Kerala and Karnataka's lesser known rainwater harvesting structures

Madakas are being replaced more and more by borewells. Efforts need to be made to restore these structures, create awareness, and preserve local knowledge.
16 Oct 2012
0 mins read
Madakas: Water harvesting structures in Kerala and Karnataka
Madakas: Water harvesting structures in Kerala and Karnataka

Madakas are one of the fast disappearing traditional rainwater harvesting structures found in the laterite belts of Karnataka and Kerala. They are naturally occuring depressions with high terrain on the three sides where water from the surrounding laterite slopes, mainly runoff from the rains, is accumulated. These have been traditionally used to harvest rainwater by constructing bunds on the open fourth side of the depression to check this runoff from the slopes.

However, there is no documentation and information available on the madakas, informs Shree Padreji who points at the urgent need to make efforts at restoring and reviving these traditional structures, which can provide sustainable solutions to the water scarcity problems that the farmers have been facing in recent years


A view of the madaka in Bedramballa village in Kasargod district, Kerala

A glimpse of the beautiful village of Padre located in Kasargod district makes it very difficult to believe that this is the place where the endosulphan tragedy continues to leave its imprints on the people in the area. We have come to visit Shree Padreji, better known as the rain water man for his pioneering work on farm journalism and documentation of traditional water harvesting methods for water conservation, who continues to live in the village and works on sensitising the communities on the issues very close to the heart of the farmers such as water conservation through revival of traditional water harvesting methods, documenting and sharing old and new methods and success stories by farmers on water harvesting and developing and propagating agricultural products for markets such as jackfruit. Besides this, he continues to direct attention and sensitise communities from Kerala and Karnataka on the endosulphan issue

The madakas from Karnataka and Kerala

We go to visit the village Bedramballa to look at the traditional rainwater harvesting structures known as the madakas, which have traditionally been used for supplementary irrigation for rice fields since a long time. Madakas are the most common traditional rainwater harvesting structures used mainly in the laterite belt districts of Dakshina Kannada and Kasargod in Karnataka and Kerala respectively and are naturally occuring depressions with high terrain on the three sides where water from the surrounding laterite slopes, mainly runoff from the rains gets accumulated. Traditionally, bunds are constructed on the open fourth side of this depression to check this runoff from the slopes and harvest rainwater.


Bunds made of rocks constructed on one of the sides of the madaka to restrict the flow of water

The laterite soil in agricultural areas is ideal for madakas as laterite belts have faster absorption and depletion of water and madakas aid in slow percolation of water through the cracks and are thus often compared to percolation ponds. This helps in recharge of groundwater and water oozes through springs and other outlets into manmade tanks or wells, which are located near the point of water collection in the madaka.

The main function of a madaka is thus to catch most of the run-off that flows from their catchment in the higher elevations. Besides storage of water for six to seven months, the madakas can dry up in summer months, but can help immensely by raising the water table of the aquifers below. Building the madaka higher up ensures water in the lower areas until the end of summer. The excess of flow that flows over the bunds can be utilised to irrigate the fields and the madakas are most commonly used for irrigation, but its other function of absorbing water for recharge continues to be a relatively less known feature till recent times.

Madaka 1Cattle gathered near the madaka to quench their thirst

Care has to be taken to see that the first rains do not flow into the madaka as they bring along with them leaves and silt from the slopes that can clog the cracks in the madaka bed, reducing percolation and also the storage capacity of the madaka. Afforestation is also important to prevent silt deposits from accumulating in the madakas. Besides their use as water storage structures for irrigation and percolation for groundwater recharge, madakas also help by creating a new ecosystem that shelters animals and birds as well as helps in reviving aquatic life.

MadakaThe ecosystem supported by the madaka

Our visit to Bedramballa village

We come up across a madaka, which looks like a pond or lake like structure or water accumulation, surrounded by natural slopes on three sides and constructed bunds on one side made up of rocks, cutting a serene and peaceful picture with the surrounding green vegetation and the view of the occasional cattle that venture into the water to quench their thirst. We also meet a few villagers sitting under the shades of the trees and rocks around the Madakas. We talk to two villagers, Mr Govind  and Mr Jagannath who inform us that this is a very old madaka and that madakas have been useful for irrigation for rice and inform that now very less rice is grown, but still this water is useful for public use and can serve as drinking water for animals and cattle.

MadakaA view of the water stored in the madaka following the rains

There is no documentation and information available on the madakas, informs Shree Padreji. Madakas continue to be abandoned and replaced by borewells, a temperory, highly exploitative and unsustainable means of procuring water. This calls for an urgent need to make efforts at restoring and reviving and creating awareness regarding this traditional wisdom and knowledge that people have, lest it fast disappears, taking along with it the age old wisdom of our ancestors to live in harmony with nature, not by plundering it, but by treating it with respect and reverence, he argues. The villagers inform us that Madakas are fast disappearing and are known only to the elderly in the village!


Halemane, Harish (2010) Marginalised Madakas. Downloaded from the site /sites/default/files/iwp/Marginalised%20Madakas_Harish%20Halemane_2010.pdf on the 15th of October 2012.

Sree Padre (2007) Upper catchment, gains in the plains. Downloaded from the website on the 15th of October 2012.


The author is extremely thankful to Sree Padreji for providing an overview of the water and agriculture related issues in Kasargod district, for informing and educating her on the importance of madakas as traditional water harvesting structures, taking her to the villages to view the madakas and to meet the villagers in the area.


Posted by
Get the latest news on water, straight to your inbox
Subscribe Now
Continue reading