India is fast on the path to becoming a developed economy. Relearning, reviving, and employing sophisticated, methodological approaches from the past will provide a valuable and necessary head start for that process. Recently, the District Collector of Karaikudi, Tamil Nadu, Vikranth Raja restored 178 lakes in the district, which were once a part of the ecology but were lately harmed by water scarcity.
This comes as no surprise. Take the stepwell structure of the Moovar Koil for example, a temple in Kodumblar, 45km from Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu. The well-designed and excavated stepwell inside the temple must have been a crucial source for storing rainfall and supplying it to the neighbouring crops, although the area is arid. Another illustration may be seen in the Perur Patteeswarar Temple's inscriptions, which describe the water management strategy used during the Chola era in considerable detail – the Devi Sirai Dam was built at the locals' request to obtain water from the river Noyyal but on the condition that water shall be extracted only after the reservoirs and tanks of the villages in the lower regions are filled. Anyone who diverted the water would be severely punished.
The Cholas have again come into the national consciousness thanks to a recent movie, based on a part-fictional Tamil epic called Ponniyin Selvan. The Cholas, who ruled during the first three centuries CE, are certainly not lauded for their efficient water management and environmental measures alone. Most of us quickly identify with the Cholas when we witness the marvellous Hindu temples built by them.
But the recent movie Ponniyin Selvan-I highlighted a crucial aspect of the Cholas. The Chola empire was a powerful empire with a global presence, stretching from the Godavari River to the Indian Ocean and encompassing Sri Lanka, Maldives, and many other South Eastern Countries of Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The Cholas, however, were more than just conquerors and invaders. The Chola rulers, especially Rajendra Chola, were excellent diplomats. They maintained diplomatic relations with nearly every eastern country and several western countries. In the 11th century when Europe was grappling with Christianisation, economic depression, and contemplating the prospect of international trade - here were Bharatiya kings holding successful diplomatic talks with the leaders of the rest of the world! The art of combining warfare with excellent diplomacy is a lesson to be drawn from the great Cholas.
The Cholas' greatest strength, however, was their administrative abilities. While we still attribute the emergence of political concepts and principles to the West, perhaps a closer look at the Chola system of governance is in order. The Chola empire's administration was unlike any other in history, and it shared many characteristics with the modern Government. A lesser-known fact is that the Panchayat system of local administration existed long before modern India, albeit under a different name. Every Chola village had a Panchayat, which served as its governing body. It is worth noting that the Kudavolai election system, in which candidates' names were scrawled on palm leaves and tossed into a pot, and later names were picked out by a village girl child, declaring the head of the panchayat, is the earliest instance of a democratic election! On the other hand, the towns were administered with a hierarchical system of power distribution, flowing from top to bottom.
Despite being regrettably neglected and left to rot only in history textbooks and archives, India's past is an encyclopedia of useful and tried-and-true solutions to many of today's problems. Our ancestors left no stone unturned in their quest to provide ready-made solutions to even the most pressing issues of the modern world, regardless of what field they studied. Thus, it might do us, as well as the rest of the world good, by turning the pages of history to adopt and adapt those solutions for the issues of our modern world. These were global leaders who truly put India First.