Above: Near the fish Sanctuary at Tekpowale, Pune Photo: Sarosh Ali
In India, there has been a rich tradition of communities trying to conserve a part of their ecosystem as a microcosm for the rest. The Western Ghats in particular was home to myriad of such community sanctuaries. These, however, diminished as government policies from the time of the British, and even post-independence, did not realize the importance of community involvement.
There are many community conserved areas (CCAs), some that have existed from ancient times, and some which have emerged in recent times, after having observed some form of degradation, related to local communities are trying to salvage the ecosystem in Western Ghats. While Sacred Groves, or protected patches of forests are relatively well documented, sacred fish sanctuaries which protect the fish as well as rivers, are lesser known. This is an attempt to briefly document a few such sanctuaries in Western Ghats of Maharashtra.
Tekpowale Fish Sanctuary
A 3 km walk from Mangaon village near Pune, along the Panshet reservoir, crossing a stream, leads us to the Tekpowale fish sanctuary. The mountain stream is called Kadkuna Nadi. Ascending another kilometre towards the top lies the village of Tekpowale. The sanctuary, a pool (kund in marathi), conserves the Mahseer species of fish considered to be sacred by the village folks. The stream originates from rocks a little above the village, where there is a Devasthali (God’s place). There are strict regulations with regards to the pool and fishes, which the villagers enforce to the hilt. The pool is a source of drinking water for the villagers and is not used for other purposes like washing and bathing. Fishing is a big taboo. If one throws balls of rice in the pool the fishes surface. Till a few years ago there were bigger sized Mahseers in the sanctuary, but now one only finds medium sized ones, they say.
Women are not allowed at the pool, but are the staunchest protectors of the practice. They even object when their tradition is narrated to an outsider. All they say is that the pool is and has been the source of their lives from ancient times. Even people from nearby villages like Mangaon are unaware of the history and significance of the sacred place. A few people in the village who have been to the outer world express their devotion towards this tradition, but politely discourage to visit the temple or the pool.
Walen Kondh Fish Sanctuary
Climbing the Mangaon Devrai, a foot-road in a south-westerly direction leads to the konkan side of the Western ghats, into a plain of Mahad region of Raigad where the Kal river flows along. On the Kal river, with a view of the Lingana fort at a distance, there is a pool about 100 yards long. Both sides of the pool are guarded by a rocky gorge, with the water at about 25 feet below. Right on the banks is a temple of the Vardayini Mata. The pool is a sanctuary of fishes like Shindas, Kolas and Khadas. One of the variety is the Khadas (Deccan Mahseer) is an endangered species. Fishing is strictly prohibited in Walen Kondh.
According to a legend, the pool is unfathomable. There would be generous offerings to the temple in ancient times. The revered priest would carry all the offerings, sink below, and deposit the wealth inside a grand temple under the water.
However, at the present time, as a major road passes right from there, no taboo is enforced and all people visit the place. One can buy puffed rice from a stall on the road as a bait to see the fishes. There is a metal bridge to go to the other side to the temple, and the nearby Dharamshala, where one can stay for the night. From there, a straight road leads to the village of Dapoli. Dapoli, and also some other villages like Pandheri, help in the conservation of the pool. A kilometer’s walk through the rice fields, is the village of Dapoli, which has been associated with the sanctuary for a very long time. They have a record dating from 1864 of a festivity carried out at the temple. According to them, they have been taking care of the sanctuary for more than 350 years.
Tilase Fish Sanctuary
Tilase Sanctuary is a sacred pool on the Vaitarna river in Thane District where a Mahseer fish is conserved. The sancuary is associated with an ancient temple of Lord Shiva, Tilaseshwar temple, where there are annual fairs of Mahashivratri and Holi Poornima. The Deccan Mahseer is the species of fish that is conserved and fishing is prohibited through self-restraint. It is believed that fishing will lead to punishment by the protecting deity. There is no regulation on using the water from around as well as the pool itself. The pool has a healthy population of this species. The fishes are quite large (upto 2.5 feet as seen by me) and are in plenty.
Share vehicles from Wada ply to and fro (upto Sonala) right uptil 7:00 pm. The original temple is very old and right in the middle of the river on a high rock. It is mainly an agrarian village with two crops a year and a few people benefiting from the local tourism.
Anybody who fish from the pool are believed to get punishment from God. A myth goes as when the fish from the pool is caught and taken home for cooking, the cut pieces recombine and the fish finds its way back to the pool.
All people from near and far who visit through the renown of the temple and the pool employ self-restraint. The villagers are pivotal in instructing the visitors.
These sanctuaries only offer glimpses of the evolved community conservation practices in Western Ghats which protected the endangered fish as well as hereto endangered rivers.
These sanctuaries need urgent protection in form of Community or Conservation Reserves so that the conservation efforts of the community are acknowledged and taken further. Most of these sanctuaries are facing severe threats in form of dams and water abstraction.
~ Sarosh Ali