Waternama is a collection of traditional practices for water conservation and management in Karnataka. The book is produced by Communication for Development and Learning and edited by Sandhya Iyengar.
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Chapter 1: Tanks of Karnataka: a historical perspective- Vatsala Iyengar
This article sheds light on the historical facts related to the importance and construction of tanks in India. Historical records highlight the fact that rulers in India have placed utmost importance to the construction of tanks.
The rock inscriptions as well as Kaifiyats confirm this. The Puranas too uphold the significance of the tanks. The article also describes the contribution of rulers as well as of unusual people in the building of tanks by quoting historical refernces, quotes and descriptions by travellers and makes connnections between the past and present. The article ends by highlighting the relevance of the historical connections between the populations and their cultures and the water tanks in todays times.
Chapter 2: Water tradition: the Malnad story -Shivananda Kalave
Chapter 3: Water management - the neeruganti way - Dr. S.T. Somashekara Reddy
This article describes the role of a person named as the Neeruganti, who traditionally controlled and managed the distribution of water at the village level or community level in the state of Karnataka. A Neeruganti was a person appointed by the community to manage water in a just and equitable manner. In order to do this, he made use of very simple, but creative methods to ensure that water was available equally to the whole community. The Neeruganti was thus a highly appreciated member of the community and recognised for his high standards of justice.
Although it is not clear as to when this system came into force and how it was used, yet it is known that the Neeruganti system was in existence in every irrigation system in the state till as recently as 50 years ago. Historically, wherever tanks were in existence, the neerugantis managed the water equitably as well ensured that the tank was maintained. Though water management may appear to be a simple task, yet the duties of the Neeruganti were numerous.
The key functions of the Neeruganti were to:
• ensure uniform supply of water to all fields in the command area
• determine the type of crop to be grown based upon the water available
• decide on the dates and times for supply of water and cessation
• inform everybody about the dates through beating of drums
• inform the farmers in case their crops were afflicted with pests or diseases
• ensure proper maintenance of the tank outlets
• decide upon a date to repair the tank canal
• arrange “Ganga Pooja” to invoke the blessings of the God for plentiful water in the tank
In 1962, a uniform irrigation policy was enacted for the entire state of Karnataka and the Neerugantis associated with huge tanks were taken into government service as Mettis. However, no recognition was given
to the Neerugantis of smaller tanks. Furthermore, they were also ignored when Village Accountants were appointed to each village. Thus, many Neerugantis did not find a place in the changed village administration and this led to a drop in their status in the community.
New cropping patterns of alternate cash crops, like areca and coconut, meant that they no longer received contribution in kind. This added to the problems of the neerugantis, as there was no defined system to decide their remuneration from these crops. The Neerugantis were, thus, increasingly relegated to the background.
The article informs of how the Neerugantis, who for many centuries had been regarded as central to the water management processes in the village, were hurriedly displaced by a government order in 1962, when the tanks were taken over as Government property. The instinctive wisdom and knowledge that they possessed on tank maintenance was lost and they had no recognition in the new political order. This brought a sudden end to this unique time-tested system of water management.
The article describes of how the vast experience, indigenous knowledge and expertise of the Neerugantis in water conservation, distribution and tank management, unfortunately has been allowed to evaporate and fade away and needs urgent revival.
Chapter 4: Traditional Kattas- cradles of water conservation- Chandrasekhar Etadka
This article describes the efforts made by people in the districts of Kasargod and Dakshin Kannada to revive the traditional kattas for water conservation. Kattas are temporary structures in the form of barricades erected across rivers, streams and rivulets to hold back the flowing water. The entire community involves itself in erecting these kattas. Built out of locally available stone and mud, the kattas are in existence only for three or four months in the summer.
However, the role they play within this short period is very significant. Enormous volumes of water contained by the kattas soak into the soil on both sides of the stream. This moisture, which seeps into the soil, releases itself gradually into the neighboring wells for agricultural purposes. Serial kattas are the best methods to maintain the water level in rivers and play a pivotal role in ensuring prosperity of the farmers.
Such efforts of water conservation have a history spanning many centuries as there have been several land records specifying regulations about the sharing of kattas. The farmers of Dakshina Kannada of Karnataka and Kasargod of Kerala follow the katta tradition. Till recently, the latter district witnessed the construction of more than 500 small and big kattas, every year. But this number has dwindled considerably and only a quarter of them are evident presently. The article ends by identifying the need to revive traditional methods of water storage and conservation such as the Kattas, in recent years.
Chapter-5: The living wells of Bijapur - Sumangala
This article sheds light on the history and the current deplorable situation of the traditional water conservation structures called as the bavdis, which were the main source of water during the rule of the Adil Shahi kings in Bijapur. Bavadis are another term for a well.
There are a number of bavadis such as Taj bavadi, Chand bavadi, Ibrahimpur bavadi, Nagar bavadi, Mas Bavadi, Alikhan bavadi, Langar bavadi, Ajgar bavadi, Daulat Koti bavadi, Basri bavadi, Sandal bavadi, Mukhari Masjid bavadi, and Sonar bavadi etc. Of these, the Taj bavadi and the Chand bavadi are the biggest and attract tourists due to their artistic excellence. While Taj bavadi, with its size and grandeur, occupies the first place, Chand bavadi and Ibrahim bavadi occupy the second and the third places respectively. People of the city still use the 30 bavadis that exist today.
Recent years have witnessed a drastic change in the water situation and depletion of water levels. While the locals are full of praise for the rulers and philanthropists, who built the wells, the same pride is lacking for the authorities who are incharge of the maintenance and protection of these wonderful water resources. The apathy of the people who use the bavadis is also shocking.
The main reason for water pollution is the vessels and clothes which are washed nearby. Alongwith this, is the immersion of Ganapathi idols, puja items like coconuts and flower garlands that are thrown into the bavadis. Gutter water is also allowed to flow into the bavadi. Instead of getting the bavadis cleaned when they are dry, the sites are used as dumping places. In addition, the negligence of the City Corporation, the Archaeological Department and the Tourism Department has resulted in encroachments and construction of buildings next to the wall of the wells. Many such factors have spelt the death knell for these traditional water-harvesting systems.
The article argues that the bavadis, which have withstood the test of time for over three centuries have fallen to ruin only since the past 8-10 years. The negligence and carelessness of both the authorities and community have resulted in reducing these enchanting, living wells to garbage bins. Sincere efforts must be taken to revert to this situation and bring the bavadis back to life once again.
Chapter 6: Community-led water sharing- the Dhamasha system- H.A. Purushottam Rao
This article describes a system of 'dhamasha' that is practised in a villages named Bodampalli and Balasandra in Kolar district of Karnataka. The word ‘dhamasha’ means fair and proportionate distribution of water. One of the oldest water sharing methods, this unique system has been traditionally used for agriculture to ensure a good crop to all the farmers. At times, when the water level in the tank is low, the dhamasha system is brought into effect and ensures that all farmers receive a minimum quantity of water that is adequate to the crop being grown.
This practice is still prevalent in some villages of Kolar district. The village Bodampalli has no water support in the form of either a river or a stream. The average annual rainfall in the region is less than 740 mm. Rainfall is erratic, and if the tank fills up during a year of good rainfall, it could remain depleted for the next two or three years, if the rains fail. At such times, there is acute scarcity of water for agriculture and cattle. In the years when the tank is full, it still does not have sufficient capacity to irrigate the crops. As a consequence, only 50-60 per cent of the command area can be used to grow crops. Due to water shortage, all the farmers in the area cannot cultivate their lands every year.
The dhamasha system is a solution worked out by the farmers of Bodampalli to overcome the problem. Using the dhamasha system, all the farmers of the command area in this region share water during the lean period. The crops grown are also decided on the basis of availability of water, suggesting a unique method of community cultivation.
Balasandra is another small village in Mulbagal Taluk in Kolar district. Though it is at a distance of just 10km from the town, it is very backward, does not have a good transport system. Despite its underdeveloped state, the village has nurtured within itself the unique system of dhamasha, and is a role model for co-existence and cooperation in the community.
The article informs that Dhamasha is not in existence anywhere in the State of Karnataka except in Kolar and argues that the harmony generated through water conservation by the people of Balasandra is rare and unprecedented. The fact that everybody is entitled to an equal share is unique and the populace of Bodampalli and Balasandra who have nurtured and followed this system are worthy of emulation.
Chapter 7: How does Bagalkot beat drought ? - Shylaja D.R
Bagalkot district in Karnataka is recognised to have the least amount of rainfall in the state with an average of 543 mm. As per a government estimate, the district has suffered a crop-loss of about Rs. 1500 crores between 2002-04 due to drought conditions and water scarcity. However, there are some villages in the district that have been able to withstand the impact of scanty rainfall and drought conditions. These are Badavadagi, Chittaragi, Ramavadagi, Karadi, Kodihala, Islampur, Nandavadagi, Kesarabhavi which are located in Hunagunda and Benakatti Taluk.
Experience shows that these seemingly obscure villages in Bagalkot possess traditional wisdom, which can maximise the scanty rainfall and control the onset of drought. This is the method of drought proofing. Drought proofing is a new concept that has been added to the vocabulary. But this skill is not new to people in Bagalkot District. Contact with the villagers indicates that this age-old method has been nurtured and propagated over time, and the application and impact of this system has been truly amazing.
The drought proofing of Bagalkot provides the assurance of a livelihood to all raindependent farmers. The farmers probably spend more money than any other village in the country to resist drought without any help or support from the government. In fact the government may not even be aware of this extensive work undertaken by the villagers and the prosperity they enjoy as a result of this work.
The article argues that, the state administration, government and the developmental pundits have to realise the truth, that such drought proofing systems have been sculpted out of the soil that has witnessed centuries of scarcity and hardship and has fine-tuned itself according to the needs. Thus, sitting in air-conditioned offices of Bangalore or Delhi and thinking about the solution is not enough. These planners should mingle with the people who face these problems, take them into confidence and through research and development, solve the issues.
At a local level, the knowledge can be used not only by neighbouring farmers, agricultural consultants and media to address the drought conditions, but this traditional knowledge can be the pride of not only the district or the State, but also of the country.
Chapter 8: Wealth in the well- Poornaprajna Belur
This article outlines few of the different types of wells found in the state of Karnataka and the practices and rituals associated with it. The common wells are found everywhere in the state of Karnataka and are constructed in a range of different styles and techniques. Regarded as the main source of water, rural communities have had a long-standing relationship with wells in their area.
A variety of wells such as Picot wells, spinning wheel wells, brick wells, stone wells, Bavadis, wells fitted with pre-cast mud rings, mountain wells, tunnel wells and many others are found in the state. Kolar has the largest number of open wells. Belgaum is in the second place with Bijapur occupying the third place.
Excavated wells that were once an inseparable part of the irrigation system and the life of farming communities has over time been relegated to the background of the social fabric of rural societies. According to data of the Statistical Department, Government of Karnataka, the State has about 4,00,000 excavated wells. Out of these, about 3,50,000 are used for agriculture while the rest are used for drinking purposes.
These figures have not taken into account private wells and wells located in factories and individual premises. In fact, records indicate that each town had a public well, the water from which was freely available to all communities. The public wells also met the water needs of travellers as well as banjaras.
Almost every town which has a tank would have about 50-100 wells. Water was drawn from these wells using traditional technologies such as picot, pulley, Persian wheel, spinning wheel etc. as well as diesel and electric machines. Paddy, millet, maize, pulses, groundnut, sugarcane, fruit, vegetables, mulberry and garden produce grew in plenty because of the continuous availability of well water. Patterns show that even when tanks dried up, wells continued to be a reliable water source, a commonality which can be likened to a fixed deposit in a bank.
The article goes on to discuss:
- The wells of Bijapur
- Historical records
- Reviving open wells
- Wells within houses
- Festivals with well water
- Water diviners
- Construction of wells
The article ends by arguing that wells are assets of the family, of the community and of the town. It is therefore everyone’s duty to protect them and use the water economically. Once water is drawn out of the well, it cannot be put back or replenished. The area around the well should be clean, with trees and plants growing around it. Wells are a comparatively cheap source of water and if maintained properly and with care, the wellbeing and prosperity of the community is assured.
Chapter 9: Sand Bore - A low-cost alternative to borewells- Renuka Manjunath
This article describes the sand bore and the advantages of using a sand bore over a borewell. A sand bore is a simple and economical rural technology through which farmers utilize water available at lesser depths. Sand bores were commonly used before the advent of borewells. As they utilize water that is available at a depth of less than 30 feet, sand bores do not affect groundwater.
A sand bore is a partial solution to the problems created by the borewells. It is a water source that does not harm the environment, and is a friend of the farmer. A sand bore does not have the negative impact of borewells as it does not allow either, overuse or encroachment of water.
It is said that sand bores were employed by soldiers on the move to draw water from river basins. This system has various names in local dialects, though in English it is called sand bore, jack well, hand pump, in-well ring etc. Geologists call it filter point. Also known as sand suckerwell in some countries, sand bore is probably the most appropriate name.
Sand is the core ingredient for a sand bore. Sand is deposited by running water on either banks of rivers, rivulets, canals, streams and tanks. In addition, when rivers change course, they create canals where they deposit sand. Sand deposits that rise 15-20 feet above the surface are capable of retaining groundwater. In order to use the water thus retained, the sandy soil is dug up by using a manual soil borer. After fitting filter pipes, the water is drawn with the help of an ordinary diesel pump or a low horsepower motor.
Sand bores get filled up with water automatically and generally provide sweet water. These are simple and economical devises as they draw water from depths of just 30 feet, and do not exert any adverse effects on groundwater.
The article argues that sand bores are a viable alternative to borewells, use local resources and knowledge and are widely accepted by the community. More importantly, they serve to conserve precious groundwater resources by optimizing water available at higher levels. Thus, the intensive use of this technology should be promoted.
Read a comment on sand bores by Sekhar Raghavan
Chapter 10: Jotte - A pot with a difference- Radhakrishna S. Bhadti
This article describes the Jotte system of extraction of water. Traditionally used in areca-nut plantations in Uttara Kannada, Jottes are an intelligent devise which uses local material and human labour to lift water from wells and tanks. The Jotte system ensures not just economical extraction of water from the wells and tanks, but also guarantees maximum and effective utilisation of the water available. Over the years unfortunately, this system has fallen into disuse.
The jotte system depends solely on human labour. It requires understanding, skill and fine expertise in managing the amount of water that is drawn out and how it is used. The quantity of water to be lifted to irrigate a particular portion of the field is carefully calculated and worked out before the operations start. Yet, careful management ensures that neither is there any shortage of water for the fields. Thus, the word shortage carried no meaning in places where this system was used.
The jotte system ensured that not a drop of water is wasted. As the water is lifted from the tank with human labour, the groundwater level is never touched. The jotte system does not deplete the groundwater level. Instead, only the surface water of the tank is utilized. Even after water is lifted from the tank and it appears to be empty, it fills up again the next morning, due to the rainwater which was always directed to the tank.
The articles argues that these practices are passing into local memory today. Given the change in the practices, it is likely that people have forgotten how to string the jotte. The change is also evident in the use of the vessels used in this system. Once regarded as the basic utility item of every family in Uttara Kannada, these are seldom seen today. In some cases, these have now been moved into the loft, while in others cases, people have converted the copper jotte into household utensils. Most unfortunate is the case of others who have sold off the traditional pots.
The jotte system, which was once an inseparable part of the cultivation practices among the areca-nut growers of Uttara Kannada District is now a rare practice, and worse still, a disappearing practice. Today the system of drawing water using jottes has almost disappeared. As a chain reaction, nobody cares for the tank.
As the tanks become extinct, the canals also dried up and have died a natural death, ending the entire process of water retention. The artice argues that attention needs to be given to revive these age old traditional systems of water retention today.
Chapter 11: Tapping the water through tunnels - the Malnad way - Ravishankar Doddamani
This article describes tunnels, which include sub terain passages drilled to tap clean, pure and natural water. These are commonly found in coastal Karnataka, as well as Malnad regions. Tunnels exist wherever tanks are found and these form a part of the local culture and tradition.
Tunnels or sub-terrain passages are common features in coastal Karnataka, as well as in Malnad. These are crosscut openings drilled into hillsides to tap clean, pure and natural water. The sub-terrain water level at the base of the hill is generally at a higher level than the groundwater levels of the plains. Hence, when crosscut openings are drilled, the end portion of the aperture reaches the sub-terrain water level of the hill. Water flows out easily through the tunnels owing to the gravity.
As it is available without the use of pots and buckets, the tunnel system is popular and is an integral part of the lives of farmers in coastal areas. Tanks generally exist close to tunnels to order to store the water carried into them. Tanks are also used to harvest water and hold large volumes of water. Together. these are good examples of traditional conservation techniques.
However, the article argues that since the nineties, the use of borewells has proliferated and as a consequence, ground water levels have rapidly shrunk. The number of houses along hills and mountains are also rapidly multiplying and an environmental imbalance does not augur well for the excellent tunnel systems.
In the present circumstances, due to widespread deforestation, the soil does not absorb rainwater. The number of people who drill tunnels is also on the decrease. It is feared that in the light of the decreasing use of and support for tunnels, this age-old system might be totally destroyed.
Chapter 12: Marginalised madakas- Harish Halemane
Madaka is one of the most common traditional systems of water conservation followed in several places in coastal Karnataka. It has been in use for hundreds of years at several places in the districts of Dakshina Kannada and Kasargod. However, this system is not unique or restricted to Karnataka. Since madakas can be constructed in hard stone surfaces as also in clayey regions, these are also found in other states, though these are known by different names.
There are similar structures in Rajasthan which are called johads. The traditional pemghara in Orissa also resembles the madaka. The cycle of water is that after rain falls on earth, it joins the streams and rivers and flows into sea before getting absorbed by the clouds to result in rain once again. In this process, some of the rainwater is absorbed by the soil to form groundwater. It is this resource that meets the needs of the community in times of scarcity.
Madakas enhance the decreasing groundwater level. This ensures rejuvenation of the subterranean water. Madakas increase the water levels in wells, tanks and borewells. Pumping of water to irrigate the land just below the madaka is considerably lessened. This in turn prevents irresponsible use and exploitation of groundwater and water in wells, tanks and borewells.
Afforestation is imperative in order to prevent silt deposits in the madakas. This step also augments the level of water. It creates new ecosystem as various animals and birds seek shelter in the forest. The water in the madaka also nurtures aquatic life.
The article argues that reviving the old madakas and building new ones should be two important programmes. When this happens, madakas will move out from the pages of history and become a part of our lives once again.
Gokatte is a traditional water conservation practice in Karnataka. All over Karnataka, there are small ponds that dot the landscape called gokattes, these pools are designed for use by cattle. Gokattes provide water to drink as well as a place to rest for cattle. Fed by rainwater, these pools serve as a perennial source of water for cattle and a community asset as well.
Gokatte or cattle pool is a simple and traditional water conservation practice. These pools can be found all over – in and around villages, outside towns, at one corner of the field, at the base of the hill and in some instances, even in the middle of a tank. While some have been built very systematically using stones, others have been created in pits. This is built without the help of any special tools or gadgets. There are many different types of gokattes in Karnataka, such as community cattle pool, town pond, small pond, madaka, excavated well, water pit etc.
Gokatte is a simple but amazing construction which captures and collects all the rain in an area. Using the unique eye-technology of the elders, this system uses the skill of the trained eye to work out the entire process of the flow of water to the gokattes by just observing the gradient of the land. So scientific was the point of placing the gokattes that not a drop of water is wasted, thereby filling the gokattes to the brim.
Unfortunately, gokattes have been allowed to fall into disuse. The tanks and bunds that were built and maintained earlier by the communities are now under the village, taluk or district administrations. Thus, the villagers do not volunteer for de-silting the tank or for repairing the gokatte. There is a change in attitude that as tax payers they need not concern themselves with these problems. The government has also turned a blind eye towards these systems, resulting in the unfortunate loss of a tried and tested tradition and a culture associated with it.
At the same time, the government has taken up World Bank aided projects like Sujala, Water Augmentation Project Association and River Basin Development Schemes, through which it has stepped forward to protect gokattes, tanks and the like. These have undergone a metamorphosis and are called canal bunds, gully plugs, agricultural pits etc. The only difference is that the communities no longer evince enough interest in these and the government is trying to persuade them with incentives and money to participate in the project.
The article argues that farmers should voluntarily identify the gokattes, tanks and ponds, study their condition and facilitate the smooth flow of rainwater into them. Tanks and ponds should be desilted and the water level should be increased. Construction of a gokatte costs approximately Rs. 40,000 today. If the government can finance this amount, either in the form of a loan or a subsidy and make the construction of a gokatte compulsory, there is no doubt that all the villages will be rich in water within two years. If the gokattes can be revived before the monsoon starts, a traditional and time-tested water harvesting system will get a new lease of life.
Chapter 15: A well in every house - the story of Ravur village- Ananda Thirtha Pyati
Open wells are a common feature of every village in India. Interestingly in Ravur village in northern Karnataka almost every house has a well. These wells has been have been well-kept and maintained over years and are the source for potable water for not just the household, but the entire village.
Chapter 16: Interlinking ponds - water conservation at Bellary Fort- Sripada Joshi
Interlinking ponds are the efforts of Tipu Sultan to conserve water by building ponds on the top of hills, a traditional water conservation technique, which stands the risk of extinction today and needs to be revived. History records Tipu Sultan as one of the finest generals in South India. Yet it is a little known fact that the well-being of his soldiers was of prime importance to Tipu. His focused efforts to conserve water at the top of the 50 foot tall hill of Bellary bear testimony to the measures that he took to ensure that his soldiers and the royal family were not effected by shortage of water.
Located in the centre of the district is a huge 50-foot high hill where Tipu built a fort which spread over five acres. Within this area, there were 40 structures resembling ponds which were open to the skies. Rainwater was allowed to collect in these ponds. Though each pond was independent, yet these were interlinked by man-made canals. The water collected in these ponds was sufficient to meet the water needs of over 1000 people. Even if a battle lasted for months or even years, the water was sufficient for the soldiers and members of the royal family. Once the ponds were full, the excess water was allowed to flow downhill, through specially laid man-made canals. These canals led into a big pond located at the foot of the hill.
Apart from this, the water that flowed downhill was also allowed to collect in a well in the soldier’s camp in Devi Nagar called Basavana Kunte. Located near the then district headquarters, this well also met the water needs of the city. So skilled was the technology used for construction, that even today the canals which were designed for the outflow from the interlinked ponds can be found along the ramparts of the fort.
However the outstanding example for water conservation on top of the hill at Bellary was not used by Tipu for long. Being an astute general, Tipu was aware of the need to keep his movements stealthy. He chose another hill near the Bellary fort hill which had a lower altitude. However, this provided a vantage point for the enemy’s soldier’s to spy on the movements of Tipu’s army. Tipu realised that the number of soldiers, stocks of arms and ammunition, food and water supply could all be monitored from the higher attitude nearby.
Over the last hundred years, the conditions of the ponds has deteriorated and today the ponds are choking with filth and garbage. No water collects in these ponds and outflow too has stopped. A detailed plan to revive the ponds and encourage participation of several organizations to partner in the effort were made.The work of dredging was taken up to remove the garbage from the ponds. Cement bags, sand, bricks and other construction material was transported on mule back to the top of the fort. However, the project was left incomplete and the ponds continue to be neglected.
The article ends by identifying the urgent need to revive this traditional technique of water conservation by encouraging efforts to restore these ponds.
Chapter 17: Yajaman Panagar and Tukkadi systems - Knowledge sources for tank water distribution - A.M. Veeresh
This article provides an introduction to two practices that highlight the wisdom of farmers in irrigating their lands. Jetti Agrahara is one such village where the system has been kept alive. It has come to be known as the yajaman panagar system. Yajaman means a farmer belonging to the command area and Panagar is a version of the Marathi word Panagrahi. By its very title, it conveys the synergy between the two, and that it provides equal responsibilities and rights to farmers of the command area as well as those who regulate the water.
Yajaman Panagars are chosen at a village meeting where villagers from the six villages gather and indicate their selection after a mutual discussion. Caste and creed are not considerations for selection and everybody is eligible. Farmers who can influence opinion within the community and bring them together are given preference. Four individuals from the two villages on the left bank canal and six from the three villages on the right bank canal are appointed as yajaman panagars. The performance of the yajaman panagars is assessed by the community every year, and those who are found lacking in their work are replaced with more committed persons.
While building tanks the community devoted special attention towards the courtyard, command area and the maintenance of the tank. Towards this, various indigenous systems and practices were followed bearing in mind the needs of each village and the geographical location of the tank. The tukkadi or the Restriction system is one such unique practice and was earlier in practice in several tanks of Mulbagal taluk of Kolar District. Presently it is followed only in the four tanks of Hanumanahalli, Meleri, Kammadatti and Uttanuru.
Yajaman panagara and tukkadi systems are excellent examples of the traditional wisdom exhibited by elders. They also symbolise their spirit of cooperation, which can serve as a lesson for contemporary life.The practices followed by our ancestors for distribution of tank water are numerous. The article argues that the care and concern they took especially during drought and the spirit of sharing they demonstrated while using whatever little water was available is worth emulating. Many practices have not been recorded, and thus are lost and need to be revived.
Chapter 18: Sisandra - A watering hole for travellers - C.R. Nagendra Prasad
Sisandras are the traditional water conservation structures found in parts of Karnataka. Built in stone and located on the sides of roads and highways, sisandras can be commonly seen in selected areas of Karnataka. These intriguing tub-like structures were constructed to provide water to the weary traveller. Built by the rich and the poor alike, the sisandras are a unique practice that has sadly, faded away.
Sisandras are found on the rural roads of Kolar, Tumkur, Chitradurga and certain parts of Bangalore district. At the entrance to Chitradurga fort, there is a well preserved sisandra. One sisandra was recently found while digging a foundation for a house in Kolar area. It is presently housed in the office of the District Armed Forces. Similar structures are also found in Dakshin Kannada, though these are smaller in size and are earmarked for animals.
While kings and emperors provided tanks, wells and rest houses, the rich traders of major towns built sisandras for the common man. Inscriptions dating as far as 600 years back in Kolar district give evidence of a sisandra built by a trader, who founded the town of Madamangala. Providing water in Hindu mythology was considered “dharma”. People from the scheduled caste community were employed to fill water in these sisandras. In the words of Sri V.S.S. Shastry of Kolar, “Even upper caste pilgrims drank water from the sisandra thus proving that caste differences were washed away by the water in the sisandras!”
Feudal chiefs were instrumental in building small townships as well as the roadside sisandras. People were employed not only to erect the structures, but also to fill water in these sisandras. Employment was thus generated not only through the construction of sisandras but also for ensuring that there was always enough water in them. The king’s officials made the payment to the people who carried the water from the tanks and wells to the sisandras.
The article informs that, unfortunately very little documentation is available about this unique system. The sisandras is a simple practice which can easily and should be revived, which will provide relief and earn goodwill from the ordinary traveller.
Chapter 19: Talaparige - Nature's science and art of water management - Mallikarjuna Hosapalya
Talaparige is a water source commonly found in Karnataka. The word talaparige is used for the point where water springs out from sandy soil. This is a unique water source that gets activated only when the tank dries up. Talapariges were major sources of water supply in the hilly areas of Tumkur, Chitradurga and Kolar districts. Once revered and celebrated by the community, talapariges were focal points of rural culture. Sadly, today talapariges have disappeared.
A talaparige is the point in the tank bed where water springs out from the sandy soil. It is also referred to as a swamp or a sweet water spring. Water from a talaparige is harnessed at the point where the maximum water springs out. Talapariges however become active only when the water in the tank dries up. Water in talapariges is used as drinking water for humans and animals and also for agricultural purposes.
Talapariges are found on rocky surfaces of the hill slopes where the water flows down during the monsoon and dries up in the summer, as well as on riverbanks, rivulets or streams. When it rains, water soaks in through cracks in the rocks and boulders and collects as subterranean water. It later springs forth wherever there is sandy soil. Rain water that collects under the earth by the banks of rivers, rivulets or streams gushes forth through talapariges when these water sources run dry in summer and the sand is struck. The point where water trickles, oozes or springs out is called the talaparige.
Talapariges do not have any definite shape. Most generally have a stonewall on three sides with an open portion on one side, so as to facilitate flow of water. A pit is dug wherever water can soak through. The maximum depth is about 15 feet, although the average depth is only 5 feet. The length and breadth is usually between 15-20 feet. As the canals are equal in measurement to these talapariges, both sometimes appear to be a single structure. While talapariges are generally built of stone in the middle of the tanks, sometimes these can also be found in places where there are no tanks.
The uniqueness of a talaparige is that water flows out of it only when it is used. This is owing to the fact that the eye of the talaparige closes when water does not flow out. The portion or the corner of the talaparige from where water oozes out is called the ‘water eye’. This point is of special significance. Workers who repair the canal observe this eye constantly to prevent it from getting covered with topsoil. For instance, the talaparige in Akkiramapur, Koratagere Taluk remained unused for many years, and the ‘water eye’ has choked up with moss and lichen.
In Karnataka, talapariges exist in the rocky surfaces of the mountainous areas of Tumkur, Kolar and Chitradurga districts. Anantapur and Cuddapah in Andhra Pradesh are also believed to have talapariges.
The article informs that Talapariges, once a central part of the rural community have mostly fallen into disuse today. While some have dried up due to continuous drought and indifference, others have been encroached upon. One such example is a public talaparige near Koratagere town, which has now become part of a private property. Many such instances have virtually erased the tradition of the talaparige, thereby destroying entire chains of this unique system. The article ends by arguing that there is an urgent need to undertake a detailed study of the significance of talapariges and revive this beautiful art and science in nature.
Chapter 20: The friendly water pond - Kuntes - Poornima K.K.
Kuntes are the structure for water storage in Karnataka. Every village in Karnataka has a kunte, the water, in which, serves several purposes. Situated in or very close to the village, these kuntes also help to maintain the ecological balance in the area around it. However kuntes are facing extinction today due to land encroachments.
A kunte is very similar to a pond. It is normally circular in shape and not very deep. It is structured in such a way that the rainwater directly flows into it and is collected in it. Some kuntes had a sluice and a natural waste weir, which helped in controlling the water outflow. It is a very simple technique and one that is very friendly to the environment and community.
In addition to the water being used for domestic purposes, these manmade water harvesting pools were also used as soak pits to increase the groundwater level. The water collected in the kunte were greatly beneficial in recharging the surrounding open wells. As a natural corollary, the vegetation around the pools also increased and this in turn helped to maintained the ecological balance in the areas around it.
Water from the kuntes was also used for growing vegetables, millet and even for soaking paddy fields. Another use for this water is in the brick kiln constructions. The various uses of the kunte prove that it was a community asset, which met community needs and generated livelihood.
Some are of the opinion that kuntes and the cattle dikes are one and the same. But this may not be true, as the latter was meant only for animals and was constructed wherever the cattle grazed, whereas the kunte was within the village and was meant for human use.
The article argues that unfortunately, land encroachments and the ubiquitous borewell have proved to be the undoing for these traditional kuntes, which need to be urgently restored.