This paper explores Surangas, which are an ancient water system based on tunnels bored horizontally on the slopes of hills to get drinking water. These structures are mainly found in the laterite soils of Dakshina Kannada region and some parts of Kerala and Goa.
Digging such underground structures was an art and only certain sections of society constructed them. Ancient methods of linking termite mounds to water availability or the presence of some plants and water-dousing workmen were used to determine the yield of Surangas. The author states that these structures were mainly used by the poor labourers as they could not afford to dig wells. Thus they would dig these structures at night after their regular work hours. Candles and lamps using coconut oil were used to light the area of work under the ground.
The author mentions the village of Bayar in Kasargod that has over 2000 Surangas where rainwater percolating through the hills is sufficient to seep through these underwater structures. The author states that some farms do not need irrigation water till May because of these structures.
Going into the aspects of sociology, the author states that this knowledge of construction of these canals was known to Karhad Brahmins. The women from this community married into families in Goa and thus this technology also reached Goa.
Links to Qanats, similar structures found in Iran are also made. The author ends with the suggestion that these structures were brought in from Iran through trade.
This paper was presented at the National Seminar on Water and Culture organised by Kannada University and Sahayoga in 2007.
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