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Addressing Water preservation through Traditional methods

Traditions represent a critical piece of our culture. They help form the structure and foundation of our families and our society. They remind us that we are part of a history that defines our past, shapes who we are today and who we are likely to become. Once we ignore the meaning of our traditions, we’re in danger of damaging the underpinning of our identity. This is very important in modern times, especially in relation to the water crisis.

Since ages, people across different regions of India, have experienced either excess or scarce water due to varied rainfall and land topography. Yet, they have managed to irrigate their agricultural fields using localized water harvesting methods. Their traditional ways, though less popular, are still in use and efficient. They are enriched with knowledge to manage water in communal ways. Let’s learn about a few traditional water conservation methods in India. Given below are a few of the traditional water conservation methods.


Katta is a temporary structure made by binding mud and loose stones available locally. Built across small streams and rivers, this stone bund slows the flow of water, and stores a large amount (depending upon its height) during the dry months. The collected water gradually seeps into ground and increase the water level of nearby wells. In coastal areas, they also minimize the flow of fresh water into the sea. It is a cost effective and simple method, used widely in rural areas.

Sand bores 

Sand bores provide a safe alternative for farm irrigation without affecting groundwater. This technique uses the concept of extracting water retained by sand particles. Sand particles act as great water filters by retaining the salt content at bottom and gushing pure water out. White sand is believed to yield water clean enough for drinking too.


These water soak pits called Madakas in Karnataka, Pemghara in Odisha and Johads in Rajasthan, are one of the oldest systems used to conserve and recharge ground water. Constructed on an area with naturally high elevation on three sides, soil is excavated to create a storage area and used to create a wall on the fourth side to hold water. Johads collect monsoon water, which slowly seeps in to recharge groundwater and maintain soil moisture. Sometimes, many Johads are interconnected with a gulley or deep channels with a single outlet in a river or stream nearby to prevent structural damage. This cost-efficient and simple structure requires annual maintenance of de-silting and cleaning the storage area of weed growth.


These step-wells are grand structures of high archaeological significance constructed since ancient times, mainly in honor of kings and queens. They are typically square shaped step-wells with beautiful arches, motifs and sometimes rooms on sides. Apart from storing water for basic needs, they at times also served for water sports.Located away from residential areas, the water quality in these Bawdis is considered to be good for consumption. The typical lifespan of Jhalaras is around 20-30 years.

Talab /Bandhi

Talabs are reservoirs that store water for household consumption and drinking purposes. They may be natural, such as the pokhariya ponds at Tikamgarh in the Bundelkhand region or man made, such as the lakes of Udaipur. A reservoir with an area less than five bighas is called a talai, a medium sized lake is called a bandhi  and bigger lakes are called sagar or samand.


Taanka is a traditional rainwater harvesting technique indigenous to the Thar desert region of Rajasthan. A Taanka is a cylindrical paved underground pit into which rainwater from rooftops, courtyards or artificially prepared catchments flows. Once completely filled, the water stored in a taanka can last throughout the dry season and is sufficient for a family of 5-6 members. An important element of water security in these arid regions, taankas can save families from the everyday drudgery of fetching water from distant sources.

Panam Keni

The Kuruma tribe (a native tribe of Wayanad) uses a special type of well, called the panam keni, to store water. Wooden cylinders are made by soaking the stems of toddy palms in water for a long time so that the core rots away until only the hard outer layer remains. These cylinders, four feet in diameter as well as depth, are then immersed in groundwater springs located in fields and forests. This is the secret behind how these wells have abundant water even in the hottest summer months.


Built by the nobility for civic, strategic or philanthropic reasons, baolis were secular structures from which everyone could draw water. These beautiful stepwells typically have beautiful arches, carved motifs and sometimes, rooms on their sides. The locations of baolis often suggest the way in which they were used. Baolis within villages were mainly used for utilitarian purposes and social gatherings. Baolis on trade routes were often frequented as resting places. Stepwells used exclusively for agriculture had  drainage systems that channelled water into the fields.


Kuhls are surface water channels found in the mountainous regions of Himachal Pradesh. The channels carry glacial waters from rivers and streams into the fields. The Kangra Valley system has an estimated 715 major kuhls and 2,500 minor kuhls that irrigate more than 30,000 hectares in the valley. An important cultural tradition, the kuhls were built either through public donations or by royal rulers. A kohli would be designated as the master of the kuhl and he would be responsible for the maintenance of the kuhl.

Bamboo Drip Irrigation

Innovated by tribes of north eastern states, this technique economically uses water during dry seasons. It is practiced in hilly areas where construction of ground channels is not possible due to sloppy and stony terrain. This arrangement taps spring water to irrigate fields. A network of channels made by bamboo pipes of various diameters (to control flow), allows downward flow of water by gravity. An efficient system can reduce around 20 liters of inflow water running over kms to 20-80 drops per minute in agricultural fields.


While we embrace newer techniques, it is not a bad idea to go back to the traditional roots.


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