Anang Tal: Why this traditional water tank’s restoration could give wings to Delhi’s water security

It could potentially have a beneficial effect on the local micro-economy apart from beneficial effects on the micro-climate, groundwater recharge, local water security and biodiversity sustenance

By Ritu Rao
Published: Monday 29 August 2022
Anang Tal is located in Mehrauli, south Delhi. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Anang Tal is located in Mehrauli, south Delhi. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Anang Tal is located in Mehrauli, south Delhi. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Anang Tal was recently declared a monument of national importance, with the central government ordering its restoration. The Union Minister of State for Culture and Parliamentary Affairs and Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi have also visited the place according to media reports. These actions are being seen as an attempt to bring the origin story of north India’s great megapolis, Delhi.

Anang Tal is an early medieval period water reservoir constructed of rubble masonry and local stone located to the north of the Jog Maya temple and about 500 metres northwest of the Qutub complex in Mehrauli.

It is believed to have been built by Anang Pal II, the Tomar ruler who is also credited for establishment of the first city of Delhi around his citadel of Lal Kot. The founding head of Archeological Survey of India (ASI), Alexander Cunningham, between 1862 and 1865, had measured the dimensions of the Tal as 169 feet NS x 152 feet EW with a depth of 40 feet. This implies an approximate water holding capacity of one million cubic feet.

According to excavations held in the area between 1992 and 1995 by the ASI, Lal Kot was the earliest known city of Delhi (alluded to as Dhillika Puri in some excavated inscriptions), believed to be constructed in the middle of the eleventh century Common Era (CE). It is, now, mostly damaged and sporadically covered with debris.

A study of the excavated remains revealed a sequence of two cultural periods namely the Rajput period (middle of eleventh century to end of twelfth century CE) and early Sultanate period (end of twelfth century to end of fourteenth century CE).

The total excavated parts suggest that the plan of the Tal was not a perfect square or rectangle but somewhat oblong. It also suggests that the main entrance into the tank was probably from the south side as the steps were provided from the top on this side.

The remarkable feature of the tank was the presence of incised mason-marks of swastika, trident, circle divided into four parts, drums, numbers, letters, scorpion and bow-and-arrow, etc, on the stone blocks and slabs which were used in the construction of the reservoir.

These resemble mason-marks found in the temple of Bhojpur (Madhya Pradesh) of the same period and also on the reused stone slabs in the Quwwatul Islam mosque near Qutub. Experts feel that further excavations at the lower levels of the Tal would be required to throw more light on the water body’s historical significance.

Why Anang Tal?

Readers may wonder just why a matter of historical significance, and some may even venture as far as to suggest, political significance be accorded space on a platform committed to raise awareness about our environment?

Here, it is posited that we live in desperate times. People, the world over, have bought into the theory of unlimited and unaccountable economic growth along with mindless consumerism.

We, steadfastly, choose to ignore the threat of extinction looming large over our collective heads in our pursuit of endless material wealth while crusading environmentalists appear to be perpetually swimming against the tide.

And yet those of us concerned about the environment can hope to nurse a tremulously optimistic hope given this latest development for, as they say, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Here we can draw on Edward Lorenz’s Chaos Theory, which postulates that small variances in the initial conditions could have profound and widely divergent effects on the system’s outcomes due to its sensitivity. This is best known as the Butterfly Effect, referencing the possibility of a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the earth resulting in a tornado on the other.

Now, we can further stretch the constructs of this theory to allow for minor changes in one domain (notification and restoration of a water body in recognition of its historical significance) to have a large and beneficial impact in an altogether different domain (to the environment).

Delhi, according to National Water Research Center (NWRC) is already plagued with chronic water crisis, with water demand outstripping supply by 141 million gallons per day. This is likely to increase by 17 per cent in the coming decade.

Moreover, Delhi is primarily dependent on water supply from outside reservoirs with little reserves of its own. With climate change, the reliability of this supply is in question as rivers are shrinking all over the world.

Delhi has also been identified as one of the 21 Indian cities that will reach zero ground water in the coming decade. Added to this, extreme weather events like high intensity rainfall in shorter duration, increasing intensity and number of heatwaves, etc, due to climate change are becoming the new normal.

The restoration of this small traditional water reservoir in volumetric terms would be like a drop in the ocean in Delhi’s pursuit for water security.

Nevertheless, it could potentially have a beneficial effect on the local micro-economy if it becomes a tourist attraction apart from its beneficial effects on the micro-climate, groundwater recharge, local water security in times of dire water shortages, biodiversity sustenance, etc.

What if its success story were to result in a strong demand for restoration of more traditional water bodies lying in disuse or disrepair across Delhi?

The megapolis has its fair share of traditional water bodies. These include reservoirs (hauz), step wells (baolis), deep wells and ponds (johads) as the earlier cities of Delhi relied on traditional water bodies for their water needs and not so much on the Yamuna.

Some 1,043 of these water bodies have been allotted unique identification numbers.

If Anang Tal becomes an exemplar, politicians and government bodies would have little choice but to bow to the will of the people. Now, this is a ripple effect scenario which is music to the ears of environmentalists. Just like that we will have a Blue and Green City, which apart from providing water security could be our bulwark against impending climate change impacts.

Ritu Rao is a PhD scholar at the Teri School of Advanced Studies and works on urban water bodies

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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