As mentioned in the previous articles in this series, we will be presenting the development of each of the Trust Objects as given by Baba in the 1959 Trust Deed. The first Object, water supply, will be given in two parts.
Trust Objects and Purposes: Water – Part One
The name Arangaon means Forest Village; centuries ago the area was a jungle or great forest. With increasing population and the subsequent clearing of trees, it eventually became dry and barren. Consequently, the people of Arangaon have long suffered famine due to a perennial shortage of rainfall. In 1923 when Baba came to Meherabad, located in Arangaon, there was only one well which nearly ran dry during the summer months. The mandali drew water from the well with a pulley and bucket.
At one point, Baba put Khodu in charge of the water supply. Khodu would distribute water to the Meherabad residents for drinking, cooking, and washing. Because of his water duty, Baba nicknamed him “Sailor.” One of Sailor’s duties was to see that water was transported up the hill for the women mandali. Pendu was assigned to carry two buckets of water balanced over his shoulders on a long bamboo pole from lower Meherabad to upper Meherabad, and Sailor would count how many buckets of water were sent there.
There was a Christian follower of Baba who joined the mandali at Meherabad named Charles Nelhams. Against the mandali’s advice, he would insist on doing the heavy work of carrying water from the well in the same manner as Pendu. In the course of doing this work, he wounded his leg. The wound became septic and he was finally hospitalized. Over the course of three days, Nelhams grew weaker and developed a high fever. When Baba observed him, he remarked, “Nelhams will be free of all pain by tomorrow morning.” Pendu and Padri nursed him the whole night, but Nelhams died the next morning and, true to Baba’s words, was relieved of all suffering.
Mehera asked Baba why He had chosen such a desert-like place for His ashram. Baba said that even He did not know why, but that it was a habit of His to pick dry, barren places. In His incarnation as Muhammad, he had also chosen such a place.
In 1924 a second well was dug, and in 1926 Baba sanctioned the digging of a third well, to accommodate the ever-increasing number of people staying at Meherabad. Experts and water diviners were bought in, and although they dug deeper than usual, no water was found. Concerning the water shortage Baba observed, “See the paradox and irony here: when outsiders come for my darshan, their desires are fulfilled by my blessings. They find enough water in their wells by seeking my grace. But at Meherabad all three wells are dry.” This was to be a recurring problem at Meherabad, and of course, after 1969, when pilgrims started coming to stay in larger and larger numbers, the water problem was exacerbated.
Beginning in the 1970s, under Bhau’s direction, various solutions to the water problem were tried. He initiated a Master Plan for the development of Meherabad. He realized that finding an adequate, steady water supply was critical to further development. In those years Meherabad’s annual rainfall was significantly less than now. Beginning in 1972, Bhau had open wells dug but was unable to strike water. He then tried bore wells which were drilled to a depth of 200 to 300 feet. In those days, drilling a bore well was a big event because of the proportionate expense incurred. For example, a three hundred foot well cost three hundred dollars, a significant portion of Trust donations.
In the Meherabad area, the underground stratum is composed of ancient lava flow from the Himalayas which is called basalt. If the basalt has fractures or fissures, water will run in these fissures and begin to erode them. Ultimately this forms underground streams. The source of this water is annual rain which is held in the superficial aquifer, percolates down, and is captured in the fissures. In an average monsoon year, the heaviest rains are in September. By April and May the superficial aquifer, which only goes to a depth of 50 to 60 feet, dries up. The original Trust property was largely un-fractured basalt, and the fissures there tend to be filled with grey clay. Water diviners confirmed that there were only a few very small streams to be found in Meherabad’s original area.
However, one success was the digging of the large square well near the residents’ kitchen. That spot was chosen because diviners and a “psychic” dog indicated there was an underground stream at about twenty-two feet. Parenthetically, there is a rare breed of dog called the Diviner, originally from the sub-Sahara, renowned for its great skill in finding water. The well was dug during the summer when the stream was dry. Because of this, water was not found at twenty-two feet and digging continued down to sixty-one feet, but water was still not found. As it turned out, when it finally rained, the stream which the diviners had accurately located at twenty-two feet filled the well, and it is still productive today, except in the summer months from March to June.
In its quest for water, the Trust tried an entirely new tack involving the agency of the government. In 1979 the central government instituted a water scheme. Under this scheme, the government would provide villages or charitable organizations with the service of geologists, on the condition that they make a “ten percent popular contribution”. The Trust made a ten percent popular contribution on behalf of itself and the village. As a result, the government created the Sonawadi water project about three miles to the west of Meherabad. They built a huge dam with a 250,000-gallon capacity. Below the dam, they built two wells, one for Kedgaon village, located on the Pune Road just outside Ahmednagar, and one for the Trust. The Kedgaon well was productive, but the Trust well proved to be dry. Even though the Trust well is very near the 250,000-gallon lake, there is no way for the water to get to the well because it is bored in solid rock.
The Sonawadi scheme having failed, Bhau applied in 1983 to the Ahmednagar Municipality in order to receive an assured source of water. However, Trust property is outside the boundary of Ahmednagar Municipality. Bhau planned to get around the problem by buying a piece of land just inside the city limits, building a large water tank, and running a 3-mile pipeline out to Meherabad. However, the government would not give the required amount of water until after the completion of its water scheme, which would take many years. Finally, Bhau convinced the local water department to sanction between 2500 to 4000 gallons a day. They made an exception, which is very unusual, and gave the Trust a 6-inch connection. It initially worked well, but over time, the government took more connections off the 6-inch line, and ultimately the amount of water reaching Meherabad was negligible.
In the second part of this article, we will conclude our account of the peculiar twists and turns on the road to the elusive goal of water sufficiency at Meherabad, and relate the equally intriguing story of water at Meherazad.
In His Service,