On the tourist map Ghadisar is as big as the town of
Jaisalmer. And the two are inter-existent, just as on paper. Jaisalmer
wouldn't be , without Ghadisar, and the reverse is also true. Each day
of roughly 700 years of this 800-year old town, is linked to each
drop of water in Ghadisar.
A huge sand dune towers in front. Even from close-by you
take time to see it's not a sand dune but the huge embankment wall of Ghadisar. A little further in, and you see two tall turrets, with five
large and two small windows, covered with beautiful engravings on stone.
You see a doorway so high that it cannot be anything but the main
entrance. A flash of sky is seen through these big and small openings. As
one tracks forward new scenes get added one by one to the canvas. And
somewhere at this point, you realise that the blue sky that sparkled
through the openings is blue water. Then, to left and right, come up ghats
of stone, temples, platforms, verandahs, with innumerable columns,
chambers, and heaven knows what else, all adding to an expanding panorama.
This procession of scenes that changes by the minute comes to a halt at
the edge of the pond. And here the eyes become hyperactive; they cannot
rest on any single object. They are as if possessed, to take in, in one
all embracing glance, the entire bewildering spectacle.
But the eyes fail in their endeavour. Three miles
long and some one mile wide, the catchment basin of this pond spreads over
120 square miles. It was made by the king of Jaisalmer, the Maharawal
Ghadasi, in Vikram Samwat 1391, or AD 1336. Other kings have had ponds
made too. But Ghadasi was no absentee patron. Everyday he came down
from the pinnacles of the fort and personally supervised the digging,
filling and other jobs. Jaisalmer was in political turmoil at the time.
Snatch and grab for the throne was in full swing; with all the
plotting, double-crossings and palace intrigues it entailed. Uncles
were at the throats of the nephews, brothers were exiled by brother, or
somebody's wine was lovingly laced with venom.
Ghadasi himself had seized Jaisalmer with the help of the
Rathod army. In history books the chapter on Ghadasi's reign is strewn
with heraldic terms of arousal, like triumph or rout, glory or shame,
immortal death of strife.
Even so, work on the pond went on. To his long-term
project that went on for years Ghadasi brought unlimited patience and
resources. But he had to pay the ultimate price for it. The embankment was
being raised. The Maharawal was atop, overseeing the work. For the
conspirators watching him from the palace he was easy target. He fell to
somebody's arrow. Custom required his rani to burn with him on the pyre.
But Rani Vimala did not offer sati. She completed the work on the pond.
Pavilions by the water
In this dream of desert sand there are two colours. Blue
is the colour of the water, and yellow the colour of ghats, temples,
towers and verandahs built round half the pond area. But the dream is
bathed in one single colour two times a day. At dawn and dusk the sun
pours molten gold into Ghadisar without let and, until its rays turn.
People too poured gold into the pond as much as they could. The pond
was the king's, but the people's was the development and decoration work.
They expanded the temples, ghats and palaces built in the first lap.
At one time schools were also on the ghats. Students from
the town, and the villages nearby, came to stay here and study under the
gurus. on one side of the embankment are lodgings and kitchenettes. These
were for people caught in legal wrangles in the king's court and
elsewhere. Temples for the gods Neelkanth and Giridhari were built here. Yajnashalas
- places of special worship- came up. A tomb in memory of Jamalshah pir
was built. All this on the same ghat. Emigrants, gone away for livelihood,
still had their hearts in Ghadisar. Among these were forefathers of
Seth Govind Das who had migrated to Jabalpur. They returned to build a
temple in one of the verandahs.
Catching the very last drop
Water went to the whole town from here. It was a
round-the-clock activity. But mornings and evenings saw the place
transformed into a pageant as women bent and swayed with pitchers of water
on their heads. This was a standing sight of the place till piped water
began coming to the town. Ummed Singhji Mehta has given a beautiful
description of this in one of his ghazals, written in 1919. On the water
festivals of Kajari-Teej in Bhadrapad, the entire population turned up at Ghadisar
dressed and decked to kill. And then the twin-coloured Ghadisar became a prism of colours.
No matter how little it rained in the desert, the
catchment area of Ghadisar was big enough to catch every drop of rain
and fill the pond to the brim. At this stage of satiation, the weir took
over, relieving the king's garrison of their duty of vigilance. The weir
ejected the surplus water that could destroy the pond. The ejection too,
was a unique process . For people who gathered every drop of water,
surplus water was not simply water, but water wealth, water capital. This
capital that flowed out through the weir was collected in yet
another pond. If the Ghadisar weir did not stop it, the weir of the
second pond got activated. Yet another pond filled up. This process, it is
difficult, to believe, continued for nine ponds, one after another.
Nautal, Sovindsar, Joshisar, Gulabsar, Bhatisar, Sodasar, Nohtasar,
Ratnasar and then Kisanghat. And if water still flowed after filling all
these ponds, it was stored in small wells. The expression 'each drop of
water', found meaning in the most literal sense in this seven-mile stretch
from Ghadisar to Kisanghat.
Disregarding a legacy
Today, when those controlling Jaisalmer and the
government have forgotten the very significance of this life-giving pond
in their midst, how can they be expected to attend to its chain weirs and
nine sister ponds? An air force base squats in the catchment area of Ghadisar
now. The water in this part of the catchment, therefore, flows
out elsewhere. Unplanned houses, housing societies and, most ironically
the office of the water works - the Indira Gandhi Canal Project and its staff quarters - stand in the way of the weirs, and of the nine ponds
leading off them.
The ghats, dormitories, schools, kitchens, verandahs and
temples are crumbling for lack of maintenance. The town today does not
play the happy cum sacral game of cleaning the pond, when the ruler and
ruled came together for the task, and enacted a vow. The water gauge made
of stone on the bank of the pond leans on one side, its base worn. The
ramparts of the turret, which housed the king's garrison, are collapsing.
The pond lives on, nevertheless.
Yet the 668 year old Ghadisar is not dead. its builders had given it enough strength to take the knocks of time. They
were builders who were maintenance conscious too. They laid the traditions
of maintaining what they build against fierce desert storms. They had not
reckoned with the fiercer storms of negligence that were to come. But Ghadisar
and the many admirers it still has are game for this climate
of decay. They are meeting it with poise. No troops guard the pond today,
but the urge to play guard is strong as ever in the hearts of the
With the first rays of the sun the temple bells peal. People throng the ghats all day long. Some sit - for hours - soaking in
the beauty of the scene. Some sing. Some play the ravanhattha,
a kind of sarangi.
Panibarins come to the ghat even today. Water is
hauled on camel carts too. And several times a day tankers with generators
roll up, sucking away the water. Ghadisar is providing water even now.
And the sun too is pouring its fill of gold to Ghadisar, every morning
This is an extract from Anupam Mishra's Hindi
classic, 'Aaj Bhi Khare Hain Talab' , on traditional water
use in India, published by Gandhi Peace Foundation.
This English translation, by Kamal Kishore appeared
in Grassroots magazine, of May,2000.
First the name: the pond
is commonly referred to as Ghadisar by the local people. In fact, it was
difficult to get anywhere, referring to it as Ghadasisar, the name used
originally in the article. Therefore, it is changed throughout this article, in order that search engines may
assist researchers better. It is
hoped 'Grassroots' will appreciate this editing.
Second, the pond no longer
supplies any water to Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer's water comes from deep wells bored in the
alignment of the 'dead' river Saraswati at Dabla.
But the pond is alive!
There is water and there are birds about. People do stroll down and spend
long hours, lounging on its banks. The temple attracts congregations.
It's more a social centre now. And it remains an architectural and