The book is based on seminar proceedings on Traditional Water Management Systems organized by the
Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya, Bhopal and held in four components, at Bhopal,
Ahmedabad, Pune and Bhandara.
Apart from presenting history of water management in India from ancient to contemporary
times, this book brings out managerial, legal and financial problems which stand in the way of recycling
of local water harvesting structures. Simple techniques of conserving water, farmer managed irrigation
systems, law and policy of water management, study of tanks, recharging of springs, Chalcolitic
irrigation in Pune Distt. Etc. are some of the topics dealt with in detail.
As the theme of the seminar suggests, site-specific examples of various water management
systems have been given from archaeological record and contemporary contexts. This book has thirty
three articles as well as suggestions and recommendation written by eminent scholars, which will prove
useful in implementing various programmes. The papers being out the fact that traditional water
harvesting strategies continue to be relevant in development planning today.
Such themes are not generally tackled by research organizations and governmental
institutions. This work should, therefore, be a welcome addition to all libraries interested in the history
and development of water management in India.
About the Author
An M.P.A. in Public Administration and Ph.D. in Art History from Harvard University, Dr. Kalyan
Kumar Chakravarty (IAS, 1970) is a serving Secretary to the Government of India, on deputation to
the Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts, New Delhi as its Trustee and Member Secretary. Dr.
Chakravarty has published and lectured extensively on anthropology, museology, archaeology, art
history and on big-culture, Environment and Forests, Science and Technology and Manpower Planning.
He has headed the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums in Madhya Pradesh, the National Museum
of Mankind at Bhopal and the National Museum at Delhi. His lifelong focus has been on rebuilding
bridges between arts and life, culture and development, communities and public purpose institutions, and
on regenerating local knowledge systems I the management of natural resources in contemporary
Dr. Gyani Lal Badam, a leading quaternary geologist and palaeontologist, has
established the disciplinie of palaeontology at the Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute,
Pune, where his academic interests diversified to include river valleys and water harvesting structures in
central and peninsular India. A Fullbright scholar-in-residence earlier at Oregon University, he has
published extensively on palaeo-environmental and ecological issues. At present, Dr. Badam is a Senior
Consultant assisting the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in New Delhi to establish nexus
between natural and social sciences, and is providing scientific inputs in cultural informatics.
Dr. Vijay Paranjpye, is basically a plant ecologist and worked for sometime as a
faculty member in a local college in Pune before joining Econet, a Non-Government Organization. He
became interested in areas like traditional water management, study of dams on the Narmada and other
river valleys in Maharashtra and also in ecological constraints. His broad interests have revolved around
ecosystems, farmers organization and organizational matters particularly amongst the farmers of
Maharashtra. Dr. Paranjpye is one of most well known scholars having made meaningful contributions
towards rehabilitation of tribal populations located around the various river valleys.
At present, Dr. Paranjpye is the Trustee and Chairperson of ‘Gomukh’, a Non-Government
Organization based in Pune.
It is our immense pleasure that the volume ‘Traditional Water Management Systems of India’ edited by
Dr. K.K. Chakravarty, Dr. G.L. Badam and Dr. Vijay Paranjpye is brought to light, jointly published by
our Museum and Aryan Books International, New Delhi. There cannot be a more opportune moment for
this publication at least for two reasons. First, in recent times, much emphasis has been put by UNESCO
and the Govt. of India for documentation of traditional knowledge systems, sometime also known as
intangible cultural heritage, since there is a steady loss of these forms of knowledge from the collective
memory. Needless to say, our Museum has always been in the forefront in documenting, disseminating,
conserving and revitalizing traditional knowledge systems as an important input in development
strategies. This volume is yet another pointer in that direction. Second, in an age when the ground water
level is steadily going down and deeper, when there is even talk of a Third World War – if it ever
happens – on the issue of water, and when there are contrasting problems of water, flood on the one
hand and drought on the other, there is no denying the fact that the traditional modes of water
management, which have stood the test of time for centuries and generations, are to be emphasized and
revitalized for better conservation and efficient management. This is a case where emphasizing the
‘tradition’ does not mean putting the clock back, but rather it is a means for sustainable
The present book is the result of workshops on Traditional Water management Systems,
organized by our museum, as a part of the Golden Jubilee Celebration of India’s independence in 1997,
when Dr. K.K. Chakravarty was the Director and Dr. G.L. Badam, the Academic Advisor. I congratulate
the editors for their painstaking work and the contributors for their cooperation. Publication of the
volume jointly by our museum and Aryan Books International, New Delhi – I convey my sincere thanks
to the latter – is another example of the success.
I sincerely hope that the book would be found interesting by people at large, in particular,
specialists in water management and conservation, historians, archaeologists, sociologists and
Since the emergence of the humankind, water has played a major role in its survival. In the pre-historic
past, human beings always preferred to live either on the river-banks or in places close to the water
source, for sustenance and safety. Most of the pre-historic sites, ranging from Lower Palaeolithic to
Neolithic, have been found on the banks of the rivers, in the vicinity of lakes or near the streams. An
awareness regarding the proper management of water and its sources came about only in the Neolithic,
with man exploiting water sources for cultivation, transportation and communication.
There is evidence that water management was one of the major aspects in town and country
planning during the Harappan and Chalcolithic periods. Sites like Mohenjo-daro, Harappan and some of
the Chalcolithic sites in the Deccan (for example, Inamgaon) have yielded important traces of irrigation
and water supply. The evidence of ploughed field at the site of Kalibangan in Ganganagar district of
Rajasthan points to the existence of irrigation system. Scarcity of water was one of the crucial factors
that caused the decline of the great Harappan civilization. Similar was the case with the sites in the
Ghaggar and Drisadhwati valleys (Rajasthan, Haryana), which were abandoned with the drying up of
perennial rivers that supported them.
The majority of Early Historic sites witnessed the afflorescence of hydraulic civilizations.
Sites like Ujjain, Vidisha and Taxila were not only well fortified but also protected by natural or
artificial moats. The Early Historic site of Sisupalgarh (near Bhubaneswar), which was excavated in
1940s, is worth mentioning here. The Early Historic settlement at Asurgarh had a massive moat around
it along with a proper water supply system.
A well-organized hydraulic system existed during the days of the Delhi Sultanate and
Mughals. A well-planned water circulation system was a part of their exquisite gardens and
air-conditioning facilities. Arrangements were also made to supply water to the forts on the hilltops
with great difficulty. This very system became a contributory factor in the decline of the medieval forts.
One of the strategies of capturing the forts was to cut off water supply to the forts. Akbar shifted his
capital from Agra to Fatehpur Sikri and back to Agra because of acute water shortage during
Traditional water harvesting and irrigation systems continue to be relevant till today, in places
where rainfall is scarce, e.g., Gujarat and Rajasthan. In the Thar Desert, the local harvesting device is
known as Kundis (huge concrete saucers), in which the rainwater gets accumulated. This water is utilized
by both men and animals. The Kundis are both public and private and the private ones are kept locked in
order to protect water from both public use and overflow. Another example of water management comes
from Jodhpur (Rajasthan) which, in spite of being situated in an arid climatic zone, rarely faced water
problems, thanks to its well-managed canal system. There are a number of Rajasthani folk-songs related
to water management.
In Mizoram, there is a system of collecting rainwater from the rooftops. For this reason,
rooftops are made of corrugated iron sheets. In Nagaland, channels are dug to divert stream water into
paddy fields. The forests along the streams are not cut because that helps them in bringing irrigation
water, containing nutrients for unfertile soils of the hills.
The workshops on the ‘Traditional Water Management Systems’ were held as part of the
Golden Jubilee Celebration of India’s freedom, autonomy and variety of Indian knowledge systems
including water management against homogenizing technological solutions imported from the West.
The meetings took place in the backdrop of an exhibition on the history of Indian Navigation Traditions
mounted by the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya, with the help of voluntary organizations.
Meetings under this project were held in four components, the first one at IGRMS, Bhopal from 16-18
September 1947; the second one at Gujarat Vidyapeeth, Ahmedabad between 19-21st January 1998; the
third one with Econet at Pune, 3-4th April 1998; and the fourth one with the help of Econet and Water
Managers at Bhandara from 26-28th October 1998. The seminars were followed by several field
initiatives, co-directed by communities, for celebration of the history, sanctity and utility of waters, all
over the country. The main aim was to locate the managerial, legal or financial problems, which stood in
the way of recycling of the local water harvesting structures. There was also the problem of
understanding the need for establishing the validity and feasibility of these structures as eco-specific
and cost-effective alternatives to mega structures. The Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya
(IGRMS), Bhopal, wanted to build indoor and outdoor exhibitions with a mobile component, to expose
the common man to hard facts of mega dams, and to promote the conservation of traditional water
management systems as a national heritage. The above meetings helped inaugurate a long term phase of
mutually reinforcive and fruitful collaboration between the participants and the IGRMS and added to the
existing knowledge of water management from pre-historic to the present times.
On the whole, the deliberations revealed that the traditional water management systems were
still useful and had an important role to play in day-to-day activities of the local people. The main task
was to preserve, re-charge and revitalize these systems. For this, people’s participation and involvement
is of utmost importance. It was also emphasized that traditional wisdom and techniques had to be taken
into consideration while making developmental plans. Now-a-days, population growth, deforestation and
industrialization cause major problems and hence it is the need of the hour to upgrade traditional water
harvesting systems within the location specific technological framework.
Organizing deliberations of this magnitude would not have been possible without the
participation and active involvement of scholars, drawn from various Central and State Government
agencies, Museums, Institutions and Non-Governmental Organizations. The papers presented in the
deliberations were of high standard which were followed by useful discussions and suggestions.
We are grateful to the Ministry of Culture, Government of India and the IGRMS, Bhopal for a
generous grant which contributed to the successful and smooth conduct of the several workshops,
seminars and the field trips connected with the programme. We express our grateful thanks to the
Central Groundwater Board, and to Dr. G.K. Dev Burman, Shri Vinayak Potnis, Shri N.K. Dighe, Dr.
(Late) B.R. Sharma, Late Shri Jagdish Godbole and others for rendering their valuable co-operation and
help during the seminar, and also during the various meetings, preceding the seminar. Prof. K.
Karunakaran, Prof. K. C. Malhotra, Dr. Arun Sud, members of the IGRMS staff, contributed immensely
to the success of the seminar, right from the stage of organization to that of conclusion. The curatorial
and technical staff and the Director’s Office of the IGRMS willingly helped at every stage during the
conduct of the seminar and thereafter. Special mention may be made of Shri R.K. Shrivastava, Shri G.
Jayaprakashan, Shri Manoj Kumar Jain, Shri Sudhir Shrivastava, Shri K. Seshadri, Shri H.B.S. Parihar,
Shri Ravi Shivas, Shri Anand Tahenguria and several colleagues of the IGRMS. We are grateful to Prof.
G.C. Tripathi (IGNCA) for having spared his valuable time and made several important suggestions with
regard to the Sanskrit words and their romanised transcriptions.
In course of editing various papers, meaningful help was rendered from time to time by Shri
Balaram Tripathy, Ms V. Shobha, Ms. Anjali Paranjpye and Jitu Mishra (Pune), Ms. Shampa Shah, Shri
S.K. Pandey, Shri P.S. Rao (Bhopal) and Ms. Shailaja Srinivasan (Ahmedabad) for which we thank them
We are extremely thankful to Shri S.B. Ota, the then Superintending Archaeologist, ASI,
Bhopal, (who held an additional charge of the Director of IGRMS for sometime) and the present
Director, IGRMS, Prof. K.K. Basa for their co-operation and help in getting this volume published.
Indeed, without their interest and help it would not have been possible to bring out the proceedings of
the series of seminars on Water Management in the present form.
As said above, the various symposia in connection with Water Management were organized in
Bhopal, Ahmedabad, Pune and Bhandara from 1997-1998, when Dr. K.K. Chakravarty was the Director
of IGRMS and G.L. Badam its Academic Advisor (though still attached to the Deccan Collage, Pune).
However, because of the change of address of the editors, some delay was caused in the organization
and publication of this volume which we regret very much.
Shri Vikas Arya of Aryan Books International, New Delhi did an excellent job in bringing out
the publication meticulously and deserves special thanks. We would like to stress that the authors alone
are responsible for the data presented and the opinions expressed in their contributions.
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