How to make the most of the drought

Whenever a drought reveals the monumental excavation strategies used at Palliya Thirthum to solve problems many centuries ago, the ashram organises the mining of precious silt for use in gardens on their extensive land holdings. This year the task included repair to an ancient well-wall that had caved in mid-way through the undertaking when a particularly heavy, sudden and unexpected rainfall sent a tsunami of run-off water from the hill crashing down into the exposed ancient stone wall, causing one side to collapse.

When i returned to ashram from Australia toward the end of July this year work was already underway shifting the silt up from the well bed to the surface behind the fence surrounding the tank, separating this public land from ashram property. Several smaller wells were exposed and considerable silt already excavated before the large well-wall collapsed.

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The drought officially broke with the tsunami but since that rain was spectacularly individual, the excavation work intensified afterwards and many more workers engaged for the digging, carrying and building work.

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It became necessary to speed up the work now that cement was involved and somewhat elaborate strategies were introduced to this end. Gravel hurtled noisily down an improvised metal chute set on the ancient granite steps. Women carried the gravel to the chute while others took sand down to the cement works below.

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Women carried the sand and gravel while men worked repairing the wall of the inner well with the big granite blocks that had fallen. As they worked, water had to be pumped out of the inner tank, and silt continued to be transported up to the surface.

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They took tea breaks until the wall was finished.

Silt was still being carried up from the main tank through the fence feeding a massive pile behind the quarters for the doctors from the Dispensary. As the clouds began building up each evening another last task was added at break-neck speed: the thorough de-silting of a small tank where the cascading run-off water entered before spurting out into the main tank. The silt from this tank joined the huge piles of silt carried up from the main tank; additional women were engaged to finish this work in time.

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Just in the nick of time the work was complete. Good rains came and the tank resumed its essential communal role, enabling many the opportunity of an ideal bathe.

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