We alluded to Bangalore’s traffic congestion problem in last week’s 3L-3S but it is the city’s ability to deal with the challenges around water scarcity which will likely shape its future. Mridula Ramesh, who is the founder of the Sundaram Climate Institute, and author of The Climate Solution — India’s Climate Crisis and What We Can Do About It, emphasises the point about how water management or the lack of it can cause cities to rise and fall respectively, citing the example of a 2500yr old city discovered recently in South India.
“Whoever they were, the Keeladians were masters at managing water. Water-management infrastructure predominated in the finds.
Until now, at least three kinds of channels have been discovered: one was a shallow, broad channel — about half a metre across, a few inches in height and about 6 metres thus far excavated in length — lined with shards of broken terracotta roof tiles. Nearby there was a beautifully crafted terracotta pipe which appeared to feed into a strategically placed pot, which in turn was placed on top of another pot. The last type of channel was a closed channel, gently curved, with the curved portion buttressed with additional support — was this because the liquid was pressurised? This channel ran close to a small, square, brick-lined tank at the site.
The different types of channels allude to different qualities of water being transported — the flat, broad, open channel could have been used to carry fresh water perhaps, where smell was not a concern. One possibility is that the closed channels were used to carry away smellier liquids — sewage or effluent, maybe. During an earlier dig in Keeladi, archaeologists unearthed four parallel water channels — which implied the movement of a lot of water — far more than a single household could use. And the sheer numbers of channels discovered now — there were several crisscrossing a 300 sq mtr stretch — suggest that this was an intense water-using site. The Keeladians were moving water strategically from place to place for some function.
…one interesting find was the ring wells, several of which were found at the site. Essentially, these wells used terracotta rings inside a shaft to prevent the collapse of the sides. These ringwells, as per Dr Pande, could have been used as either draw wells or soak pits, and were widely found across in India in the 4th-5th centuries BCE. Ring wells as draw wells are a clever idea when water was available close below the surface — in this case, about 5-10 feet below the surface. One explanation for water at such shallow depths is that the river Vaigai ran far closer to Keeladi 2,500 years ago.
….One suggestion (refuted by others, of course!) has been that they share roots with the Indus Valley Civilisation (IVC). The IVC declined a good thousand years-plus before the thus-far dated Keeladi site — also laid low by the lack of water.
….Both the Indus Valley residents and the Keeladians were masters at water management. Moving to the present, water is the foundation of our prosperity as it was for the Keeladians. We use it in our factories today, much like they did, even as we discover the power of recycling it. We use wells like their ringwells — deeper and more powerful, to be sure, but ours are reaching their limits and coming up dry, like theirs did before they perished. Today, as the peripheries of our cities experience a seasonal ‘Day Zero’ and our water future looks to become decidedly more temperamental, the Keeladi site almost serves as a ‘Back to the Future’ moment for our cities: Manage and cherish your water or perish.”

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