Lion taps of Kolkata that almost led to a riot during British rule
On a walk down some pavement near Nimtola Ghat, Putul Bari, Kumartuli, Daptari para, or even Rajabazar, you might stumble upon a tap with a sculpted lion head. The body of these taps resembles Greco-Roman styled pillars. Before they were installed, citizens had only one drinking water source --- Gangajal. A city trader named Vaishnav Charan Seth, ran a business of delivering pots of holy water to rich households. This water was used for daily religious rituals. All Hindu houses had huge pitchers for storing this holy water.
The British wanted to bring filtered drinking water to the city and installed these lion-headtaps. Suddenly, citizens were awe-struck as holy water flowed from the lion’s mouth with the twist of a tap wheel. They were also overjoyed to get water right at their doorstep. However, a section of the city dwellers discouraged the use of these popular taps and started spreading rumours. They wanted people to believe that the washers of these taps were made of cow’s hide.
In Muslim-dominated pockets, the rumour was of them being made of pigskin. The British soon realized such rumours could lead to a situation similar to Sepoy Mutiny. Unfortunately, residents failed to praise the effort and costs involved in supplying purified water to every corner of the city. They thought there could be no dearth of water, thanks to the holy river. But the lion-tap water was purified, using up flow/down flow gravel method, unlike the river water, where cattle carcasses and human corpses were drowned. Following stiff resistance from locals, the British government inscribed an imperial order on the taps.They warned against misuse of water, stating that they were set up as a goodwill gesture.
The inscription has faded over the years, but some taps still have them. ‘Waste Not.’
Such path-breaking advice to stop water wastage so many years ago was inspiring. But wouldn’t it be a dream-come-true to see water gushing out from the lion’s mouth again