Mandala Of Indic Traditions
Infinity Foundation sponsored new book project titled:
"Channeling Nature: Hydraulics, Traditional Knowledge Systems, And Water
Resource Management in India A Historical Perspective"
by Rima Hooja, PhD
The importance of water for basic existence is a universally recognised fact
which does not, perhaps, require stressing or re-iteration here! Nor
does the fact that access to water has long determined the positioning of habitational
(and work-related) sites of humans (and, for that matter, of birds and animals).
This applies to sites attributable to the prehistoric (i.e. Palaeolithic, or
'Old Stone Age', Neolithic, or 'New Stone Age', and Mesolithic) phases of human
existence, as much as to the rural settlements, towns and cities that came up
in different parts of South Asia in subsequent millennia. As such, one of the
areas in which India's traditional knowledge systems have developed and survived
from pre-historic to contemporary times is that of the development and management
of water resources. This has enabled, even in zones marked by an absence of
perennial rivers, a range of human activities, including agriculture, animal
husbandry, different types and levels of economic and manufacturing activities,
and the existence of prosperous kingdoms and states.
In the context of South Asia, a wide variety of engineering and water-related
systems were developed at different geographic locations over different periods.
For instance, during the third millennium BC (now often referred to as BCE to
denote 'Before Common Era'), farming communities in Baluchistan impounded rainwater
using stone rubble dams (known in later centuries as gabarbands, in this region),
and used it for irrigation. Archaeologists have reported similar, roughly contemporaneous,
structures variously of stone or mud and brick - from parts of Kutch, Sabarkantha
and Bhavnagar (all in Gujarat) and from near Karachi.
During the circa 3rd to 2nd millennia BC period, the urban sites of the Harappan
Civilisation demonstrated a high degree of hydraulic engineering skills. One
of the best known examples of this is the 'Great Bath' at the site of Mohenjodaro.
This has a pool or tank portion measuring 12 metres in length (north to south),
7 metres in width, and 2.5 metres in depth, within a larger building complex.
It was accessed by steps, to which wooden covers were fixed by bitumen or asphalt.
The bricks used in constructing this Great Bath were laid on edge, and the floor
and sides of the pool were waterproofed through the addition of gypsum in the
building-mortar, with a backing of a bitumen course for further damp proofing.
The sides of the pool were backed by a secondary set of walls, with the intervening
space between the two being filled with a bitumen coating and earth, to ensure
total waterproofing. Water for filling the pool of the 'Great Bath' came from
a large well situated in one of the rooms fronting the open courtyard of the
building-complex, while a corbelled baked-brick drain in the south-western portion
of the Bath served to carry away the used water.
The 'dock-yard' (or water-reservoir according to some), found in the excavations
at another well-known Harappan Culture site, namely, Lothal, is also worthy
of especial note. Irrespective of the controversy about whether the structure
was a dockyard or merely a reservoir, this remarkable lined structure, with
evidence of channels for inlet and outlet of water, is a pointer to the hydraulic
knowledge of protohistoric India! The presence of marine organisms in this complex
strengthens the argument for its having been a dock. The structure roughly
trapezoidal area (western wall 218.23 m; eastern wall 215.03 m; southern wall
35.66 m and northern wall: 37.49 m), is enclosed by a 1.2m thick lining made
up of a four-course wall of kiln-baked bricks, within broader mud-brick embankment
walls. There are two inlets to this enclosure, one each in the northern and
southernmost portions of the eastern side.
Towards the southern part of the eastern wall of this 'dock-yard' there is
a 7 metre wide gap. Excavations further to the east, in continuation of this
opening, have yielded the bed of a channel, 7 metres in width. As such, the
excavators have surmised that this 'spill-channel' connected the Lothal dockyard
with the nearby Bhogavo river, and thence with the Gulf of Cambay. It has been
suggested that boats could enter the Lothal dock at high tide using this channel,
when the tide waters swelled the channel's natural flow and pushed the extra
water upstream. In a like manner, the boats could make the return-journey back
to the river when the tide ebbed. To take care of the problem of the discharge
of extra water, a sizeable spill-channel was built in the southern wall of the
'dock'. The water level could be partially regulated by means of a wooden sluice
gate fitted across the spill-channel. A mud-brick platform (12.8 m wide and
243.84 m long) adjoining its western embankment possibly served as a 'wharf'
for the loading and unloading of goods.
In a like manner, the still-emerging evidence from the excavations at the Harappan
Culture site of Dholavira, in Gujarat, also indicates a complex system for collecting
and storing rainwater within several reservoirs, and in part within a partially
encircling moat that may have doubled as a defense mechanism. Dholavira lies
in an area that presently receives less than 160 cm of annual rainfall, and
has a history of prolonged droughts. Its climate and precipitation levels during
the period that the Harappan city of Dholavira flourished is believed to have
been not very significantly different either. As such, water management seems
to have been an issue that the Harappans were acutely aware of. This is reflected
in the occurrence of several rock-cut reservoirs or cisterns about 7m
deep, noted around the inner side of the outer wall of the settlement. To fill
these, the rainwater in the catchment areas of the site's two local seasonal
rivulets - the Mandsar (which lay outside the walled area of Dholavira, and
to its north-north-west) and the Manhar (flowing through the south-eastern part
of the walled area), was collected and brought to the reservoirs.
This was achieved through an ingenious system involving stone bunds or dams
(reminiscent of the gabarbands of Baluchistan), that were raised across the
streams at suitable points. From these, the monsoon runoff was carried to a
series of reservoirs, gouged out in the sloping areas between the inner and
outer walls of the Harappan period city, through inlet channels. These water
reservoirs were separated from each other by bund-cum-causeways, which also
served to facilitate access to different divisions of the city. The Dholavira
excavators claim that at least 16 water reservoirs were created within the city
walls. These covered some 17 hectares, or 36 per cent, of the walled area. In
the southeastern corner of the city there was a reservoir covering about 5 hectares.
The reservoirs had 4.5 to 7 m wide bunds around them, protected by brick masonry
A network of storm-water collection drains was also laid out, criss-crossing
the citadel/ 'castle-bailey' area, to collect rainwater. These brick-and-stone-built
drains were not used for sullage at all, but only to collect and carry rainwater
to a receptacle for later use. At least one of them was large enough to permit
a human standing upright, and most of them had surface apertures. The apertures
served as air ducts to facilitate the easy flow of storm water. (Household drains,
in contrast, were linked to cesspits or soak-pits at Dholavira). In this manner,
every effort was made to preserve rainwater in an area where there is no perennial
source of surface water and ground water is largely brackish.
At Mohenjodaro and various other Harappan sites (e.g. Kalibangan, Lothal, Surkotda,
Chanhudaro, etc.), buildings have also yielded evidence of individual wells
serving residential units. In fact, an archaeological survey suggests that,
generally speaking, every third house had a well. Besides private wells, there
were also public wells. Evidence from one of the smaller Harappan Culture sites
Allahdino (near Karachi), suggests the possibility that the Harappans
may have used wells for irrigated agriculture too. Besides this, individual
houses possessed paved bathrooms with drains to carry out sullage water from
the houses into the local city drainage system. This drainage system entailed
well-covered street drains made of kiln-baked bricks, with covered manholes
at intervals for purposes of cleaning and maintenance.
Though the decline of the Harappan urban centres marked a temporary eclipse
in large-scale hydraulic works, evidence shows that during the ensuing period,
attention continued to be paid to the development of water-resources. The excavators
of Inamgaon a chalcolithic site in Maharashtra, with three successive
cultures dating between c.1600 to c.700 BC have found evidence of a stone
rubble and mud embankment and channel which suggests that during the c.1400-1000
BC period artificial irrigation probably facilitated agriculture at this site
(Dhavalikar 1988, 1997:19; Dhavalikar et.al. 1988).
Further archaeological work in other parts of South Asia (and re-appraisal
of old reports), may bring to light other examples and aspects of early hydraulic
engineering. In this context, one major thrust of the proposed book will be
to document and discuss the hydraulics of pre and protohistoric South Asia,
particularly on the basis of archaeological data. This is a field that requires
considerably more attention than it has hitherto received.
The same applies to our knowledge of hydraulics in the historical period. In
fact, probably as a natural corollary to the expansion of lands under cultivation
in different parts of the Sub-Continent, a range of hydraulic techniques and
technologies came into prominence during the early historical period. Literary
references and archaeological data from about c. 6th Century BC onwards indicate
the development of embankments, canals and other hydraulic works, sullage devices
like soak-pits (or 'ring-wells'), and protective moats outside the towns which
sprang up in the wake of the 'Second Urbanisation' of South Asia.
For example, during the 4th century BC Nanda dynasty kings (c 363-321 BC),
built irrigation canals to carry water from river to agricultural tracts. Their
successors, the Mauryan dynasty rulers (c.321-185), built many more irrigation
works to facilitate agriculture (besides providing wells for public use alongside
roads and accompanying traveller's rest-houses). Details about irrigation and
water harvesting systems of this period can be found in Kautilya's 'Arthashastra'
a text believed to have been written in the 3rd century BC by the minister-mentor-cum-advisor
of the founder of the Mauryan dynasty Chandragupta Maurya. The book indicates
that people knew about rainfall regimes, soil types and irrigation techniques.
It also mentions that the state rendered help for the construction of irrigation
works, initiated and managed by the inhabitants of a newly settled village.
State officers were appointed to superintend the rivers, measure the land and
inspect the sluices by which water was let out from the main canals.
There are many other instances that emphasise the hydraulic knowledge and skills
known in early South Asian history. For example, the Hathigumpha inscriptions,
dating to the 2nd century BC, include descriptions of the major irrigation works
of Kalinga (the modern Orissa area). Artificial reservoirs or tanks too were
built for irrigation purposes often through damming smaller streams. (One
of the largest and oldest of such irrigation tanks known from present-day Sri
Lanka was the Abayawewa of king Panduwasa, built near the capital-city of Anuradhapura
in 504 BC. In the latter half of the 5th Century BC, two further tanks, the
Jayawewa and the Gamini, were constructed in the same region by a successor,
One may also note here a series of tanks excavated at the site of Sringaverapura,
near Allahabad, which reportedly date to the end of the 1st century BC. (B.B.
Lal, 'Excavations at Sringaverapura', 1993; & 'ABC of Sringaverapura', in
Agrawal & Narain (Eds.) Dying Wisdom, 1997, p.16). This remarkable example
of hydraulic engineering entailed a tank described as "
of its kind discovered so far more than 250 m long" (Lal, 1997:16). The
Sringaverapura tank-complex obtained water from the nearby river Ganga during
the monsoon season, when the level of the river usually rose by about 7-8 metres.
As a result, excess water used to spill over from the Ganga into an adjoining
stream (nullah). From this stream, an 11m wide and 5m deep canal carried the
water further into the Sringaverapura tanks.
The water first entered a settling chamber to enable the silt and debris to
settle. The relatively clean water then entered a rectangular tank made of bricks.
A stepped outlet from this tank allowed only clean water to trickle through
to a second tank, also rectangular in shape. This second tank apparently constituted
the primary source of water supply for Sringaverapura. There was also a third
tank this time a circular one at right-angles to the second tank, which
possessed an elaborate staircase allowing access to the lower levels of the
water in that tank. The excavators of the site suggest that some shrines stood
along the edge of this circular tank, and that the waters of this tank were
used for ritual bathing and prayers. (Lal mentions terracotta sculptures, including
of Siva and Kubera, recovered from the debris of this round tank). An elaborate
waste weir, provided at an end of this tank, carried water out from the tank.
This consisted of seven spill-channels, a crest and a final exit channel. The
excess water was returned to the river, through this final exit channel. A series
of wells in the bed of the tank allowed access groundwater even during the hot
summer months. (Though no inscription associated with the tank has been found,
Lal [1997:16] suggests, on grounds of circumstantial evidence, that a king Dhanadeva
of Ayodhya built it).
Besides canals and tanks, artificial ponds and lakes were created too during
ancient times by stopping the outlets of streams and rivers. From such water-bodies,
water was lifted by counterpoised 'sweeps', or other devices, and fed into smaller
channels. These, in turn, carried the water into fields. (Such methods have
been used in Indian agriculture up to contemporary times). Along with these
and other types of water bodies attached to sacred groves, religious centres,
towns and fortified settlements, large artificial lakes came up across South
One of the earliest artificial lakes known from ancient India the 'Sudarshan'
lake in Gujarat's Girnar area is datable to the early period of the reign
of the Mauryan dynasty emperors. This was first excavated during the reign of
Emperor Chandragupta Maurya by one of his subordinates an officer named Pushyagupta.
Supplementary channels were later added, along with other improvements to the
lake, by one 'Yavanaraja' Tushaspha during the reign of Emperor Ashoka (Chandragupta
Maurya's grandson), in the 3rd Century BC. Nearly four centuries later, the
lake was repaired by the Saka king, Mahakshatrapa Rudradaman of Ujjain, as is
recorded in his Junagarh (or Girnar) Inscription of AD 150. The lake continued
to exist over the ensuing period, as is attested by an inscription of AD 455,
dating to the reign of Emperor Skanda Gupta of the Gupta Empire. This records
that when the embankment-dam at Girnar broke, it was rebuilt in 455 AD by the
local city governor, a man named Chakrapalita, son of Emperor Skanda Gupta's
Provincial Governor, Parnadatta. Much later, the great embankment, over 100
feet thick at its base, holding back the waters of the lake at Girnar finally
gave way sometime in the 9th century AD. It was never again repaired.
Such a tradition of creating large lakes may be noted in many other areas,
particularly but not solely in the drier zones of the Sub-Continent.
The largest known artificial lake of India was created in the middle of the
11th century by king Bhoj Parmar, the ruler of Dhar, at Bhojpur, near Bhopal,
by constructing a vast embankment across two hills. The lake apparently received
water from as many as 365 streams and springs. Though the lake has vanished,
following the breaching of its embankment in 1434 AD, its traces indicate that
the lake originally covered no less than 250 square miles, or over 65,000 hectares.
Numerous other examples of artificially fabricated lakes are known from different
parts of the land and it has been estimated that, over time, there have existed
nearly 1.3 million human-made lakes and ponds across India. While the existence
of such lakes, in a pan South Asian context is mentioned in literary, oral,
historical and archaeological traditions, at present there exists no full listing,
in chronological and spatial order, of such water-bodies. (The lacuna needs
to be filled, since analyzing the creation, maintenance and management of such
water-bodies in a historical perspective could helps us in a better understanding
of the hydraulic traditions of South Asia, as well as the attitude of the State
and general populace towards its water-resources).
Among such lakes, those known from what now comprises the State of Rajasthan
include the 12th century Ana Sagar lake at Ajmer; the Ghadsisar reservoir-lake
built at Jaisalmer in 1367 AD by Bhati ruler, Rawal Ghadsi; and various lakes
at Udaipur city. (Among the last-named, Udaipur's famous Picchola lake is popularly
believed to have been constructed not by the State, or ruler, but by a wealthy
Banjara trader). Another of Rajasthan's better-known artificial lakes is the
Raj Samand, built at the command of Maharana Raj Singh of Mewar, and completed
in 1676 AD This is a large water-body of conserved fresh-water, created, in
part, through damming the waters of a small rivulet, and augmented by excavation
of a large tract in which rain-water could be collected. (Some historians believe
that this work was carried out during a prolonged drought that affected the
region between c.1661 to 1666 period, so that employment and food could be provided
to about 60,000 of the famine-affected populace of Mewar).
Scores of other examples from different geographical areas and chronological
time-periods emphasize India's rich, technologically excellent and varied hydraulic
tradition. This entailed, broadly speaking, a range of effective rain-water
harvesting, collection, storage, and management strategies including rotated
use of ponds etc. which developed, evolved and thrived in South Asia over
the centuries. For example, a complex network of irrigation and water management
systems were established by the Gond kingdom of central India together with
the necessary social and administrative systems needed to sustain them (Agrawal
& Narain (Eds.) Dying Wisdom, 1997, p.398). Similarly, various Sultans of
the Delhi Sultanate, including Iltutmish, Alauddin Khilji, Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq
and Feroz Shah Tughlaq built and repaired various tanks, water-collection systems,
and canals etc. during the c. 13th to 15th centuries.
Kalhan's 12th century text, the 'Rajatarangini' (composed around 1148-1150
AD), which chronicles the history of Kashmir, describes a well-conceived and
maintained irrigation system. Not only does the 'Rajatarangini' provide information
about various canals, irrigation channels, embankments, aqueducts, circular
dykes, barrages, wells and waterwheels, it also details numerous hydraulic works
executed during the reign of various different rulers of Kashmir. These include
a vast embankment, known as the 'Guddasetu', built by king Damodara II; and
the construction of series of arghat or waterwheels, by the 8th century AD king
Lalitaditya Muktapida of the Karkota dynasty. These waterwheels were constructed
in order to lift the waters of the river Vitasta (Jhelum), and channelise their
distribution to villages near Chakradhara (now called Tsakdhar).
One of the most notable names of an irrigation engineer that is recorded in
the 'Rajatarangini' is that of Suyya. Suyya worked for, and was a contemporary
of, king Avantivarman of the Utpala dynasty (855-883 AD), and he is credited
with 'draining the water of the Vitasta river and controlling it by constructing
a stone dam, and clearing its bed'. Suyya also 'displaced the confluence of
the rivers Sindhu and Vitasta', and constructed stone embankments for seven
yojans along the Vitasta in order to dam the vast Mahapadma lake (now famous
as the Wular lake). In fact, Suyya is credited with having made, "
streams of Indus and Jhelum flow according to his will, like a snake-charmer
his snakes" (A.L. Basham, 'The Wonder that Was India', 1967, p.195). The
system of irrigation established by Suyya was designed in such a way that everyone
was supplied with a fair share of water.
One must underline here that it was not just kings, queens, or rich merchants
who concerned themselves with the development of water resources. Communities
and collectives too did the same. Thus, in addition to the lakes, reservoirs,
water-mills (panchakki), check-dams and other irrigation-works etc. usually
built by the State, or from endowments by local chiefs, wealthy merchants, etc.,
various other indigenous water-harvesting / collection techniques and lifting
and conveyance devices evolved in response to regional geographical realities
and ecological considerations.
For example, in the desert areas of the Thar region of what now constitutes
the State of Rajasthan, and in its neighbouring State of Gujarat, where water
is a scarce and much valued commodity, tanks, kunds, step-wells or baolis/ baoris,
vavs, wells, ponds etc., were built. Besides these, specific indigenous water-harvesting
and collection methods were developed / evolved in direct response to local
geo-physical conditions. This led to systems like johadhs, anicuts, check-dams,
khadins, tankas, adlaz, jhalara, modhera, vapi, medhbandhi (earthen structure
on fields to prevent water from flowing out), the virdas of the Kutch region,
etc., being developed and maintained. Water-lifting devices like draw-wells,
'rahat' (a 'Persian-wheel' like system, derived from what is described in Sanskrit
terminology as the 'arghat' water-wheel), and 'dhekli' systems were developed
too. Between them, these systems met the drinking water, irrigation, agricultural
and other water-related needs of the people of the area even in years of lesser
than usual rainfall.
Other parts of India, similarly, developed traditional mechanisms for collecting
and accessing water over the ages. The southern part of India, under the Chola,
Pandya, Pallava, Chera, Vakataka, Kakatiya, etc. dynasties, developed a vast
network of tanks and canals, famed the world over, that served to irrigate crops
and enhance agrarian production. (The large tanks of Sri Lanka demonstrate a
common heritage). The tradition continued into the 16th-17th century, as exemplified
by the Vijayanagar kingdom, where a mighty reservoir was built using the labour
of 20,000 men during the reign of king Krishna Deva Raya. In a similar manner,
in northeastern areas of the Sub-Continent, and the foothills and lower slopes
of the Himalayas, different local communities devised indigenous methods of
collecting and channeling rainwater to meet their agricultural and drinking
water requirements. Here, and elsewhere, practices like contour-bunding and
local-level lift-irrigation schemes have used available water-resources in ways
suitable to the local terrain and economy. (CSE's Dying Wisdom, 1997; among
others provides details covering traditional water harvesting practices known
in the many different geographical zones of India).
Most of these devices and systems remained in use, with modifications, over
the ensuing centuries. These include the khadin-based cultivation, tankas, nadis
etc of Rajasthan, bandharas and tals of Maharashtra, the bundhis common to Madhya
Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar's ahars and pynes. These also include the
kuhls known in Himachal Pradesh and the kuhals of Jammu & Kashmir, the ponds
used in the Kandi belt of Jammu, the eris of Tamil Nadu, surangams of Kerala,
and the kattas of Karnataka, which are still in use today. (Agrawal & Narain
Eds. Dying Wisdom, 1997, provides an invaluable record). As many of these were
the result of local community action, their management and maintenance often
Water was used not just for agricultural, irrigation, occupation and industry-related
and domestic needs. Since water generally held importance in ritualistic practices,
structures like tanks, reservoirs, wells, step-wells, southern India's temple
tanks (kalyani tank) etc. were invariable accompaniments to religious complexes,
temples and sacred groves etc. Besides this, the royalty and aristocracy (alongside
with endowing public reservoirs, wells and step-wells etc., and providing State
patronage to larger irrigation works, 'bunds' and embankments, etc.), combined
water bodies with their palaces and gardens. Thus, there developed a vast range
of water-related architectural features both religious and secular, with regional
and sub-regional styles.
Examples of water-related architecture include lateral steps built on the banks
of rivers, reservoirs and dams or ghats, which form a characteristic feature
at various pilgrimage sites and religious enclosures; wells; royal pleasure
pavilions fronting or situated on islands within rivers and lakes; and ornamental
pools and water gardens attached to palaces. Other types of water-related architecture
include deep stepped basins; village tanks and wells which served as community
areas for bathing, watering animals, and meeting places etc. for rural communities;
and hunting pavilions used by royalty and aristocracy at water-holes frequented
by animals. The often ornate step-wells of Rajasthan and Gujarat, which tapped
deep aquifers, evolved in time into elaborate structures, with a series of steps
leading down, past pavilions, platforms for drawing water by a rope, balconies
and corridors, to lower levels, and subterranean chambers, kept cool by the
very nature of the structure. These step-wells not only fulfilled the water
needs, but also served the concerned populace as gathering places. (There exists
a large body of literature on these step-wells [including Jutta Jain-Neubauer's
'Water Pavilions', 1997, pp.144-145], which shall be referred to in the proposed
book).Unfortunately, not all the water-architecture of South Asia has been fully
documented, and there is an urgency to do so before this aspect of the land's
hydraulic past is lost in the face of rapid modernisation and the destruction
of many old buildings and sites!
Alongside this, since the palaces and forts of the rulers and their feudatories
incorporated water-bodies to meet drinking water needs as well as for aesthetic
and weather-conditioning purposes, elaborate systems of transporting water within
palaces and forts, and of fountains and water-channels that ran through chambers
and gardens were devised. (In the context of Rajasthan, for example, forts like
Jalore, Siwana, Ranthambore, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Mandore, Jodhpur, Chittorgarh,
Kumbhalgarh, Amber, etc. all combined functional tanks, reservoirs, storage-tanks,
etc. with architectural features and devices that served to hold and transport
water, and please the eye). Within the palaces of the Mughals, Rajputs, and
other ruling dynasties variations on systems of copper pipes carrying water
for cooling terrace pavilions, channels flowing through royal chambers, fountains
and water-gardens, and under-water collection tanks were the norm. Thus, here
too, various water-storage methods were devised, as were a range of water-lifting
mechanisms. The fort of Amber, near Jaipur, capital of modern Rajasthan, for
instance, has an ascending chain of water-lifting buildings dating to the 16th
century. These served to lift water from a reservoir at the base of the fort
to its very peak, and thence to the upper-most chambers of the hilltop palace.
Similar systems are known from practically all the medieval fortresses of South
(Interestingly, various hydraulic devices may be noted in the foreground or
background of later medieval Indian miniature paintings. For instance, Andrew
Topsfield has discussed a Mewar painting of c. 1740, depicting one of Udaipur's
lake palaces, in which a lakeside irrigation wheel-house, which used bullock
power to draw water for the gardens, is prominent in the foreground of the painting.
(See, Topsfield, 'City Palace and Lake Palaces: Architecture and Court Life
in Udaipur Painting', in Tillotson (Ed.). Stones in the Sand, Marg, Bombay,
2001, p.63). This aspect of the depiction of India's hydraulic history in paintings
and sculpted friezes etc. requires fuller documentation! It is hoped to take
up this aspect too in the proposed book).
Many of traditional and /or local systems of water-collection, storage, and
development and management of water-resources, unfortunately, fell into disuse
with the onset of 'modernisation' during the colonial period. For instance,
during the 17th century AD, Bengal's traditional system of overflow irrigation
proved an efficient system that not only enriched the soil but also controlled
malaria, since the fishes that automatically entered the inundated fields fed
on parasites and mosquito larvae etc. The system came to an end after the advent
of the British. Elsewhere too, the traditional methods were over-shadowed, reduced
in status, or openly discouraged due to the march of 'Western' technology. The
situation did not alter with the coming of Indian Independence, and the process
has continued into the late 20th Century, with a basic reliance on big dams,
inter-basin transfers and surface transport of water through canals and watercourses.
Fortunately there has been a revival of interest in traditional water systems
in recent years, both for theoretical and practical purposes, especially by
development activists (including organisations like the CSE, Alwar's Tarun Bharat
Sangh (TBS), etc. and people like Anna Hazare etc), scientists, environmentalists
and many others associated with the cause of sustainable development. Issues
emerging from the debate on environmental protection and community empowerment
have resulted in a strong need to have a fresh look at these older and time
tested practices and utilize their benefits for meeting the present day needs
of rural and urban areas.
While such work has led to the partial documentation and, in cases, modified
revival, of some of the traditional water-harvesting and watershed development
practices, India's long history in the field of hydraulic engineering, water-related
architecture, water resource management and traditional knowledge systems needs
a fuller study, from a wider historical perspective. It is with this aim in
mind that the present project has been formulated.(One may also add here that
relatively less is known about ancient hydraulics and water-related technology
of India than is the case for ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, Europe, etc.
My proposed work will, thus, attempt a brief, comparative, global perspective
on the history of hydraulics as well).
Aims & Objectives Of This Study:
My proposed book, thus, seeks to document South Asia's traditional knowledge
base pertaining to hydraulics, water-related architecture, water lifting techniques,
and the development and management of water resources, across the centuries,
in a historical perspective.
This is hoped to be achieved through:
- Documenting the hydraulic technology of India from pre-historic through
to contemporary times (with a brief comparative global perspective).
- Analysing the working and effectiveness of various strategies adopted for
the creation, development, maintenance and management of water-resources in
- Examining their role and relevance for contemporary India
- As a first step, the study will draw upon the existing body of literature,
including archaeological and technical reports on ancient hydraulic practices,
as well as various Govt., NGO, and specialist study-centre (e.g. Inst. of
Development Studies, Jaipur, where I was a Visiting Fellow in 1993-94; &
1995-96), publications to tabulate and document the available information,
both chronologically and area-wise.
- This will be followed by some limited fieldwork, both to add to the data-base,
as well as to understand the processes and techniques of hydraulic practices;
(including through interactions with people still using traditional methods,
or where such systems have been revived).
- I also intend holding consultations and interactions with environmentalists,
historians, archaeologists, hydrologists, watershed development and irrigation
related experts, traditional users, and development studies institutions,
etc., in order to comprehensively and systematically understand and analyze
the hydraulic technology of South Asia and the effectiveness (or otherwise)
of the traditional water systems in meeting the multifarious requirements
of the people.
The study would, thus, hope to highlight a lesser discussed aspect of the Sub-Continent's
traditional knowledge systems, through focussing on the long history (and effectiveness)
of the hydraulic technology and water resource management practices of South
Asia, thereby enabling these their due recognition in the wider world of universal
science and technology.
It is visualised that the final document, which will take the shape of a published
text of about 250-300, shall take a minimum of 18 months to complete. The work
will include relevant maps, photographs and other illustrations.
The tentative chapterization of the work (subject to modification), is as follows:
Channeling Nature: Hydraulics, Traditional Knowledge Systems, and Water
Resource Management in India A Historical Perspective
Name of Chapter/Contents to Include:
1 (SECTION 1) Introduction Background Setting; Aims, objectives and methodology
of the study; an overview of the situation; hydraulics in general, etc.
Summarized global perspective / history of hydraulic technology covering
ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, Persia, Greece, Roman Empire, medieval
Europe, Meso-America & South America etc.
2 Aqua Vita: Tapping A Resource About development and management of water
resources. Distinction between constructing (or 'developing') a hydraulic
structure/ system, and its long-term 'management' (maintenance, repair,
role of State and/ or community participation, etc). Examples of former
include making reservoirs, irrigation systems, dams, check-dams, tanks,
kunds, baolis, underground storage, inundation systems, lift irrigation,
systems of drainage, etc. Examples of 'management' will discuss various
cultural and social practices, rotational use of resources, religious beliefs,
administrative structures, role of State/ Government, and of community,
3-6 (SECTION 2) Hydraulics And Water-Related Structures And Architecture
In South Asia A Chronological/ Historical Overview Pre-Harappan,
Harappan, Inamgaon & other proto-historical sites; Sringaverapura tank
system of c. 1st century, using water brought through a canal from the river
Ganga into a series of tanks, with an outflow system for excess water. Use
of archaeological reports/ field studies/ data; other early historical urban
sites & water usage; hydraulics in medieval, pre-modern, colonial &
post- colonial South Asia. Historical, epigraphic, literary, archaeological
etc. evidence; the 'arghat' or Indian version of so-called 'Persian wheel'
etc.; tank irrigation practices, especially in Southern India etc.Traditional
architecture and weather-conditioning/ air-conditioning using water; knowledge
of fluctuating water tables etc.
7 (SECTION 3) Water Management Strategies And Traditional Knowledge Systems
In Different Geographical /Spatial Regions Of South Asia (Western India;
Northern India, Hills, Central India, the Deccan, South India, Eastern India,
the North-East etc.) Practices from different geographical regions and sub-regions.
Re: traditional methods of collecting water; rainwater harvesting etc.;
filtering etc methods of water treatment etc; transportation from collection
areas into storage tanks. Different traditional /indigenous means of short
and long-term water-storage. Distribution, Control and Management Strategies
in Pre-Modern India. Role of State; local participation
8 (SECTION 4) Transition, Tradition, and Contemporary Relevance Adaptive
Strategies, Rejection of Traditional Practices, and Modified Revival of
some of the traditional hydraulic technologies; Debate on development; efforts
by environmentalists, NGOs, Govt. (the building of Johadhs in Alwar (Rajasthan);
Ralegaon Siddhi, Haryana etc.)
9 Towards The Future Concluding chapter
10 Bibliography & References
Starting References and Initial Readings
1. Various volumes of 'Indian Archaeology A Review'.
2. Rao, S.R. 1979 Lothal A Harappan Port Town, 2 vols, Delhi.
3. Articles on Dholavira (E.g. Bisht, R.S. 'Dholavira New Horizons
of the Indus Civilization', Puratattva, 20, pp.71-82, 1991; 'Dholavira',
Indian Archaeology A Review 1991-92, pp.26-35, 1996; 'Dholavira',
Indian Archaeology A Review 1992-93, pp.27-31, 1997; etc.)
4. Fairservis, W.J. 1982. 'Allahdino: An excavation of a small Harappan
site', In G. L. Possehl (Ed.) Harappan Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective.
Oxford & IBH, New Delhi, pp.106-112.
5. Agrawal, Anil & Sunita Narain. 1997. Dying Wisdom: Rise, fall and
potential of India's traditional water harvesting systems. (State of India's
Environment A Citizens' Report, No. 4), Centre for Science &
Environment (CSE), New Delhi.
6. Lal, B.B. 1993. Sringaverapura Excavations (1977-86). Vol. 1, Delhi);
& 1997. 'ABC of Sringaverapura', In Anil Agrawal & Sunita Narain
(Eds.) Dying Wisdom. CSE, New Delhi, p.16.
7. Pande, B.M. 1997. 'Traditional Water Harvesting: A Multi-millennial
Mission', In Agrawal & Narain (Eds.) Dying Wisdom. CSE, New Delhi, pp.11-23.
8. Chakrabarti, D.K. 1999. India An Archaeological History: Palaeolithic
Beginnings to Early Historic Foundations. Oxford Univ Press, New Delhi.
9. Dhavalikar, M.K. 1988. First Farmers of the Deccan, Ravish Pub., Pune;
1997. 'Harappan Harvests', In Agrawal & Narain (Eds.) Dying Wisdom,
10. Dhavalikar, M.K., H.D. Sankalia & Z. Ansari. 1988. Excavations
at Inamgaon. Deccan College, Pune.
11. Central Board of Irrigation and Power .1965. Irrigation in India through
the Ages, Central Board of Irrigation and Power, New Delhi.
12. Indian Council for Agricultural Research. 1964. Agriculture in Ancient
India, Indian Council for Agricultural Research, New Delhi, pp.113-133.
13. Kangle, R.P. 1963. The Kautilya Arthasastra, Bombay (Mumbai).
14. Kielhorn, F. Junagarh Rock Inscription of Rudradaman, in Epigraphia
lndica, vol. VIII, pp.36-49.
15. S.K. Misra (Jaipur) recent book on Jaigarh water-tanks & structures.
16. Historical studies pertaining to Water Architecture.
17. Reports of International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage.
18. Reports of Center for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi.
19. Studies of Irrigation and PHED Department various State Govts.
20. Habib, I. 1963. Agrarian System of Mughal India. Asia Pub H., Bombay.
21. Hegewald, J.A.B. 2001. 'Water Architecture in Rajasthan', in G. Tillotson
(Ed.) Stones in the Sand, Marg, Bombay, pp.78-89.
22. Hegewald, J.A.B. Unpub. Ph.D. dissertation, Oxford University.
23. Hegewald, J.A.B (forthcoming). 'Diversity and Development in South
Asian Kunda Architecture', South Asian Archaeology 1997.
24. Livingston, M. 1995. 'The Stepwells and Stepped-Ponds of Western India',
Asian Art and Culture, pp.3-19.
25. Eck, D. 1981. 'India's Tirtha's: 'Crossings' in Sacred Geography',
History of Religion, vol.20, no.4, pp.323-44.
26. Topsfield, A. 2001. 'City Palace and Lake Palaces: Architecture and
Court Life in Udaipur Painting', in Tillotson (Ed.) Stones in the Sand,
Marg, Bombay, pp.54-67.
27. Meister, M.W. and M.A. Dhaky (Eds.) Encyclopaedia of Indian Temple
Architecture (2 Vols) Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1991.
28. Subramaniam, C.N. 'Aspects of the History of Agriculture in the Cauvery
Delta c.850-c.1600', Unpub. M.Phil dissertation, JNU, New Delhi, 1983.
29. Basham, A.L. 1967. The Wonder that Was India, Fontana, London, and
Rupa & Co., Calcutta.
30. Jain-Neubauer, Jutta. 'Water Pavilions', Agrawal & Narain (Eds.)
Dying Wisdom, CSE, 1997, pp.144-145; Also, her book on stepwells.
31. Works on watershed development, Participatory Irrigation Management,
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