Department of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology of the RWTH Aachen University

Posts from Katja Martens

Katja Martens

cultural and religious exposure to water on the basis of different social systems – Chennai, India

Many cities in India are expected to reach dimensions of megacities within the next years. Vital urban services such as water supply and water removal have to be expanded to serve larger areas and growing human populations due to the explosion of the population in the cities. Source areas for drinking water get degraded, polluted or are obsolete due to incompatible land uses and population density within urban areas.

The main topic of this project is the cultural and religious handling with water resources and its possible influences on the water supply due to the water usage in Chennai. Therefore, the differences between urban areas in Chennai, such as slums or the middle and upper class, and the temple areas will be investigated.


Chennai via google maps

Let’s have a closer look at the case study Chennai. With a population of 8.5 million, Chennai is one of the five biggest cities of the Indian subcontinent and the capital of the South Indian state Tamil Nadu. As a metropolis, Chennai houses a number of people from different religion and cultures. People live together in nearly perfect harmony and religious tolerance showing respect and value to other religions. With around 80 %, Hinduism is the main religion in this city followed by approx. 9 % Muslims, approx. 8 % Christians and approx. 3% of ethno-religious communities (

For investigating the interaction between religious and cultural water use and the change of society, interviews and survey had been done. Around 200 interviews were carried out in form of questionnaires. Therefore, a translator was needed which has been found after a few days of meeting potential candidates.

How do people deal with their water availability?

Slum Adyar River

black barrels at the roof top

In the first 4 weeks, the slum areas around the Adyar River were visited. Entering these areas with a native is better than going alone and you will get a cordially welcome with a Chai. After explaining the project, the inhabitants were very excited and answered every single question.

water pump

water pumps connected to the water pipes

Talking about water shortage was no deal because there was none. Since the last legislative period, every single household got a water pump and consequently 24/7 water supply. Even some dumpsters were arranged at some side roads. Some of the houses have big black barrels at the roof top to save water using it after a few days or weeks. The Hindus believe that the sun has the power to purify the water inside the barrels.

trench slum

open trench at the beach

But not every slum has such benefits. A look at the slums along the beaches reveals huge differences. Instead of a canal system, they have open trenches and the waste water drained away at the beach. Water tanks will be filled every single day, but they try to save water in big barrels and the garbage is going into rusted dumpsters which will be emptied every day.

Inland, along the river, there will be a canal system and water pumps again and dumpsters, that will be emptied too. But even if the residents know that there is a dumpster or a canal system, they use the back yard or river bank to throw it all away. They got some public toilets, but if one of them is broken, they still use the river bank. For those who don’t have an own water pump, big barrels (à 500 litre) are available which are refilled daily.

The slum residents know about the water shortage and know how to deal with water scarcity, but there are still people using as much water as possible.

middle class houses

middle class houses

The last weeks, the people of the middle and upper class areas have been interviewed. The translator was not needed as all of them were able to speak English. Along the different areas, there were not such significant discrepancies as in the slum areas. All of the houses were connected to the canal system and they got water through pipes or via water pumps connected to the ground water. Although they use dumpsters, they still throw the trash beside the road. From my own experiences, there was a water loss around midday and late afternoon. As the water scarcity is enormous during the summer time, people of the middle and upper class save water in underground basins or barrels beside the house. They try to use as less as possible because they’ve been enlightened about the water shortage.

How exactly does culture reflect in the water consumption and does religion truly play a role?

Some of the areas along the river bank are properties of the Hindu community and temple. Around 40 years ago, they were able to use the river water for religious purposes. Nowadays, they just use the temple basins for that. Water is used daily, but they are not able to say how much is needed.Most of the Hindus use water to clean the ground in front of their houses and to draw Rangoli or Kolam symbols every morning. Some of the houses have a small holy shrine which is washed nearly twice a week. An interviewed owner of a fruit stand clears the ground every morning as well.For one Hindu household, it’s around 25-50 litre, measured as 1 bucket is 25 litre. For cleaning a shrine, around 50-75 litre are needed and around 150 litre for a temple.

Concerning the Christians and Moslems, there is no religious purpose of water such as the Hindus.

Asking the citizens about getting help or helping each other during water less seasons, there are huge differences. Without getting any help from the high society, slum residents help each other and even help the poorer. The middle and upper class inhabitants are not that helpful. Around 65 % of the interviewed people would like to help the poorer people. The other 35 % are nearly angry about the better water situation inside the slums and they are not willing to help. About cleaning the river, everyone would support, but no one wants to start. Not even priests want to help. In their opinion, it’s the fault of the slum residents and it would be best to remove the slums and their inhabitants from the river bank.

Summarised, there is a difference between the religions and their water management, as Hindu using more water for religious purposes. Beside this fact, all use nearly the same amount of water for showering, washing clothes or gardening. All of the population knows about the risks of contaminated water or water shortage, but they still have to learn more about sustainable handling and saving the world’s most important resource.


Temple, Traffic and Safari

Kapaleeswarar Temple One of the most beautiful places of interest you have to visit in Chennai is the Kapaleeshwarar Temple, which is located in Mylapore and build in honour to the god Eeshwarar, an alias of Shiva. The legend behind this temple is the following: Brahma failed to show the due respect to Shiva. Therefore, Shiva plucked one of Brahmas heads (kapalams). Brahma came down to the side of Mylapore and installed a Lingam (symbol) to please Shiva. Another legend says that goddess Parvathi once playfully closed Shiva’s eyes which made the world fell into darkness. So Shiva cursed Parvathi to become a pea-hen and do penance here to get back her original personality. You can visit one of the four yearly festivals or one of the six daily rituals Read more »