Sisandra- A watering hole for travellers
Sisandras are the traditional water conservation structures found in parts of Karnataka. Built in stone and located on the sides of roads and highways, sisandras can be commonly seen in selected areas of Karnataka. These intriguing tub-like structures were constructed to provide water to the weary traveller. Built by the rich and the poor alike, the sisandras are a unique practice that has sadly, faded away.
Sisandras are found on the rural roads of Kolar, Tumkur, Chitradurga and certain parts of Bangalore district. At the entrance to Chitradurga fort, there is a well preserved sisandra. One sisandra was recently found while digging a foundation for a house in Kolar area. It is presently housed in the office of the District Armed Forces. Similar structures are also found in Dakshin Kannada, though these are smaller in size and are earmarked for animals.
While kings and emperors provided tanks, wells and rest houses, the rich traders of major towns built sisandras for the common man. Inscriptions dating as far as 600 years back in Kolar district give evidence of a sisandra built by a trader, who founded the town of Madamangala. Providing water in Hindu mythology was considered “dharma”. People from the scheduled caste community were employed to fill water in these sisandras. In the words of Sri V.S.S. Shastry of Kolar, “Even upper caste pilgrims drank water from the sisandra thus proving that caste differences were washed away by the water in the sisandras!”
Feudal chiefs were instrumental in building small townships as well as the roadside sisandras. People were employed not only to erect the structures, but also to fill water in these sisandras. Employment was thus generated not only through the construction of sisandras but also for ensuring that there was always enough water in them. The king’s officials made the payment to the people who carried the water from the tanks and wells to the sisandras.
The article informs that, unfortunately very little documentation is available about this unique system. The sisandras is a simple practice which can easily and should be revived, which will provide relief and earn goodwill from the ordinary traveller. Read more
The water pool for cattle- Gokatte
Gokatte is a traditional water conservation practice in Karnataka. All over Karnataka, there are small ponds that dot the landscape called gokattes, these pools are designed for use by cattle. Gokattes provide water to drink as well as a place to rest for cattle. Fed by rainwater, these pools serve as a perennial source of water for cattle and a community asset as well.
Gokatte or cattle pool is a simple and traditional water conservation practice. These pools can be found all over – in and around villages, outside towns, at one corner of the field, at the base of the hill and in some instances, even in the middle of a tank. While some have been built very systematically using stones, others have been created in pits. This is built without the help of any special tools or gadgets. There are many different types of gokattes in Karnataka, such as community cattle pool, town pond, small pond, madaka, excavated well, water pit etc.
Gokatte is a simple but amazing construction which captures and collects all the rain in an area. Using the unique eye-technology of the elders, this system uses the skill of the trained eye to work out the entire process of the flow of water to the gokattes by just observing the gradient of the land. So scientific was the point of placing the gokattes that not a drop of water is wasted, thereby filling the gokattes to the brim.
Unfortunately, gokattes have been allowed to fall into disuse. The tanks and bunds that were built and maintained earlier by the communities are now under the village, taluk or district administrations. Thus, the villagers do not volunteer for de-silting the tank or for repairing the gokatte. There is a change in attitude that as tax payers they need not concern themselves with these problems. The government has also turned a blind eye towards these systems, resulting in the unfortunate loss of a tried and tested tradition and a culture associated with it.
At the same time, the government has taken up World Bank aided projects like Sujala, Water Augmentation Project Association and River Basin Development Schemes, through which it has stepped forward to protect gokattes, tanks and the like. These have undergone a metamorphosis and are called canal bunds, gully plugs, agricultural pits etc. The only difference is that the communities no longer evince enough interest in these and the government is trying to persuade them with incentives and money to participate in the project.
The article argues that farmers should voluntarily identify the gokattes, tanks and ponds, study their condition and facilitate the smooth flow of rainwater into them. Tanks and ponds should be desilted and the water level should be increased. Construction of a gokatte costs approximately Rs. 40,000 today. If the government can finance this amount, either in the form of a loan or a subsidy and make the construction of a gokatte compulsory, there is no doubt that all the villages will be rich in water within two years. If the gokattes can be revived before the monsoon starts, a traditional and time-tested water harvesting system will get a new lease of life. Read more
To view other water conservation structures in Karnataka refer: