Kings of waterways

Kings of waterways

A kalyani at Shambunathapura, Arakalagudu, in Hassan district.

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow’ goes the adage. So too in the case of the mighty Hoysala Kingdom, the origin was in a little mountain village known as Soseyur, now called Angadi, in Mudigere taluk, Chikkamagaluru.

When the Hoysala clan moved to the plains of Hassan, they found the land was dependent on either river water or rains for irrigation and sustenance.

The climatic conditions, geographical aspects such as the topography and rain-fall pattern had an important say in the development of the water tanks across the Hoysala country.

The low rainfall areas of the Deccan plateau called for the construction of tanks to store the surface run-offs during the rainy seasons.

Dams, weirs and canals were used to harness the river water for irrigation. The enlightened Hoysala kings were interested in water-body development. 

While properties such as houses, shops, cattle were also taxed, the revenue from the land tax was the mainstay.

Besides the land tax, a farmer also paid for the water he consumed from the tank. The land tax went to the king and the local bodies such as the village council could
collect money for the water. 

Kingly aspirations

The Hoysala kings realised irrigated land gave more revenue by way of tax as compared to dry land. To enhance their revenues and hence the welfare measure, lakes and canals for irrigation became a necessity. Thus started a journey of the construction of dams, canals, tanks, sluice gates, temple tanks and wells. Failed monsoons and the consequent poor harvests had also propelled the kings to bring more areas under irrigation. This dynasty is rightly famous for its temple construction. They should also be acclaimed for their work in the field of irrigation and water management. 

Vinayaditya (1047 – 1098 CE) established Ranaghatta, a village south of the then capital Belur, Hassan district. He also constructed a check dam across River Yagachi. This brick-and-mortar structure stands even today. This check dam ensured the floodwaters of Yagachi river were well utilised and that the downstream villages and lands were safeguarded against the flooding.

C P Rajendran and P Aravazhi report in their paper Ancient Canal and Stone Quarry near Halebidu that a canal called Yagachi Nalla connects this check dam to some of the village tanks nearby, thus meeting the irrigation needs of the villages. When the capital moved from Belur to Dorasamudra, the Yagachi Nalla was extended to Dorasamudra lake. The excess waters of Dorasamudra lake were used to feed other village tanks on the way such as the water tanks at Karian Katta, Hajjanhalli, Devihalli, Pandithanahalli, Hribihalli, Rajakere, and the lake at Belavadi. Thus, a vast area benefitted from this dam. Today, a modern dam stands upstream of Belur. Thus, the check dam at Ranaghatta is not in use. The water of Yagachi does not flow into the various tanks and lakes mentioned above. 

Prof S Settar says that a set of seven patrons were permitted to build temples, tanks and barrages. These were the king and royal families, high nobility, rich merchants, officials, priests and religious heads, community groups and individuals.

Thus, the lakes and water bodies were built by a crosssection of the population. They were used for a variety of purposes such as drinking, ablutions at the temple, irrigation and so on. One immediate example of the royals building the tank is Arasikere, or the tank of the princess.

At Kumaranahalli, close to Dorasamudra, a tank was constructed. It was was later connected to the large lake at Halebidu. Another tank located in Viradevanahalli, located west of Halebidu, received the royal patronage and got a tank. An inscription in this village talks of four other tanks in the vicinity constructed by Virayyadanda Nayaka, a minister with King Veeraballala.  

Hoysala kings hold the record in building new tanks as well as renovating the old tanks. According to writer Vatsala Iyengar, the regions of Hassan, Chikkamagaluru, Tumakuru and Mandya enjoyed plentiful water, thanks to the rulers. These tanks were so expansive that they were often compared to the seas and named as Hoysala Samudra, Vishnu Samudra etc. These kings had also decreed that the citizens should spend an annual amount of 30 gadyanas towards the maintenance of the canals and outlets of the tanks.

The crown had the authority to increase the taxes and thus its revenue. However, the wise Hoysala kings did not resort to this stratagem. Instead, they encouraged the farmers to move on to commercial corps that yielded more revenue. To achieve this goal, betterment in irrigation system was their route. After setting up water sources, the kings increased the tax nominally for a few years and once the cultivation stabilised, the full rate of tax was charged. 

To regulate the flow of water from the tanks, Hoysala kings constructed sluice gates on the tank bed. These could be operated by the village council.

The artistic flare of the dynasty shows even on these simple structures. Many of the sluices are now gone and cannot be traced. The tank at Arakere in Arasikere taluk had eight sluices. Today, we can find two of them. The sluices are seen in Hirekadaluru, Koravangala, Adaguru and other villages. Unfortunately, these are not maintained and have become inoperable.

Tanks were classified based on their size and usage. Arakere the half tank, and volagere the mini tank, were used for irrigation. Katte is other kind of water body constructed by erecting artificial bunds.

The kolla or kunte, natural ponds of depressions filled with rainwater, and kovu or kolia water, collected in valleys or mini streams, was used for irrigation. Hallas are also mini streams.

Done or sone are water formations in the rocks or on hills. Water, which flowed down, was used for irrigation. 

Most of the villages had wells from where water was used for drinking and other domestic purpose. These were of two types. Sendubhavi and mettalu bhavi. One uses ropes to pull pails of water from the well. Many of these are still in use in the villages. The second was the kind where one descended and collected water.

The state now

Almost all these types of wells are now out of commission. This is causing serious shortage of water in the villages. 

On the water management of Hoysala kings, Major R H Sankey, the Chief Engineer of Mysore, says, “Unless there were exceptional circumstances, water from the tanks, spread over 16,287 square miles, was not allowed to overflow. To such an extent has the principle of storage been followed that it would now require some ingenuity to discover another site within this area that is suitable for a new tank.”

What better tribute can be paid to the masters of water management!

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