Our Ancient ‘Water Management’

Bharat has a long tradition of water management. People were very much skilled in constructing dams and ponds. This is all well-documented

 We had the meticulous water management that is why our country was ‘sujalam sufalam’ (abundant with water and abundant with fruits). How excellent could this water management be? How many of us know that the first known dam in the world and also being in operation even today is in India? Anaikattu, called Grand Anicut by British or Kalanai dam in today's parlance, built by Chola king Karikalan in 2nd century CE, has this distinction. It has been in use for last 1800 years!

 

  A Stepwell in the interiors of Rajasthan

 

 A Stepwell in the interiors of Rajasthan

 

A dam being used for 1800 years in an era where the new dams display cracks in 30-35 years, is an amazing marvel! This dam or bund, built in the main riverbed of Kaveri, is 329 metres long and 20 metres wide. This bund is built in the delta region of Kaveri river, just 15 kilometres from Trichanapalli. The British had tried to mend it in their own way. Looking at this dam built with the raw-cut rocks, it seems that the science of building dams was much advanced at that time. This does not appear to be a dam built on experimental basis, but seems to be a dam built with much experience by skilled experienced persons. This means the science of building dams—or in other words of water management—must be very old. Of course, the evidences to this ancient science disappeared because of later foreign aggressions and whatever survived were the windows like Kalanai dam that opened to history!

 

Dams throughout the history

 

The references of building ancient dams are found in the world history. A 15-metre high dam built on Nile River at Koshesh around 2990 BCE is considered to be the oldest dam in the world. But it does not exist today. Rather, the modern historians have never seen that dam. Only references to it are found.

 

Some remains of dams built on Nile River in 2700 BCE in Egypt are found even today. It was later renamed as Saad-Al-Kafara. This dam, built 30 kilometres from Cairo, came down within a few days of its construction. Hence, the Egyptians showed no courage to build dams for many centuries thereafter. References to dams as old as 2280 BCE are found in China also, but no this much old dam is found all over the world that is in actual use today.

 

Yet, dams built after Kalanai and still in use are found in India. Earthen dams built by Pallav king in south during 500 to 1300 AD are operational even now. Veernam dam built in Tamilnadu during 1011 to 1037 AD is an example to this.

 

 

 

 Step well in the premises of Sri Subramanya Temple in Peralassery in Kannur (Kerala)

 

Many structures made for water managemnt do exist even today. Rani Ka Bav (Royal Well), built in Patan, the former capital of Gujarat, today occupies the place in the proteceted monuments of Unesco. This is an excellent example of channelising and storing the groundwater. Built during 1022 to 1063 AD, this seven-storeyed well is in excellent condition even now. Queen Udaymati from the Solanki dynasty, built this well in memory of her husband Bheemdev. That is why it is called Rani Ka Bav or Queen’s Well. This was the period when Mahmud Gaznavi had attacked Somnath. Whole of Gujarat fell in hands of Muslims some years after the well was built. That is why this royal well remained neglected hidden in mud and silt for next about 700 years.

 

Techniques of Water Management

 

Of course, we certainly knew the technique of water management since ancient times. There is a reference in the previous article of this series on the temples of five elements. The reference to water in it and many other evidences are before us to show that we had the knowledge of water management since ages. We find verses ragarding water management in RigVed and SamVed. Mukund Dharashivkar of Dhule (Maharashtra) has done sizeable and insightful writing on this. He has also mentioned GG Joshi regarding the ancient water management. Joshi, who was a senior engineer in Tarapur, had a deep knowledge of the ancient science.

 

SthapatyaVed (Ved of Architecture) is considered a sub-Ved of Atharvaved. Some of its copies are found in the libraries in Europe. Its annexure describes comprehensively the procedure of creating ponds (Tadag Vidhi).

Mukund Dharashivkar has also mentioned another book the title of which is not available unfortunately. Since its final page is also absent, it is not known who has written it. This book starts with the line ‘Ath Jalashaya Prabhyate’ (Starts with water body) and describes in detail the procedure to build ponds by erecting walls. This book is 2800 years old.

 

Ample and detailed information on the storage of water, its distribution, prediction of the rainfall, creation of pond etc. has been given in the books like Krishi Parashar, Kashyap Krishi Sukta, Sahadev Bhadali written in 6th century.

In Narad Shilpshastra and Bhrugu Shilpshastra, one finds deep elaboration on topics like sea forts, forts in rivers for storage of water, its distribution and draining of water. Bhrugu Shilpshastra gives ten characteristics of water, but Parashar Muni has said that the water has 19 characteristics.

 

The prominent work of Varahmihir was the encyclopaedia named Brihatsamhita that he authored. This encyclopaedia has the chapter number 54 titled udkargal (storage of water). The information that Varahmihir gives in this chapter having 125 shlokas is amazing and really astounding. The shlokas that pertain to how to find groundwater sources have left us surprised even today. While finding the groundwater, Varahmihir has emphasised on mainly three observations. They include the trees available in the area, ant-hills nears the trees, the direction of the ant-hills and the animals living there and the colour, texture and taste of the earth! He says that the groundwater can be found with certainty with the help of these observations. Please remember, Varahmihir made this strong statement more than 1500 years ago when no modern equipment existed!

 

This means that we had the technology of the importance of water, finding water and management of water. We were utilising it effectively for thousands of years. And that is why our country was sujalam-sufalam in true sense!