Importance of water

Importance of water

While India takes much pride in its culture and heritage in general, the significance of its immense cultural heritage of water has gone largely ignored. The choice of cultural heritage of water as the theme of this year’s World Heritage Day has focused much-needed attention on this issue. Water is a resource that is essential to sustain life.

How to obtain water, store it, conserve it and harness its power has motivated human endeavour for millennia. This has taken the form of varied technology and cultural practices. It has inspired poetry, music and literature and contributed to the development of philosophies and religious practices. A focus on the cultural heritage of water should therefore make us more aware of the rich and diverse ways in which we have traditionally interacted with water, respected it and celebrated its role in our lives. At a time when vast swathes of India and the world are struggling to cope with water scarcity, floods, contaminated water, and other water-related problems, it might be a good idea to draw on our heritage.

India has a rich heritage of water conservation. The beautiful step wells of Hampi in Karnataka and Abaneri in Rajasthan, the ‘ghats’ or river bank steps at Varanasi, the innumerable acqueducts, tanks and wells across the country are reasons for immense pride. Several millennia ago Bihar developed a method of dealing with floods called ahar-pyne, a flood water harvesting system that not only prevented floods and conserved water through the year but also ensured a better distribution of silt. Or consider the history of water supply to the city of Bangalore, which lays bare advanced engineering skills that go back centuries.

India and the world are slowly awakening to the importance of preserving old monuments, arts and traditions. This year’s World Heritage Day has reminded us that water structures need preservation too. They might not be as awe inspiring in size and proportions as the Taj Mahal or as rich in sculptural detail as the temples at Belur and Halebid. But they are engineering marvels nonetheless. Besides, these provide knowledge on sustainable use of water. They are reservoirs to draw on. Hopefully, respect of our water heritage will persist beyond World Heritage Day.

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