Yet another threatened water crisis has receded a little. With copious inflows in the upper reaches of rivers that run across the State, Chennai too has cause for cheer. In the absence of an immediate crisis, why can we not turn our attention to some long-term preparation? Why can’t the various temple tanks in the city be cleaned up and made ready to receive the monsoon waters, as and when the rains come to our city?

Kapaliswarar Tank
Kapaliswarar Tank

Chennai and its environs are blessed with several temple tanks. Barring very few, most are mere cesspits and a shame to a citizenry that is becoming increasingly religious. Several have been filled up in the past and converted into bus termini and shopping complexes. Though that concept has died out thanks to better awareness, civic pride and a passion for maintaining the surviving temple tanks have not yet come. As a consequence, these water-bodies are merely gaping holes in the earth.

A temple tank is not merely something that is used for rituals. It plays an important role in maintaining the neighbourhood ecology. In hot weather spots such as Chennai, it cools the environment and provides fresh breeze. Above all, it recharges the groundwater in the surroundings. With so many pluses going for it, why are temple tanks so neglected?

Perhaps the best instance of this is Mylapore. It has no less than five temple tanks. But the only one with water is the Kapaliswarar tank. The rest are apologies. Those within temple precincts, such as the Madhava Perumal tank, are somewhat better off in terms of cleanliness as compared to Chitra Kulam which has remained a glorified puddle for decades. Even the Kapaliswarar tank, though it is full of water, has had to be cordoned off to prevent the neighbourhood and visitors from dumping their garbage into it. But that it has survived itself is a miracle. It was only in the 1990s that a temple trustee had recommended that the space, then dry, be cemented over and put to use as a venue for a laser show! A laudable attempt at tank restoration that ended in failure was the one at Tiruvanmiyur. The locals were delighted that the tank was revived by external agencies but once this was done, they were quite happy to let it go to seed. There was no sense of involvement in what should have been a community project.

Elsewhere in the city there are chronically water-starved spots, such as George Town. It may come as a surprise to many that there are at least six major water tanks attached to temples in George Town. Not one has water and as for the biggest, the Kasi Viswanatha Swamy temple tank, also known as the Krishnappa Naicken Tank, it has been steadily destroyed over the years. What was a relatively clean water-body till the 1990s is now moss-covered and empty. In ancient Purasawalkam, the Gangadheeswarar Temple has a tank, one side of which has been made over to shops. These have let all their drains into the tank. How can it survive? The Triplicane tank has had its bed cemented over in the mistaken notion that water would thus be saved from percolating into the subsoil. But this move has only sealed the natural spring below. The misguided attempt was in the 1970s. Why can’t the bed be dredged and opened up now?

The city has taken enormous pride in the restoration of the Kapaliswarar temple tank. But it is now high time that we repeated the same success with other water-bodies. Do we have the public spirit to do this?