Looking at the past for a Sustainable future.

People in India often say “don’t look back if you want to go ahead”. People also say “the past glory of India is a myth” and many proclaim that “we have to move with the time”. But if the time is considered cyclical, looking backwards can open the way for sustainable living and make the roads to the future clearer.

The cyclical representation of time using Chakra at Sun Temple,Konark, Odisha

Let us look at some of the ways how we can learn from ourself.

1. Water Conservation

नाप्सु मूत्रं पुरीष वाष्टवनं समुत्सृजत्‌ ।
अमेध्यलिप्तमन्याद्वा लोहितं वा विषणि वा ।।
Polluting substances like excreta, urine, spit or blood should never be released into the water


विष्णुं च वरुणं च सम्पूज्य जलाशय निर्माण कारयेत्‌ ।
Along with the worship of Vishnu and Varun, water reservoirs should be constructed

Agni Purana

1.1 Water temples or Naulas in Uttarakhand
Naulas, are shallow, 4-sided stepped wells as shown in the picture below. In Uttarakhand, naulas are commonly found in Kumaon. The oldest functioning Naula is the Badrinath ji ka naula which dates back to 7 BCE. They are designed to collect water from subterranean seepages or springs and are used to meet domestic water needs by the local communities.
The well is walled on three sides and covered with a roof of stone slabs. Water may seep in from fissures in the steps or the base. The drainage is usually designed so that the source is not contaminated.

Naula in Uttarakhand

To ensure Naulas are not defiled, they are dedicated to lord Vishnu Ji and a stone idol is placed inside to protect the water. Thus they are also referred as Vishnu ji ka Mandir (Vishnu Temple). Today, thousands of naulas in Uttarakhand lie forgotten and decaying. Their degraded condition reflects a decline in community water management.

In Himachal Pradesh, the structure similar to Naulas are called baoris. The bigger ones measure about 5m x 5m at the top while the smaller ones, called baoru, may measure just 2m x 2m. Very large baoris are called nauns.

1.2 Dharas or Mungurus
A common source of drinking water in Uttarakhand is the dhara or munguru. It is essentially a drinking water fountain. Water from springs etc is channeled out through carved outlets. The latter are often in the shape of either a simple pipe, carved human figures or animal face masks.

Dhara or Munguru in Uttarakhand

Many urban and rural settlements still depend on dharas for a secure supply of water. For example 2 dharas, Parda dhara and Sipahi dhara supply water to a large population in Nainital. In Gopeshwar, a perennial dhara near a Shiva temple supplies water to the city.

Dhara in Nainital, Uttarakhand

1.3 Guhls / Kuhls
Guhls or Kuhls are gravity contour channels that are used to transport water from hill torrents and perennial streams to agricultural fields in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Traditionally, guhls were made of mud and brick with hollow logs of wood or bamboo poles. But over the year, particularly since the state control of water resources, these have been cemented.

Most of the traditional irrigation systems comprised the main guhl, with a number of offshoots depending on the area to be irrigated. The water flow in the offshoots was regulated by opening or blocking the mouth of the offshoot, generally with stones.

The legendary guhl in Maletha village of Tehri Garhwal district is perhaps the most well-known guhl in Uttarakhand. It was built by digging a 100 m tunnel through hard rock about 350 m from its diversion point. The Katyuri kings (9th to 15th century A.D.) built tunnels at several places in Uttarakhand to provide water for otherwise dry villages. Such tunnels can be seen at Lakhanpur, Patal Bhubneshwar, Jakh, Devalgarh and Chandpur even today.

Guhl or Kuhl

1.4 Tankas
In every house of Guda Bishoniyan village in Jodhpur, there is a tanka to collect rainwater. Tankas are underground structures that store rainwater which flows into it through filtered inlets on the external wall of the structure. Depending upon the capacity of the tanka, it can store enough water to feed a family for up to as many as seven months. But apart from tankas, the village also has man-made talaabs and beris to conserve water.

Tankas in Rajasthan

1.5 Johads
A johad, also known as a pokhar or a percolation pond, is a community-owned traditional harvested rainwater storage wetland principally used for effectively harnessing water resources in the states of Rajasthan, Punjab,Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, that collects and stores water throughout the year especially in the rainy season, to be used for the purpose of recharging the groundwater in the nearby water wells, washing, bathing and drinking by humans and cattle. Some johads also have bricked or stones masonry and cemented ghat (series of steps and/or ramp)

Johad in Haryana

1.6 Kenis or Kennis

Kenis are centuries old mini wells, that have ensured water for the Mullu Kuruma tribe even during the harshest of summers. Kenis are cylindrical structures dug a metre-deep that are ringed with a wooden wall made of toddy palm.

The tribe considers kenis to be a blessing from God. It is customary that every newborn in the hamlet is first given a bath with water drawn from a keni. Also, brides collect a pot of water from keni and offer it at Veliyapura, the abode of their ancestors. When a person dies, the body is bathed with keni water  before the funeral.

Kenis in Kerala

1.7 Baoli 

Baoli refers to a man-made water tank, which was principally used to store water. It is also a source of groundwater. Baolis were built to collect rainwater to be used around the year. Most Baolis have dried up now. While Delhi once had more than a 100 Baolis, the number has now shrunk to 11. Separate Baolis were constructed for drinking and bathing purposes while some were constructed for the travellers.

Agrasen ki Baoli Delhi (dried up)
Agrasen ki Baoli Delhi (with water)

1.8 Ahar Pyne

Ahar-pyne system is an indigenous irrigation technology, which continues to irrigate substantial areas even today in South Bihar plains of India.
Ahars are reservoirs and consist of a major embankment across the line of the drainage with two side embankments running backwards up to the line of the drainage gradually losing their heights because of the gradient of the surface. Thus, an ahar resembles a rectangular catchment basin with only three embankments, and the fourth side left open for the drainage water to enter the catchment basin following the natural gradient of the country.

Under ‘Project jal sanchay’ check dams were created and traditional Aahar-Pyne irrigation system were renovated, accompanied by campaigns to create awareness about rainwater harvesting. The water conservation project has not only improved the availability of water but has also positively impacted farm production in the areas covered by the project.

Ahar Pyne in Bihar
Need for the revival of past structures:

Accroding to a NITI Aayog report published in the year 2018, in India

  • 75% of households do not have drinking water on premise.
  • 84% rural households do not have Piped water access.
  • When water is available, it is likely to be contaminated (up to 70% of our water supply), resulting in nearly 200,000 deaths each year.
  • India is currently ranked 120 among 122 countries in the water quality index.

According to yet another report by Niti Aayog titled ‘Inventory and Revival of Springs in the Himalayas for Water Security. ‘
Most of the Himalayas’ natural springs are depleting and almost half of the perennial springs have already dried up or have become seasonal and tens of thousands of villages are currently facing acute water shortage for drinking and other domestic purposes.

If no action is taken to address this, the demand for water would far outstrip its supply by 2030. (40% population will not have access to water). So it is important to revive the past to make way for the sustainable future.

2 thoughts on “Looking at the past for a Sustainable future.

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