Posts Tagged ‘culture’


On the water culture of the Naxi people of Yunnan , China.

July 13, 2013

Fostering a water culture


The province of Yunnan is in the South-East of China. The mighty Yangtze River, the Mekong and the Salween rivers flow through this water rich land. The rivers come very close to each other here and then separate to flow in different directions. The Salween goes to Burma, the Mekong to Vietnam and the Yangtze stays in China to empty itself into the sea near Shanghai. The high mountain area is declared a UNESCO Heritage site for its sheer natural beauty, its rich water resource and its high bio-diversity. This ensures that the area is preserved and managed in such a fashion that the community needs are met without disturbing the ecology of the place. Our rivers which originate in the Western Ghats deserve this ecological protection too and those who benefit the most from the rivers should be at the fore-front of protecting it at source.

In the town of Lijiang in the North of the province is the town of Lijiang. The old town was inhabited for long by the Naxi people, an ethnic minority population in China known for their beautiful cloth embroidery but also for the way they have integrated water into their habitat and managed it. A Water Wheel stands in the town, also declared a UNESCO Heritage site for its water wisdom and use, and still works. In fact water wheels dot the landscape and in the old town it looks like almost every house had one , to grind the corn , to lift water and to have a myriad other purpose. Lijiang has a series of canals, waterways and water bodies which dot the landscape. The Naxi were and are truly the masters of water.

The spirit of one of their systems truly captures the way the community dealt with water and recognized its quality value. It is called the Three wells model. Water from springs and small channels are led into three beautifully designed storage structures. In the language of the Naxi it is the three wells.

The first well upstream or where the water enters is used for drinking and cooking purpose only. This is the cleanest water. The second well is used for washing vegetables for here the water is less clean. The third well is used for washing clothes, dishes and for other use for this is the lowest water quality of the three yet still clean.


By not polluting the water channels and using the water therein directly, by creating a beautiful architecture around the use of water and by inculcating a discipline and a culture for water use ingrained in the behaviour of the society, the clean water of the area has been used and protected for centuries. Modernity and the lack of understanding of this concept by other communities is a concern now for the entire water system can be destroyed by the bad behaviour of the few.

In India too we see water bodies and wells being strewn with garbage and a lack of discipline in maintaining the water resource. Destroying the local will only create a dependency on the outside water and we will find that there is not enough for us to come in from the ‘outside’. Education, discipline and behavior become culture and in wise water culture is the preservation and sustainable use of the resource.

We can all learn from the Naxi people how to use water wisely. In that lies water wisdom.


India- Our Water Heritage

November 13, 2010

Know your water heritage


The cultural heritage around water has tremendous tourism and knowledge potential, which in the West enhances property value in the area and spurs local economy. A study by water expert S. Vishwanath

Stately:The Wellesley Bridge on the Cauvery built in 1894

India has a rich cultural heritage on water structures and architecture. Consider the beautiful step-wells all around the country from Hampi in Karnataka, Abaneri in Rajasthan and Bundelkhand to Adalaj Vav near Ahmedabad. Water structures include the ‘ghats’ or river bank steps at Srirangapatna, Benaras and on the banks of the Narmada. Water architecture has is reflected in the temple ponds or the ‘kalyani’ in Melkote, Thiruvananthapuram and Madurai. Water aesthetics have been elaborated as the beautiful channels and fountains at Humayun’s tomb Delhi or again at Hampi.

Often forgotten are the more prosaic but equally beautiful structures like the large open wells with their beautiful granite dry stone pitching, bridges built of stone or brick masonry with their arches, dams built of earth and lime mortar, aqueducts which brought water to cities, siphons which helped empty reservoirs when they were full and pumps which helped ship water to distant cities.

All these cultural heritage structures and devices around water have tremendous tourism and knowledge potential which in the West enhances property value all around and spurs the local economy. In Sydney, Paddington reservoir, one of the oldest of its kind, has been restored and made into a recreation spot with signboards explaining the history and evolution of the system. Cities and governments needs to revisit these structures and draw up a plan to fit it around the local needs.

Consider the history of water supply to a city like Bangalore. A dam was built on the Arkavathy at Hessarghatta in 1894 and it is one of the most beautiful and scenic spots around Bangalore. There is a siphon here which when the reservoir was full in the olden days would empty the excess waters. The sound of the siphon could be heard for miles, say the old timers. The reservoir now does not fill up but the siphon is itself in a state of disrepair and there is no explanatory board to suggest how the system functions.

A brick aqueduct would bring water some kilometres from Hessarghatta to a place called Turubanhalli from where a steam engine imported from the U.K. was used to lift the waters to a reservoir at Jalahalli. From here the water would flow to the ‘jewel filters’ at Malleswaram and be distributed to the city. The steam engines are still there in pristine condition but tucked away in a room and the brick aqueduct is being eaten away by vandals, destroying a precious heritage. Again, no explanatory boards are seen anywhere.

No respect for history

Bangalore was also one of the first cities in India to have electricity which was then used to replace the steam pumps with electric ones. This too is a remarkable thing needing to be showcased but, alas, we do not respect history and our heritage.

Virtually nothing of this system or the feats of our engineers has been preserved or showcased to the city and its younger generation. We are, it seems, not proud of our engineering skills.

Consider the beautiful Wellesley bridge, called the ‘haley sethuve’ or old bridge, in Srirangapatna. Built during 1802-04 the beautiful stone bridge still continuous to be functional and can take car traffic too. How many modern structures can claim such longevity? Yet there is virtually little information available on this beautiful bridge. Trees and roots establish themselves on the deck and the pillars, the old sign board announcing its inauguration by none other than Dewan Purnaiah is unmanaged and the bridge is in slow decay.

None of the property and resorts that have come along on the banks of the Cauvery do anything to highlight and help preserve this engineering marvel. Neither does the Tourism Department or the PWD Department.

In Humayun’s tomb in Delhi and in Hampi, work is in progress to revitalise and showcase the water heritage. Channels, ponds and ‘kalyani’ are being revived, fountains resurrected and explanation boards coming up. This is good work, but just the beginning. Similarly we need to focus on all such structures for in them there are lessons of creativity and overcoming problems through engineering ingenuity. More institutions apart from the Archaeology Department need to get involved. The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board can take up the revitalisation work of Bangalore city’s water heritage, for example.

The PWD can refrain from what it did with the beautiful old stone bridge on the Shimsha at Maddur built in the 1850s, which it dismantled and sold as stones. It can take up the restoration of the Wellesley Bridge aesthetically and showcase its design.

By respecting our water tradition and culture and by letting our young generation know about the efforts put behind the marvellous structures we will have spread water literacy and done justice to our forefathers’ works. That in a sense is the path to water wisdom.