About Braj - Areas of Work - Kund Restoration

Kund Restoration

History and relevance

Evidence today shows that over centuries, communities all across the country learnt to collect rainwater, and store it to last them for the rest of the year. Water that flowed down hillsides, percolated through rocks and emerged as springs was collected in different forms and structures across India like baories, nauns, chaals, johads, and so on. In the Braj region these were called ‘kunds’ in the local language. Kunds were used for bathing, washing, drinking, worshipping, watering livestock, irrigating and for village industries. Communities took pride in their water systems, as evidenced by the exquisite ornamentation and architecture of many of these structures.

In traditional societies, culture and customary practices upheld by state policy and administration supported these traditional water harvesting structures and their longevity. Local autonomy in water resource management was a critical sufficient condition for their survival. However, colonial governments eliminated the traditional rights and powers of local communities and allowed only limited involvement of individuals. This transformation of administrative and state policy alienated the local communities from their resources and rapidly eroded the individual’s link with such traditional practices and his ownership of such natural support systems. This decline of tradition continues till date.

An amazing aspect of these structures and systems is that quite a few of them function even today, hundreds of years after their construction; despite decades of neglect. Though they are in an extremely deplorable condition, they continue to be used by the local people and are now being looked at as living examples of sustainable technologies.

Kunds of Braj: The Past

Traditional water harvesting technology was based on an understanding of the constraints and impact of local ecology, geology, topographical formation and impacts on livelihood security. Water was treated as a part of ecology and culture and there was a strong individual participation in its ownership. Traditional systems carried in them the benefits of collective human experience since time immemorial and in that is their biggest strength.

Braj is home to over a thousand beautiful historic kunds. Most of them are over five thousand years old and find mention in the local mythology and folklores. As ecological sanctuaries they conserve rainwater and thereby allow the sub-soil water table to be maintained. Many of these kunds were a natural habitat for numerous migratory birds. In the past, water from these was used to irrigate local fields and orchards and sustain the local populace in the drought-hit years.

Over the years these small ecological sanctuaries evolved a distinctive culture of their own. Filled with deep waters and surrounded by stone embankments and beautiful architectural constructions, these kunds present a picturesque setting for devotees, nature lovers and connoisseurs of art and culture alike.

Etched in the memory of the local people as well as the folklore and mythology of the region, are the many different stories of Krishna’s play set with these kunds as their backdrop, that make these water reservoirs worthy of preservation for those devoted to Radha and Krishna. For the same reason, the thick groves that once surrounded these kunds were also considered sacred.

Kunds of Braj: The Present
Today, unfo

rtunately most of the kunds in and around Braj are in a pathetic condition. They have either dried up due to silting, or have been converted into garbage dumps and sludge tanks where dirty drains pour in. The embankments (ghats) of most of the kunds are in a dilapidated condition. The beautiful architectural constructions and chhataris around them are in a very poor state and in need of immediate repair. Catchments areas and land surrounding the Kunds have been usurped and encroached at many places.

The sacred groves that used to surround these kunds are almost extinct now and have given way to unchecked construction. The lands adjoining the kunds have been encroached upon and the once beautiful kunds have become receptacles of sewage.

Why this crisis?

Institutional Apathy

With the colonial rule, approaches to water resource management became centralized and sectoral and had practically no relevance to the local situation as they took into account little or no local participation in water resource management. This trend continued and was institutionalized post independence so much so that when talking about water the government essentially speaks of only river waters alone and not of water as a part of the ecological system.

This symbolized a loss of faith in centuries of experience of water management at the state level. Consequently, the traditional connection that local people had nurtured and sustained for so long with this traditional, community based, sustainable use of water was brutally severed, leading to demand outstripping supply, and finally widening the chasm between the water "haves" and "have-nots".

Eventually, interventions at the administrative level became increasingly non -sustainable and iniquitous. Water resource management that evolved over the entire post-independence period shows no awareness of rainwater harvesting methods or participatory water management.

The few remaining water harvesting structures that are still functional in the region have little or no security. The sources of supply for these are often diverted to other uses if the irrigation departments so desires. This clearly inhibits local participation and private investment in traditional water management.

Ecological Imbalance

A grave water crisis is building up which, if unchecked, will eventually result in a massive ecological imbalance in the Braj region. The underground water table has substantially gone down due to the neglect of these traditional rain water harvesting systems. Forest area has been depleted on a large scale because of the absence of percolated water and unplanned and ruthless construction. Large scale soil erosion occurs from the hill slopes as they have been made barren by deforestation.

Excessive Pressure on Natural Resources

Geographically Braj region has been a delta basin formed by the silt deposited by various rivers. As a result the soil of this region was very fertile. This favorable geographical factor resulted in high population density in the Braj region. All of this led to the increase of pressure on natural resources.

Huge floating population

As Braj is a prominent religious centre, there is a strong influx of pilgrims and tourists, which comprise of a floating population of around 50 million annually. On an average a visitor stays for 1.5 days which thereby puts an extra pressure of around 15 million man days on the natural resources of Braj. Further, since this floating population feels no ownership and responsibility towards the ecology, environment and natural resources of Braj. For them, this depletion and despair is only transient and does not affect them directly, and therefore their non-committal attitude.

Changes in local Lifestyle

While Braj is primarily rural, a strong influx of tourists and the resulting availability of employment have made the lifestyle of locals quasi-urban. In fact employment avenues even attract people from other parts of India – Bengal, Bihar, etc.; thus there is a huge migratory population as well. The rise of this quasi urban civilization in the region has given birth to its own share of problems. The high amount of waste that is generated and the absence of proper disposal mechanisms results in the waste going untreated and poses a severe challenge to the environment and the health of locals.

Continuous neglect and abuse

Disproportionate rise of population in the Braj region has had its obvious toll on the local natural resources. Water, forests and soil have had to bear the brunt. Water bodies have been continually neglected and badly polluted. To cater to the growing demand of water, and in the face of the rapidly depleting water harvesting systems, exploitation of ground water started. Tubewells and borewells increasingly became popular and in turn led to further neglect of ‘kunds’.

Depleted Forest Cover

With urban areas expanding and forest cover depleted in a big way. The natural water channels which brought rain water from the surrounding areas to the kunds got lost. Further, due to construction of illegal buildings all around the kunds the rain water got blocked further. This led to the drying up of most kunds.

Lack of Proper Sanitation and Drainage

Due to lack of proper sanitation facilities and sewage mechanisms, drains opened up into the kunds. This pouring of dirty water reduced the percolation capacity of kunds which in return affected the recharging of ground water adversely. Fresh water has a particular percolating capacity and the soil allows it to percolate down, thereby recharging the underground water resources. Dirty water in the water bodies contains oil which blocks the percolation capacity. All this led to the drying up of the surrounding wells.

The result of all this is a vicious cycle. Water is being drawn from the ground, utilized for various purposes and the waste water is returned back to the water bodies. Consequently, the stagnant dirty water of the kunds is a severe threat to the health of the local population.

Over time, these kunds have either dried up and got filled with silt or have reduced to mere sludge tanks.

A possible solution

The impending water crisis can be mitigated by the renovation and restoration of these water bodies. Recharging of ground water through the rain water using these kunds is a viable and time tested solution.

Apart from the restoration and revival of pure water tanks, some kunds which recycle the waste water need to be built. This recycled water can thereby be used for plantation and other purposes.

The entire Mathura district receives an annual rainfall of 67.50 cm (average rainfall of Bharatpur district) with a catchment area of 3329.4 sq km (Area of Mathura District). This gives an annual rain water of 2,24,77,50,000 cubic meters. Taking the run off coefficient to be 10% we get total surface rain water as 22,47,75,000 cubic meters. Out of this surface water we plan to conserve 3% of it which comes out as 67,43,250 cubic meters through these water bodies. There are over 1000 kunds in the entire Braj region which can be harnessed for this purpose.

Effort for Revival

Listing & Survey

The literature on Braj mentions more than 1000 kunds spread all over the region. Unfortunately, all these records are very old and don’t depict the statistics of the kunds and other necessary details. Physical verification of size, area, depth, etc. through detailed survey and mapping of the kund sites was a must first step towards any restoration efforts.

For this, the Braj Foundation formed a team of experts which travelled to each and every village that is listed, to map these structures. Being so many in number the exercise still continues. The location, approach, site & surroundings etc. are all being marked. By using the GPS equipment, the geo-spatial coordinates of all these kunds are being marked so that the same can be plotted on satellite maps. In a short span of three months, over 250 Kunds were physically verified in remote and distant villages of Braj.

In addition to the listing exercise, detailed land surveys of kund sites are also being carried out. The architects and engineers in our team are in the process of preparing detailed restoration and developmental plans after giving due consideration to the hydrological factors and architectural features so that the donor agencies can get ready projects.

Processes of Restoration

Kund restoration primarily comprises of the pumping out of the stagnant and polluted water of the Kund and leaving it for drying. Thereafter de-silting of this dried leftover is carried out with the help of earthmovers and such machines.

Then the digging begins which involves going 10 to 15 feet deep to reach the natural source of water and open it up. One the water begins to percolate, the ghats or embankements and the boundaries of the Kunds are repaired. This includes restoration of existing buildings and heritage structures. Finally the beautification and cosmetic changes to the site are carried out. This comprises of:

  • Plantation of conventional trees like Kadamb, Tamaal etc. all around the Kund
  • Fencing around the Kund complex
  • Making lighting arrangements around the Kund
  • Setting up a submersible pump so that the Kund water can be replenished in summers
  • Kund guards to take care of the cleanliness and maintenance of the Kund
  • Setting up a plaque depicting the spiritual and historical importance of the Kund
So far...

More than 40 kunds are under different stages of restoration and revival. these are::

  • Gomati Ganga, Kosi
  • Dohini Kund, Chiksauli
  • Pawan Sarovar, Nandgaon
  • Nayan Sarovar, Seu Village
  • Sangam Kund, Khayara
  • Ratna Kund, Dabhala
  • Vrishbhanu Kund, Barsana
  • Vihval Kund, Sanket
  • Gaya Kund, Kaman
  • Vimal Kund, Kaman
  • Chandra Sarovar, Chaumuha
  • Padma Kund, Kumudvan
  • Kamdev Kund, Hatana
  • Roop Kund, Barsana
  • Jai Kund, Jait
  • Mohan Kund, Vanchari
  • Gadbadri Kund
  • Madhuvan Kund
  • Lohvan Kund, Lohvan
  • 2 Kunds at Kamai
  • Garud Govid Kund, Chhatikara
  • Radha Sarovar, Manpur
  • Mansa Kund, Pasauli
  • Govind Kund, Vrindavan
  • Madhuri Kund
  • Brahm Kund, Chaumuha
  • Vihar Kund, Chiksauli
  • Brahm Kund, Vrindavan
  • Ratnakar Kund, Kosi

Contact us

  •   C-6/28, SDA,
    Hauz Khas,
    New Delhi - 110016
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  •   E-mail : info@brajfoundation.org
  •   91-11-2656-6800, 91-11-2651-9080
  •   9873946800