photo of person from Nepal Sindhulpalchok
Nepal glossary

Satya Lal

(NEPAL 19)









Sanagaon, Lalitpur





Section 1
"There were sacred ponds here. While leaving on important business, a glance at the water in these ponds brought you luck."

People built ponds in the olden days at various places to meet unexpected contingencies like fire. In the case of a fire, people used to line up from the pond and pass water from one to another to extinguish the fire.
Such ponds were excavated jointly by the people of the locality. They were one man deep and, in some instances, even deeper. All the people worked to make the pond. Some excavated the earth, others threw the excavated soil out and still others gravelled the base of the pond. Some raised the brick wall and filled the pond with water.
If some ponds had natural spring water, others had to be filled up by diverting water from other sources through man-made canals. We get water for this pond from the Godavari River through the main canal. This canal is also called the National Canal. It is as old as this village. In case the canal gets damaged, people of the entire village go together to repair it.
This canal is maintained and cleaned once a year. It does not matter whether the canal needs repairs; people from the village still have to work on it once a year. In the early days, different ponds in the area were filled with water and the fields irrigated by the main canal. What is the use of extensive fields if there is no water? If the pond dried up, we opened up the canal outlet to the pond. That way the pond was always full of water.
In the old days, people used to clean the ponds. But, today, not everyone joins hands. One pond is still being maintained somehow. With water available from taps these days, people couldn't care less about the ponds.
These days, people have stopped appreciating the significance of these ponds. They should not be buried, they were built by our ancestors for use during emergencies, we said. But no one listened to us. Who listens to the aged? So much excess, yet even the deities remain silent spectators. What to do? In case of an emergency now, we will not immediately get water. There were six ponds in this small village alone; four have vanished.
People never quarrelled or fought while constructing ponds. Whenever we felt the need for a pond, "Come on now; let's make a pond here," we would say. The community got together and built the pond. Once we had constructed a pond at one place, "Hey look, they've built theirs like that. Let's also make another one just like that," we said. We got together to construct another one. Whoever wanted to build a pond would provide the land. Once the pond was constructed, you couldn't say his, mine, etc.
These days we summon the fire brigade whenever there is a fire. But even these fire engines must draw water from the pond to put out the fire. Now with no water in the pond, we might have to carry water from the main canal to extinguish fires.
Now when Asar (mid-June) comes, everyone from the village goes to clean out the dirt accumulated in the main canal. The damaged sections are repaired to bring water for paddy transplantation. The main canal is cemented now, and guards have been appointed to ensure that there is a regular supply of water to the village. They are paid by the landowners in kind, according to their ability to pay. They come to the fields to collect their dues.
In the past, everyone jointly cleaned out the dirt and filth collected in the pond. It was then the practice to dispose of the silt in the fields as manure. Now people no longer put silt from the pond in their fields because they cannot find anyone to carry it. And the water canal to the pond is also damaged. Now the pond has been rebuilt in a different way.
People who went to clean the pond divided the area, saying so much pond sediment for me, so much for you. Accordingly, while cleaning the pond they took their share of sediment from the pond and dumped it in their fields as manure. There would be competition to get this clayey mud. There used to be 26 loads of silt in one pond. That was better than the present-day chemical fertilisers. Everyone looks for easy jobs these days. Who will go to carry that muck and mud? Now, with the introduction of chemical fertilisers, nobody cares for the rich sediment from the ponds.
Even today, anyone found dirtying the pond is caught by the local committee and punished. Everyone, even the youth, goes to clean the pond when the village representatives give a call. There is no separate group or committee for the maintenance of the pond. From the beginning, people jointly cleaned the pond once every year. However, with chemical fertilisers available in the market, people have stopped using the pond deposit as manure. These days the mud is disposed where the road is damaged, in ditches, or where the road is wide.
There were previously sacred ponds here. It was considered auspicious to look at the water in these ponds before leaving the house on important business. Then the task would be successfully completed. Those kinds of ponds are all extinct. Water in the pond used to be very clean in the past. People drank water from the pond. When we were small children there were such ponds. They were as old as creation. Our ancestors judiciously built such ponds at strategic places.
In the past, people jointly made a pond wherever it was considered appropriate; they excavated where the groundwater level was high. After that they laid stones at the base in a way that allowed the groundwater to collect. A wall was built at the head for protection lest small children fell into the pond. Groundwater collected in the pond; but since it was not enough, it was occasionally filled with water from the main canal. A stone drain leading up to the pond from the canal was built. Now that pipes are available, they are also being used for that purpose.
Out of the two ponds here, one is connected to the main canal by pipes. We have to dig until we reach the water level. In some place, we have to dig one man deep, while in others it could be two to three men deep. After the stones are laid at the bottom, a kind of soil called gathu cha that cannot be destroyed by fire or water is smeared smoothly on the wall at the upper rim. This ensures that the surface water on the ground above does not percolate into the pond.
Benefactors built ponds. Anyone inspired by religious sentiments and a desire to do a good deed built ponds and wells. The cost involved in the construction was borne by the donor. Because it was considered a pious act, all the people in the village helped dig and carry the soil. The benefactor provided free meals to everyone engaged in the work. Because of that, the pond would be named after him. Before anyone drew water out of the well or pond once the pond or well was excavated, the donor would fill a pot to offer at Nagkund (Serpent Pond) at Kophuli in Godavari. This act of obeisance at Nagkund preserves the essence of the pond.
The present generation has destroyed the ponds. Come what may, we have to protect and preserve these two ponds. They are useful to everyone in the village. Moreover, deities reside in them and so the ponds must not be allowed to become extinct. They also add to the beauty of the village. People come to see them from afar. Another reason is that we need them in case of some inevitable emergencies and calamities. Besides, the water in these ponds is pure and clean.
It is a pious act to make ponds, wells and water canals. That is why people in the past built them. Shelters were constructed on roadsides and in the middle of fields so that people could escape from the rain. Such resting sites exist even today in many places. They stand dilapidated today. Similarly, as an act of piety, wells were excavated in the field. People get thirsty while working in the field, and it was difficult to immediately get water when required. That is why when people located a natural water source in the field, they got together and dug a well. Isn't it a godly act to make water available to the thirsty?
But now people do not speak of such pious deeds. Boys have destroyed such ponds, fenced the area and converted them into playgrounds. When we tell them that they should not do so, "Why do you need that pond? We need a playground," is their reaction. "We shouldn't destroy ponds this way, we mustn't throw away our ancient heritage," we elders warn. "These old folks only talk of ancient things, don't listen to them," is their answer. "Let them yell if they want," they say. What is the point in our shouting?
The present generation has forgotten religion. All these ponds, wells and resting-places with provision for water have vanished because of the lack of faith. In our days we were scared to break or damage public facilities for fear of God. The children of today could not care less. When we tell them that they must not destroy our ancient heritage because it is a sinful act, they yell at us, "What religion?" What is the point of telling them? The educated have turned out that way.
It is about 20-30 years since the ponds have gradually disappeared. In the past, people feared religion. For 20 years now people have stopped the practice of jointly cleaning the pond. It's been about 10-11 years since piped water started coming here. Before that we used to drink water from the well. The availability of tap water is one reason for the disappearance of ponds, but the process had set in even before we got tap water. And with the advent of democracy, it has become a free-for-all – no one to say this can be done, that shouldn't be done. People have started doing as they pleased. There is no hierarchy. There is no common courtesy and respect for old and senior citizens. People have stopped bowing. They even forget that it is wrong to abuse the elderly. When we tell them something, young boys and girls run off nowadays, saying, "Hey… Why listen to these oldies?" When we ask school and college students not to eat anything touched by the lower castes, they retort; "Why not? Do the lower castes have two respiratory systems? They have teeth and mouths just like ours." That is why the caste system is disappearing. It wasn't so bad even 8-10 years ago. There was some respect and a value system. Now nothing remains.
If it continues like this, I believe that the new ideas of the present generation and their work will not last long. As a matter of fact, this generation is living in a state of illusion in the name of modernisation. They have temporarily lost their way; it is only a drama. Nowadays everyone says you should not do this, you should not do that, and then do exactly that. What is happening? People are not short of money now, and everyone is well clothed. In our time during the old days, to manage even one set of clothes used to be so difficult. There isn't a single person in this village who can say he faces such a problem. That is why I feel it is a mirage, a temporary illusion. Just watch! This won't last long. This can go any moment.
There are 15-16 wells here. Before, the water in all these wells was potable. Once piped water came, wells here stopped functioning properly. But they still exist.
Earlier, when there was no tap water, the water in the wells was clean and pure. But once piped water came, it was considered cleaner. But the water in one or two wells is still better than tap water. We do not drink tap water. We do not even have to filter well water. The water from the well is tastier, fresher and purer than tap water. The source must be at Godavari. Many people draw water from that well but we do not remember its water level ever dropping. We have two wells of that type here. No matter how much water you draw from them, be it summer or the dry season, the water level remains the same, and it never gets dirty. Even people from neighbouring villages come here at night to draw water. The water is cool and tasty in summer; tap water gets warm.
Except for one or two, all the wells in this village are in working order. When we do not get tap water, it is the water from these wells that we have to use. Even when there is water in the taps, we still use water from the well for washing clothes, bathing, and doing dishes.
We clean these wells on a particular festive day every year. Everyone from the village joins hands to clean the wells. Anyone who wants to can get inside the well with the help of a ladder and ropes, and clean the bottom. Everyone helps in throwing out the dirt, mud and water from the well. This is done when the water level is down. We also perform religious ceremonies at the well. After the well is cleaned, it is kept covered; on the fourth day, the benefactor who built the well or members of his family open the cover, draw water from the well and offer it to the deities first. Only then can others draw water from it. We do this once a year, and this practice continues till date. This has to be done, however, on a particular day of the year. On other days, one should not get into the well.
The water from one well here cures goitre. If one drinks water from that well before all others for seven days every morning, it cures goitre. Earlier, people from Patan, Bhaktapur and Jawalakhel came for its water. Water from that well is used even now. That well is known as ta tu or deep well. Indeed, it is the deepest well in the village. It is an old well. We do not know who built it. It was there from the time of our grandfathers. And since that water contains iron, we have no one with goitre in our village.
People from other villages also come to draw water from here. We must not mistreat or misbehave with people who come to fetch water. In fact, we must draw water for them and allow them to fill their vessels first even when it is our turn. When people from other localities and villages come here for water, we let them draw water first. So far, as far as I can remember, there have been no quarrels here for the sake of water.
Some of our village wells were constructed even before we were born. We remember that the last well in this village was built some 20 years ago. Now no one talks of digging a well.
We must complete the digging of a well within three to four days from the start. Otherwise, it sinks and caves in. That is why as soon as the water level is reached, a wall is quickly raised. If this is not done, it starts collapsing. The upper level of the well, from where surface water is likely to get into the well, is smeared with a kind of soil that is not destroyed by fire or water. Moon-shaped stones are laid at the bottom of the well leaving gaps at the centre. This allows water to come up through the stones and it remains clean. We have to order these stones from people who know how to make them. As we lay these stones, the well also gets its round shape.