for The Time on June 6, 2009
Workers sponsored by the Braj Foundation work to renovate Vrindavana's sacred ponds.
Mathura: It could be a page from history, but it turns out to be a lesson in civics. As an NGO embarks upon restoring water bodies in the area of land known as Brajbhoomi, folklore and legend form the route to some serious green activity. Centred in Mathura-Agra, Brajbhoomi, or Lord Krishna’s land, stretches to the north till Gurgaon in Haryana and Bharatpur in Rajasthan to the west.
Villagers of Jaint on the outskirts of Vrindavan knew only the legend of the dry patch in their hamlet where kids played and garbage was dumped. The legend, in fact, stayed alive only because of a tiny shrine on the patch. Villagers tell a colourful tale about it. A group of children had entered python-demon Aghasur’s mouth, mistaking his expanded maw for a cave.
Young Krishna, too, entered the python and then expanded its jaws so much that the snake burst open. The grateful villagers shouted “Gopal ki jai”, and the water tank where all the action took place was christened ‘Jaikund’. Unrecognisable in 2006 as a water body, three rounds of de-silting later, Jaikund is ready to be a tank again.
Around 1,000 water bodies have been identified in this region by the Braj Foundation, which found that 800 of the tanks were almost ruined. Started in 2005, the Braj Foundation has so far desilted 34 water bodies and restored them to their watered glory.
Once the sites are marked, earthmovers descend and dig till the water level is reached. Volunteers from the villages carry off the rich black soil by truckloads for use on their own farms. Locals are then instructed on the maintenance of the pool. In Jaikund, after the second stage of digging, the monsoon filled the lake up and everyone got a preview of how the kund would look when it is ready. “We had to pump the water out to continue our work,” says Vineet Narain, CEO, Braj Foundation. Once the tank is restored, the area will be fenced off.
There are plans for statues, amphitheatres and parikrama paths alongside the tanks. Paintings of Krishna Leela will grace the walls to tell stories and help bring in tourists. Volunteers known as the Braj Rakshak Dal will educate locals on preserving their land and water resources. “We are not promoting temple culture over here. We want Braj’s culture and environmental heritage to be preserved,” says Narain.