Sparrow and Finch Gardening The time when cities were nature’s paradise

The time when cities were nature’s paradise

In my book Natural History in the City: Bengaluru in the Past, present, and Future, I conduct an in-depth look at the ecology of the Indian city, dating into the past, all the way until the period of the 6th century CE.

Inscriptions on copper and stone plates indicate that the genesis of a new village was usually the construction of the lake or tank, which was intended to collect rainwater vital and life-giving in this climate of low rainfall. These inscriptions offer a fascinating insight into the intimate relationship the early inhabitants were able to establish with the natural world. They speak of the landscape as comprised of lake areas, dry and irrigated land, the “wells above,” and the “trees below.” The three-dimensional image of the landscape is made up of two primary resources, (water) (lake) and food (agriculture), that are nourished by the natural world above (in the forms of wells) and above (in the form of trees) an extremely holistic idea of nature.

Unfortunately, in the modern day urbanized India we’ve lost all evidence of this vision in three dimensions.

Water sources that are declining

The central parts of Bangalore had open wells in the 1960s in 1885. Currently there are just 50. Bangalore also saw the loss of many of its lakes that were thought to be areas for malaria breeding and were converted into bus stands malls, housing and other constructed areas.

Sree Kanteerava stadium was built in 1997, which is where Sampangi lake was situated prior to that. Shakkeerpadathakayil/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Its main Sampangi Lake, which supplied water to various parts of Bangalore during the late 19th century, was converted into a sports arena during the 20th century, leaving only a small lake used for religious ceremonies. For as long as the lakes and wells provided water, which was essential to daily activities, they were regarded as sacred and regarded as life-giving.

Furneaux, JH (1895) Glimpses of India. A great photographic historical account of the India of Antiquity, the vast Empire of the East. Historical Publishing Company. Philadelphia. Furneaux, Wikimedia

Rituals to celebrate the flood of lakes during monsoon by paying tribute to the goddess of the lake preserved the importance of lakes in front of everyone’s thoughts. However, once water pipes began to be pumped into the 1890s, these lakes started to degrade. At the end of the 19th century, the wells and lakes were starting to be contaminated by sewage, trash, and even corpses during periods of epidemics and diseases.

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