crowds gathered in the evenings, spending time eating roasted nuts, munching tidbits and sitting on the steps, watching the steam locomotives huff and puff their way to and from the City Railway Station.
The water body was perhaps one of the most recognised landmarks of Bangalore in the 19th century and everyone who came to Bangalore by train saw the clear water and admired its beauty. Among the admirers of this tank were India’s first Prime Minister and statesman, Jawaharlal Nehru.
Nehru loved the way a passenger would be greetd woth the clear waters of the tan once he stepped out of the station. The wonderful sight of the vast water body charmed millions of people whpo carried back tales of the city of lakes back home.
The tank was surrounded by small and petty shops cart sellers and even houses. There were also several boarding houses for the poor and needy which gave shelter to the homeless. Several men of repute, including Swamy Vivekananda, sat near the tank.
Of course, Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi visited Bangalore several times and during one of their visits they found that the tank had dried up and given way to a vast ground where people gathered in large numbers. Nehru too along with other Congress giants and Mahatma Gandhi addressed huge gatherings on the dry tank bed. People then called it Gandhi Sagara.
Both Nehru and little Indira, as he called her, stayed during one of their visits at the house of a Congress leader in Cottonpet. The Congress in the State grew so attched to the ground that they wrote to the Mysore Government seeking a lease on it. The Wodeyars, who were chary of  antagonising the British or encouding the freedom movement in their Kingdom, demurred and so the tank bed remained for several more years before it completely lost out to growing urbanisation.
The tank, after the fall of Tipu Sultan, was the lifeline of the Bangalore Pettah area and it was also the boundary between the Cantonment (Civil and Military Station) and the Pettah area. Just across the tank was the Resident’s House and a little down was the Cantonment Railway Station.
All roads of the Pettah, including the now disused and broken down fort of City Market, radiated towards the lake. The many pettahs founded by Kemp Gowda-Chickpet, Balepet, Narasinghpet, Taramandalpet, Cottonpet and surrounding areas prospered and became a business and trading hub.
The tank too along with other water bodies provided clear ad pristine water to the people of Hale Bangalore or Pettah. Though historians ascribe the construction of this tank to Kempe Gowda sometime in 1537,  this water body finds mention in a Hoysala inscription of 1247 where it is called the Dodda Kere of Vengaluru.
It was this Dodda Kere or big tank that Kempe Gowda repaired, renovated and enlarged when he founded the City of Bangalore. He named the water body as Dharmambudhi Tank. Why it was so named is still a mystery.
There was another tank near the railway station and this was named as Jakkarayanakere. Today, the Platform road is the only reminder of the once vast lake. To the othet side of the railways station was the lake near Binny Mills.
Coming back to the the Dharmambudhi tank, this was one of the series of tanks and lakes developed by Kempe Gowda for providing water to the city he founded. The tank extended upto the Subedar Chatram Road where the Annamma temple today stands. The tank also irrigated the paddy fields and flower gardens of Tulasi Thotha and surrounding areas.
Water channels from the Dharmambudhi tank were constructed along the streets of the Pettah and water was let into these channels. Residents of the Pettah gathered water from these channels at various points called Karanjis or square depressions cut of stone.
The Dharmambudhi Tank and other water bodies like Sampangiramnagar provided employment to a new class of people called water carriers. Thes water carriers ferried water from the tanks to their custmers in skin bags slun across poles placed on their shoulders. The affluent class employed such water carriers on a regular basis.
The waters of the Dharmambudhi tank extended upto the steps of the Anjeneya Temple near Majestic. The temple authorities conducted theepotsava every year and it drew arge crowds. The many uses of the tank led people to name it as Jeeva kere.  
When famine ravaged Mysore State, including Bangalore in 1877, the Government ordered desilting work of the Dharmambudhi tank and repaired its supply channels to provide employment to the impoverished people. The desilting was a success and it led to increased supply of drinking water to the pete or Pettah.
The then Municipality decided to deveop the grounds adjacent to the lake and called it Chicklalbagh. The foundation for the park was laid in the same year and it was completed in 1878. The Mysore Government then decided to organize Nadaswaram recital every Sunday evening between 6 p.m., and 8 p.m., at the park.
With more and more people gathering in and around the tank, debris, filth and sewage began to build up and the tank slowly began shrinking both in extent and in quantity.
During summer, the tank water dried up and people defecated on the tank bed and in the water channels. They also dumped garbage and filth. When the rains came. The filth was pushed into the tank and soon it began to emit a foul smell.
In 1892-93, the monsoons failed Bangalore along with other parts of the Mysore Kingdom witnessed severe water shortage. The Dharmambudhi tank too dried up and the Government decided to fill up the tank with water from Hebbal tank and Jakkarayana tank. No less than 23,20,000 gallons of water was flushed into the Dharmambudhi tank from the Hebbal tank.
In 1889, when Prince Albert Victor, son of Queen of British India, Victoria, alighted at the Bangalore railway station, he was welcomed by dancers who performed on a float placed in the centre of the Dharmambudhi tank.
The famous Purnaiah Chatra and several other mathas were located on the south-eastern side of the tank. The Poornaiah choultry is a school now. Besides, there were three free boarding houses or chatras adjacent to the tank.
The Government, by then, realised that the tanks and lakes would not suffice to fulfill the growing needs of Bangalore. The Government took up construction of the Hesarghatta Reservior and committed itself to providing piped water supply to residents of Bangalore. The first piped water flowed into Bangalore in 1896 and all the water tanks and lakes, including Dharmambudhi, came to be neglected.    
The Municipality allowed the tank to become dry and by the turn of the 20th century, it had almost disappeared but for a small patch of water. In 1905,  the Mysore Government suggested to the Bangalore Municipality to convert the Dharmambudhi tank into a children’s park. However, the municipality felt that the tank could be maintained as a water body. It replied that when it had sufficient funds, it would divert water from Sankey lake into Dharmambudhi. This promises remained only on paper and it soon came to be forgotten.
Exactly two decades later, in 1925, the Municipality dug a well on the now dry bed of Dharmambudhi tank. This was to pump water immediately to the water starved areas of  Balepet and Manavarthpet. The municipality then hired the Dharmambudhi tank bed for holding public meetings, exhibitions and events and only a little shallow water near the Chiklalbagh side reminded people of the lake.
In 1931, Jawaharlal Nehru addressed a public meeting here and hoisted the tricolour as part of the Freedom Movement. In July 1931, the Bangalore City Congress Committee requested the municipality to lease the north western corner of  the tank bed for five years at an annual rent of Rs 6. The Municipality forwarded the request to the Government, which turned down the request.
The decades after Independence saw rapid urbanization of Bangalore and the Dharmambudhi tank slowly began dying. By 1957, the water had completely dried and from the 1960s, it was only a playground where Congress exhibitions were held.  
Soon after Independence, the dry tank was named Subashnagar in honor of Subash Chandra Bose. The tank bed became a popular venue for public meetings, exhibitions and other events. In 1963,  the land was handed over to the KSRTC and several years later, the Chief Minister, R Gundu Rao, asked the KSRTC to construct a mofussil and city bus stand.

Today, the only remnant of the lake is the name of Dharmambudhi Tank Bund Road. The Tulasi Thotha and Chick Lalbagh exist as also the Railway Station. Sadly, the waters of the tank are now only a memory and only a handful of the millions who pass by daily remember it.
There is no use blaming the Government alone for the death of the lake. All of us are equally responsible for biting the hand that fed us.   

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