Salvaging symbols of heritage

THE sun can steal water from open ponds and masonary tanks but cannot do so from kunds and tankaas. Kunds or kundis, as they are called in rural Haryana, owe their name to their particular shape and structural features. These are small cylinder-shaped, pucca, underground structures where rain water is stored. Tankaas are small, pucca tanks, rectangular or square-shaped, built underground in homes which also store runoff fresh rain water. Both the kunds and tankaas are not only our traditional symbols of water harvesting but also served as the lifeline of people in desert areas where rainfall is unpredictable and scanty and the subsoil water deep and brackish. As compared to digging wells, building kunds and kundis required less effort and investment. ÿ The kundis, kunds and tankaas are found mainly in the south-western arid region of Haryana, adjoining Rajasthan. A couple of years ago, Anupam Mishra of the Gandhi Peace Foundation, Delhi, and author of two remarkable books on our water heritage, informed me about the existence of a number of kundis and tankaas in Bhiwani and Hisar districts. I had not been aware of their existence in this area but knew only that kundis and tankaas were part of our water heritage in settlements of the desert districts of Rajasthan viz., Churu, Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Barmer.

The Kanggar aala Kund

We launched our search operations beyond Bhiwani town. While proceeding towards Loharu from Bhiwani, we stopped at Lohani village. To our delight, we got valuable information from there. One young man was, however, amazed to learn about our mission and was also amused at our ignorance ‘ the fact that we had left behind an old kund site on the roadside a few kilometres back. Thanking him, I quickly returned and in a few minutes reached a dilapidated and neglected site which to us had appeared like an old serai for herdsmen. Only on entering the vast enclosure, did we realise that it was actually the kind of kund we were searching for. A really big kund, its pucca floor made of good quality lime mortar was not less than half an acre long. The rain water could enter the cylindrical pit through a dozen holes made at an appropriate level. These holes also served as exit points for the excess water in the kund outflow. The excess water flowed into the adjoining garden which was deliberately kept at a low level. Thus, dirty water could not re-enter the kund. This arrangement was universally adopted by masons wherever they constructed a kund or a tankaa. This kund had been named Kanggar aala Kund because the territory surrounding it was known as Kanggar. Unlike the usual parabolic covers, the roof of the Kanggar aala was made flat. Besides erecting twin pillar-posts and a flat stone slab for affixing a pulley on one side of the octagonal platform of this kund, a small rectangular opening with an iron sheet cover was also provided for. In those days, when this kund was built, merchandise traders accompanied by laden caravans frequently and conveniently stayed at the serai adjoining the kund. Unfortunately, we did not find any inscription on any of the kund structures. However, old residents of Devsar, a nearby village, informed us that the kund dates back to over hundred years. Regrettably, both the kund and adjoining serai are in a shambles. The water in the kund was found unsuitable for human consumption by us. The large shady trees on its premises had either withered or had been reduced to stumps. Wild grass was all over its catchment floor. The boundary wall showed signs of chipping. Due to decades of human neglect, the once popular and serenely located Kanggar aala Kund had become defunct and fallen to disgrace.


The Debi aala Kund at Devsar
Since more such kunds could exist in the surrounding area, we next headed for a small hamlet called Maluwaas. Here, we were able to locate a couple of kunds and kundis. Surrounded by high sand dunes, villagers had built them more than 50 years ago. One of these was a community-owned kund, two were built by the Jats and the fourth by a Mahajan of the village, who had long since left. Two of these kunds were fairly well maintained but the others were in a state of decay. With some hope of finding more such kunds, we left Maluwaas and headed for Devsar, as villages of Rajputs famous for its annual Debi fair. The road from Maluwaas to Devsar was potholed and covered with sand blown by hot winds. Mid-way, we stopped near a fort-like structure which had a huge entrance gate. We quenched our thirst with the sweet and cool water brought by one of its attendants. When we enquired about the source of the water, he pointed towards a kund, much like the Kanggar aala Kund. The fort-like structure turned out to be a large serai with another large kund. Eightythree years ago, Seth Baidya Nath, a caravan trader, had got this serai built as a secure resting place for caravans that often followed this sandy route between Bhiwani and Loharu (via Devsar) on mela days. Amidst high sand dunes, it is just two kilometres away from Devsar. The serai, surrounded by a high boundary wall, has several residential quarters and storehouses for storing large quantities of animal fodder, foodgrains and fuel wood. Sweet and potable water in adequate quantity could always be obtained from the kund on the premises. Leaving the Chauki aala Kund behind, we headed towards Devsar. Here, we found a kund built on similar lines below a hillock, in the lap of which exist temples of various Hindu deities. On receiving information that a big tankaa existed on the premises of an old dharamshala in the village, we reached to inspect it. In memory of her husband, Bimbodevi, widow of Lala Hardyal Mal Bansal, got this large dharamshala built 53 years ago for the benefit of pilgrims who visited the annual Debi fair. The tankaa holds at least 5600 cubic feet of runoff rain water from the spacious roof of the dharamshala building. A haveli of one of the Mahajans of this village too had a large tankaa. It is regrettable that the kund below the hillock, named Debi aala Kund, is defunct and in a state of neglect. Till only 30 years ago, this kund was the main source of potable water for pilgrims and nomads. As soon as the water from the nearby Jui distributary canal became available, the trustees of the temple complex approached the Public Health authorities. On getting approval, they lost no time in installing a dozen taps near the kund. While the Debi aala Kund has been rendered defunct, it was a pleasure to see the tankaa in the dharamshala was being used. Soon we were on the look out for more kunds and kundis on the old caravan routes in the villages around.

While proceeding towards Loharu, the kundis at Pohkarwaas village were discovered by us per chance. Some 30 kilometres away from Bhiwani on the Loharu road, we found several old kundis, some of them in excellent state of preservation, behind a dharamshala. All of them, however, are now defunct. Forty six years ago, Ram Kumari Devi, widow of Pandit Mehar Chand, got a couple of these kundis built in the memory of her husband. An inscription on a stone slab still exists above the arch of the main gate of the complex which houses the kundis. The first kundi, a large one, was for the Brahmins of the village, the second and the third kundi were for villagers belonging to other castes. Besides these, three more kundis without covers were later built by the villagers. The kundis built by Ram Kumari Devi have artistically designed parabolic roof-caps on them with the usual rectangular openings, twin pillars and pulleys on them. Although rain water still collects in the covered kundis, the villagers do not draw water from them now because the structures haven’t been cleaned for years. Before the arrival of water through taps, these kundis and a magnificent old well adjoining the dharamshala on the road were the main sources for obtaining potable water. The kundis at Pohkarwaas can easily be revived but the question that looms large is ‘ who needs them now’

In our next visit in the area, we again chanced upon a score of kundis in Miran village. This large village of Suhag Jats is surrounded by huge sand dunes. Inside the village, we found at least 20 kundis. All of them were in a state of disuse. There were just a few functional tankaas ‘ one of them was in a school building. Some of the surviving kundis built over 50 years ago, exist in the male courtyards (ghers) of Jats and Baniyas. We found some of them being filled with debris or household refuge. The structures of two kundis, built 50 years ago by Gulab Singh, a Mahajan, in his gher, have survived. The new generation of villagers do not seem to care for kundis. The kundis became defunct with the coming of the Siwani distributary near the village. Despite our efforts we could not discover more kunds and kundis in this region except in Barwaa village. In the backyard of a haveli owned by Lala Hukam Chand and Harlal, we found a 24-foot deep kundi.

Unlike the kunds in Rajasthan desert, t kunds and kundis in Haryana are in a state of neglect and disuse. In a few years time, when tap water obtained through pipes attached to canals and distributaries flowing with Himalayan waters will become scarce, it will perhaps be too late to resurrect the structures of the existing kunds and kundis. Everything relating to the structures ‘ the techniques used and the expert masons ‘ will no longer be available. Realising the future needs, village communities should not only salvage the existing kunds and kundis but also popularise and build more such structures lest significant symbols of our heritage are lost forever. It is erroneous to think that this rural and native technology used for harvesting rain water through kunds, kundis and tankaas has become obsolete. They are still highly relevant to our people in the rural areas, living a life of hardship in the semi-arid and desert region of Haryana. The cultural and historical significance of kunds, kundis and tankaas can hardly be underscored.

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