Venerable Bharatiya Wisdom of Water Management
Dr.Arunchandra S. Pathak
Since the prehistoric times, the Ancient Indian culture has taken a serious note and discourse on the enormity of water. The Vedic canons definitely show the traces and evidences of deep understanding of the phenomena called acquisition and availability of potable water resources. The channelizing of water streams, finding the newer and non-exhaustive resources which can sustain the rising demands of developing settlements and civilization were the well carried responsibilities during those times.
Since the times of Atharvaveda, the unparalleled importance of water resources and the methods to find, tame and direct these resources were known.
The hymn 3.13 यददःसंप्रयतीः (अवे 3.13) describes the etymology of the different names of the water. कौशिक सूत्र belongs to the tradition of the AV. Kaushika is the author of this text and prescribes many hymns of the AV in various rituals. At 40.1, Kaushik Sutra prescribes this hymn in some rituals related to the water. In the employment relating to the water, (इतियेनच्छेन्नदीप्रतिपद्येतेतिप्रसिञ्चन्व्रजति।।- कौशिकसूत्र-४०.१।।), this hymn definitely shows the evidences of knowledge among people regarding channelising water streams and rivers. There are many such hymns and Mantras prescribed for achieving benevolent and caring conduct by the water resources. The man of these times had given tremendous importance and thought to the appeasment of this life sustening resource.
Atharvaparishishtha (400 BC) is the ancillary literature of the AV. In the chapter 39, of the Atharvaparishishtha (अपरि.-39) त़डागदानविधि is called as तडागप्रतिष्ठाविधिः। The period of the अथर्वपरिशिष्ट is 400 BC (according to the chronological list prepared by the Sanskrit dictionary department of the Deccan College). The Tadagadividhi here, is directed to be performed for the purification of a ditch in which water is to be held.
The rituals determined in here are performed near कूप, वापी, त़डाग (Kupa, Vapi and Tadaga). On the auspicious day of Full moon, Pornima, after making oblations to earth, the mantras from Atharvaveda which incite the deities of water are to be chanted. The water made sacred by provocation of mantras is offered to a holy cow, which is then carried to the other bank through water. The gold fish and crocodile, silver tortoise and Udgar, Copper Kulir and Karkataka, vayas and shishumarak are offerd in the water as form of libations.
This whole ritual is held aloft as a good deed and it's a sure way for the ascent to heaven.
Thus this traditional and constructive wisdom was not just known to Vedic people but was also practised with great expertise. For acquiring the evidences of this historical wisdom, we can take help from our oral traditions and canonical literature. In Mahabharata, we come across the concept of Purtakarma. The concept signifies the need of altruistic tasks like building water reservoirs, lakes, digging wells, creating Pushkarani and Annadana. Even the excavations of Harappan sites have uncovered many symbolic artefacts like the small scale terracotta replicas of water reservoirs. Now, it is well accepted that the Indus civilization was indivisible part of Saraswati civilization. Especially, the settlements created by these people during early and later periods are rightly concluded as a predecessor to Vedic civilization[i].
Sites in North Gujarat, Rakhigadhi in Haryana, Gulind in Rajasthan offer the evidences like terracotta Tadagkunda. Although miniature in size these Tadagkundas can rightly be identified as the ancestors of later tradition of actual Tadagdana. During the excavations of these sites the strata of early historical periods have yielded interesting artefacts like square miniature terracotta replicas of Tadagas. Such artefacts have also been found at Ahicchhatra, Besnagar and Ujjain. In these miniature replicas of Tadagas, small steps to descend, miniscule images of fishes and tortoises were also created. There was an arrangement of lights on all corners of these replicas. We can also see the representation of entry gates nearer to descending steps. Especially the miniature Kundas found at Ahicchatra and Ujjain are really striking. The images of Musicians and Matru-Devata can be observed here. Such relics can be found in Bengal, Haryana and Rajasthan.
In the context of Maharashtra, the well-known site of Nevasa in Ahmednagar district has yielded the miniature votive tanks. The striking one among these findings is a replica of tadaga which is greyish brown in colour. The corners of this Votive tank are round in shape. The six steps are carved in it to descend up to the ground level. The same kind of Votive tank is unearthed from Ter in District Usmanabad, it is now placed in the State Archaeological Department's RamalingappaLamture Museum. Another of such Votive tank is found at Bhokardan. Regarding these tanks, Archanakunda is also well used term. Yet, these can be fittingly denoted as the TadagKundas as in the replicas of a lake.
Such miniature replicas of water reservoirs are also found with Mummies in Pyramids of Egypt. Similarly some are also found at some Roman era sites. As the Archanakundas are found at Sirkap during Takshashila excavation, some scholars have propounded that the Roman and especially Greco-Persian tradition of donating a water reservoir was started in India during the later periods under these external influences. While studying the terracottas from Ahicchatra, in his book Terracotta Antiquities from Ahicchatra, specifically denotes the Persian influence on such Votive tanks[ii].
Actually contrary to this notion, we find the continual evidences of such Archanakundas or Votive tanks in different sizes and extent, at the sites from Harappan to Mauryan ages and especially on the archaeological sites of Kushana Satavahana periods.
Many premises and theories were forwarded in this regard. Dr. Marshall has proposed that this tradition is related to the Matruka worship. The worship of Yamapukharavrata (Pukhara means water reservoir) still practised today in Bengal has been linked with this tradition of 'Archanakunda'.For the wellbeing and prosperity of unmarried lady, this Vrata is followed[iii].
Following are some more references to the ritual related to the gifting and donations of Vapi, Kupa and Tadaga-
In the Smritigranthas especially in YajnyavalkyaSmriti we find the denotations of Tadagadana. Whenever donation of actual Water reservoir was not possible, the endowment of miniature replicas of such reservoirs may have become relevant. Or it may have been some kind of a Vrata. Apararka in Yajnyavalkyasmriti mentions a Vrata named as Tadagadan for women. In this he details that a replica of a Tadaga is to be made with the images of fishes at bottom and crows on the banks[iv].
Presently, we can find the remnants of this beneficial practise in the ritual offerings of 'Akshaya-Trutiya'. On the auspicious day of 'Akshay-Trutiya', we in the honour and memory of elders and ancestors give a gift of Udakakumbha to Brahmanas. This convention and ritual can definitely be traced back to the age-old wisdom of 'Tadagadana'. 'Nirnayasindhu' (1612 A.D.) mentions the donation of Udakakumbha on the sacred day of 'Akshay-Tritiya'. It quotes references from other resources such as-
ग्रैष्मिकंसर्वमेवात्रसस्यदानेप्रशस्यते। (भविष्यपुराण 1000 A.D.)
The fruit of this donation is mentioned as -
So, basically it is for the contentment and pacification of our ancestors.
Matsyapurana (B.C.300-A.D. 200)
The same kind of ritual and offerings are prescribed in Matsya Purana. It directs the followers to donate and create new Vapi, Kupa and Tadag. The name of Chapter here is 'Tadagaramkupadipratishtha'. In it the same kind of ritual containing holy cow, her crossing of resource and libations of gold fish, crocodile are illustrated. Later on,
VishnuDharmottaraPurana (part 2) mentions that such kinds of endowments destroy half of endower's sins.
The Skandhapurana says that a man who makes a ditch and proviodes water in it satisfies and glorifies his ancestors.
The Devipurana (2,3), expresses that one who performs such an donation, aquires the ultimate Varunaloka free of thirst.
The later canonical works of ऋग्वेदीयब्रह्मकर्मसमुच्चय ( अथवापीकूपतडागादिउत्सर्गः- प्र.277) and हिरण्यकेशीयबह्मकर्मसमुच्चय (प्र- 289 वापीकूपतडागाद्युत्सर्गः) endorse the buildng of lakes for the acquisition of Swargaloka and Vishnuloka.
Above mentioned practise, ubiquitously shows the amalgamation and acceptance of a tradition of masses or common folks by the higher echelons of a community or the elites and as a consequence of their internal harmonization. Thus this form of worship and tradition speedily becomes an inseparable part of the 'Lokadharma', that is folk religion. This practise is also mentioned as Sankalpakunda, as it denotes the blessings of Matruka, alleviating fear of death and along with this the purpose of Purtakarma. This practise of endowment of miniature replica of Tadaga confirms a pledge of future creation and donation of a substantial and real Tadaga.
From our societal reminiscence, the steer towards Purtakarmas is still alive. In India's cultural history, a lot of effort is made for the creation and erection of water and food provisions for the travellers, visitors and needy ones. There is a special mention of Prappas in the Rashtrakuta inscription from Kandhar. Since Ashoka to Peshwas, the provisions of water supplies on the roadways for the travellers were made.
Through the interpretative archaeological and historical research methods, or rather in the terms of Foucault by going deep with Archaeology of knowledge we can definitely say that the ancient wisdom of water management after many ruptures and breaks still breathes although latent in form. That knowledge, wisdom and reason still lives via the unique and respected tradition of offering an Udakakumbha on 'Akshaya-Trutiya'. Of course the true meaning of it may not be known to laymen but devotion towards it clearly points out necessity it commanded. And through elaborate efforts it can also be restored to its former dependable splendour.
[i]Dhavalikar, M.K., BharatachiKulakatha, Rajahansa publication, 2017, pg- 140
[ii] Ancient India, Bulletin of Archaeological survey of India, vol.4, (pg- 104- 179)
Bhatia, Ancient India, vol.9
[iv]Marvanchikar, R.S., Satavahankalin Maharashtra, pg- 21.
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