Art and Science of Water Management in Ancient India

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Posted By : ScienceIndia Administrator

Ancient Indians understood the science and art of settlement planning, architecture and governance of natural resources. Kautilya’s Arthasastra, written around 300 BC discussed about these aspects in detail. The kings provided fiscal incentives to the communities or individuals who built water systems. Archaeologists have found evidence of early Indian hydraulic engineering. Sringaverapura tank near Allahabad is a remarkable system to convert floodwater of River Ganga into a set of desalting chambers, including water weirs, to clean the water for drinking. Dholavira, Gujarat of Indus Valley civilization had built lakes to harvest monsoon runoff for drainage system and drinking water. During early Harappan phase (2800–2600 BC), rain water-retaining devices (eg. gabarbands and Lothal) have been discovered in Baluchistan and Sindh Kohistan to store water for irrigation purposes. In the 3rd century BC, drainage systems included soak-pits built of pottery ring are built in Ujjain and Taxila were used for the disposal of domestic wastewater which was canalized out from the houses through earthenware drain-pipes into soak-pits. British Gazettes written of these systems, at times with awe and mentioned India as a hydraulic society. Ingenious system of flood management of Bengal was famous in British era. In South Asia, during the Sangam Period, rainwater harvesting was started to irrigate paddy fields, and fishing was practiced in lotus ponds. Domestic grey and black water were canalized through street-side drains, and cesspits were implemented in order to avoid the clogging of the system. During the 1st century AD, a grand dam was built on the river Cauvery to protect the downstream populations from floods, and to provide water for irrigation purposes. Katta, sand bores called as Madakas in Karnataka, Pemghara in Odisha and Johads in Rajasthan, are the oldest systems used to conserve and recharge ground water. Desert city of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan is a best example of traditional Indian rain water harvesting. These are the real symbols of ancient India’s scientific prowess. Visvesvarayya, the architect of water management in modern India, took inspiration from the ancient civilizations. Not only in water management, ancient Indian technology adopted simple, effective and sustainable methods in the domain of water treatment too (eg. reducing fluoride levels by adding Tulasi, Vetiver, and Drumsticks). We must be proud of our water heritage and relearn its art and science. Taking a leaf out of the fascinating past of water management and conservation in India we must solve present water crisis. 

Author: Dr Debkumar Chakraborty, N-PDF, Bioengineering and Environmental Sciences Lab, EEFF Department, CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (CSIR-IICT), Hyderabad.

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