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| Last Updated:: 29/08/2023

Traditional Water harvesting systems of Rajasthan







Water harvesting is deeply rooted in the social fabric of Rajasthan. Since Rajasthan is a region where there are no perennial rivers, most water-related problems are related to the fluctuating weather and river systems. Nearly all the natural sources of water like the jharnars (springs) have some mythological origin. Bangangas emerged from places where the Pandavas are said to have lived. Bhimagoda is a place where Bhima pressed his knee to the earth to send the water gushing out. Water is so scarce in Rajasthan that sources of natural water have become places of pilgrimage.




Types of waterbodies




In Rajasthan, there are various traditional water source systems, such as nadi, talab, johad, bandha, sagar, sammand and sarovar.



Wells are another important source of water. Different types of wells are found in Rajasthan. Kua is usually a well owned by an individual. The large wells are known as kohar and are usually owned by the community. The step wells are known as baoli. They are usually constructed as a good deed performed to obtain punya. Another name for baoli is jhalara. The most primitive step wells might probably date back to 550 AD. However, the most illustrious step wells were constructed in the medieval period.



Step wells are known by different names, such as baudi (including bawdi, bawri, baoli, bavadi and bavdi). They were developed as a response to the huge variations in the availability of water supply. A step well makes it easier to reach the ground water level and to also maintain the well. Another type of step well known as johara was developed with ramps so that cattle could reach the water easily.



Deep trenches were dug into the earth so that there would be water supply all around the year. The walls of the trenches were lined with blocks of stone. Steps were also built leading down to the water level. These step wells also served as a venue for social gatherings, especially popular among the women, who usually collected the water. They were also decorated with architectural and ornamental patterns.



These step wells had a unique system of water harvesting. The huge open surface of the well acted as the rain-catching conduit that collected the water and consigned it to the bottom of the well. The system of step wells was meant to ensure that the people had direct access to water throughout the year.





Chand Baori in Abhaneri village




The Chand Baori in Abhaneri village is one of the primitive step wells in the state of Rajasthan and is thought to be one of the largest. It appears exactly like a well. There are 3,500 tapered steps in this step well. The green water at the base of the well indicates that the well is no longer used. The steps encircle the step well on three sides while the fourth side has a group of pavilions that are constructed one on top of the other. The famous Chand Baori at Abhaneri was featured in a movie called “The Fall” and another called “The Dark Knight Rises”. At present, this step well is one of the vital assets of the country and is administered by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI).




Bundi, Kota




Bundi is a beautiful town and important in the history of Rajasthan. It is surrounded by the Aravalli hills on three sides and a massive wall with four gateways, famous for their intricate carvings and murals. Bundi is known for its baoris or stepwells. Constructed by royalty and affluent members of society, they served as water reservoirs whenever there was a scarcity of water. The finest example is the Raniji-ki which was built by Rani Nathavati ji in 1699 AD during her son Budh Singh’s time. It is adorned with finely sculpted pillars and arches. It is a multi-storeyed structure with places of worship on each floor. The steps built into the sides of the water-well made water accessible even when at a very low level. The baori is one of the largest examples of its kind in Rajasthan.



In Bundi, there are about 86 baoris. After the monsoon, these baoris get filled up with water. The streets channel the run over of water from one tank to the other. The deepest step well is about 46 metres deep.




Karz kund and Tulsi kund at Eklingji temple, Udaipur




These kunds are situated near the 15th century AD Jain temple, situated in the town of Eklingji. The water is utilised for the rituals in the temple, especially the alankar ritual of Lord Shiva. Two artificial pools have been created in the temple of Galtaji in Jaipur district The water is collected in seven tanks, the holiest being the Galta kund which never becomes dry. Another temple complex in Jaipur is the Ram Gopalji temple, also known as the Monkey temple. There is a cluster of sacred kunds near the temple complex.



Kaman in Bharatpur district of Rajasthan is an old sacred town of the Hindus and forms part of the Braj area where Lord Krishna spent his early life. Kaman also has 84 kunds many of which have dried up. It was long ruled by the Maharajahs of Jaipur. During the rainy season a fair is held called the Parikramma mela.



The Nawal Sagar Lake is situated in Bundi and is an artificial lake built in the form of a square. It contains many tiny islets. The temple of Lord Varuna, the Vedic God of water, is situated in the middle of the lake. The Dabhai kund, also known as the jail kund, is the largest and most historical kund of Bundi district. There are many steps leading down to the water level




Nadis are village ponds constructed in valleys by strategically building earthen embankments across natural depressions. These nadis are found in Jodhpur and Rajsamand districts of Rajasthan. They are used for storing water from an adjoining natural catchment during the rainy season. The site is selected by the villagers based on available natural catchments and their water yield potential. Water availability from the nadi ranges from two months to a year after the rains. In the dune areas they range from 1.5 to 4.0 metres and in sandy plains from 3 to 12 metres. The location of the nadi depends on its storage capacity due to the related catchment and runoff.



These nadis are mainly used for the water requirements of the livestock. However, one third of these nadis have been badly polluted due to the absence of maintenance. Due to the large surface area of the nadis, there is heavy water loss from evaporation.




Talabs are otherwise known as lakes or large reservoirs constructed in natural depressions or valleys. They are traditionally constructed by villagers on community lands, using lime masonry walls on the sides, with soil as the filling material between the walls. Some talabs have wells in their beds. For example, the Kharasan talab was a historically important water harvesting structure. It was constructed by an earthen embankment on the downstream side and a curvature on the upstream side to give more strength to the structure. Talabs are famous in the Mewar region and the city of Udaipur has a large number of talabs. Hence, was named Lake City. The reservoirs are in various sizes and named as variously: a small lake is called talai; a medium sized lake is called bandh or talab; and a bigger one is called sagar or samand. Water from these reservoirs is used for drinking as well as irrigation purposes. A large number of talabs are lost due to urbanization and industrialization. Earlier, they used to serve the drinking needs of the community, but of late they are being increasingly used for cattle and irrigation purposes. When the water dries up the beds are used for agriculture.



Tanks, in contrast to talabs, are constructed with huge masonry walls on four sides. They are either square or rectangular in shape and can hold massive amounts of water. They are invariably provided with a system of canals to bring in rainwater from the catchment areas. Most of the famous tanks are constructed in Jodhpur. Some of these have now been abandoned and receive sewage and polluted waters from the adjoining colonies. The feeder canals have fallen into disuse and are used as sewage lines and for dumping garbage.




Baoris are community wells, found in Rajasthan, that are used mainly for drinking purposes. Most of them are very old and were built by Banjaras (nomadic communities) for their drinking water needs. They can hold water for a long time because of almost negligible water evaporation. They do not have a catchment area of their own nor are they connected to any water course. They access the water from the seepage of talab or a lake situated nearby. They occupy minimum space in order to save money, time and energy. Jodhpur is especially famous for baoris. There is very little water evaporation from the baoris compare to other water bodies. The condition of half of the baoris is fairly good while the remaining require maintenance.




Jhalaras are man-made tanks, essentially used for community bathing and religious functions. They are rectangular in design and have steps on three or four sides. They collect subterranean seepage of a talab or a lake situated upstream. An outstanding example is the Maha Mandir Jhalara constructed in 1660. They are excellent examples of architectural designs and need to be protected. Some of these jhalaras are now used for irrigation purposes. Some jhalaras are being destroyed by mining and industrial activities. There is an urgent need to protect them by controlling the activities in the catchment areas. Re-forestation is also an effective method of regenerating these jhalaras. Desilting is essential if these jhalaras are to be used for their original purpose.




Tobas is the local name given to a ground depression with a natural catchment area. A hard plot of land with low porosity consisting of a depression and a natural catchment area was selected for the construction of tobas. It provides water for human and livestock consumption and the grass growing around it provides pasture for cattle. In order to preserve and enlarge the capacity of the tobas, the catchment areas were widened. No encroachment was allowed to damage the catchment. The tobas are also deepened to increase the storage capacity.




Kunds are rainwater harvesting structures found in the sandier tracts of the Thar Desert in western Rajasthan. They dot the region and are the main source of drinking water. A kund is a circular underground well. It looks like a saucer-shaped catchment area which gently slopes towards the centre where the well (kund) is situated. The depth and diameter of kunds may depend on the requirement of water used for drinking and domestic purposes.




The sides of the well-pit are covered with lime and ash. Most pits are covered by a lid to protect the water. The kunds may be owned by rich businessmen and land lords. During the period of the Mahabharata, this place had 84 kunds associated with an equal number of tirthas. All have now disappeared due to encroachment.




However, the kunds are very essential in that the importance of kunds with respect to the recharge of the aquifers is recognized in the low-lying regions of Rajasthan. These kunds are owned by the community and sometimes built by community co-operation. Before the onset of the monsoon, the catchment area of the kund is regularly cleaned. Especially in the Thar Desert, these kunds serve the important purpose of providing the drinking water requirements of far-flung settlements. The kunds are by and large circular in shape with a diameter ranging from 3m to 4.5m. Lime plaster or cement is used in the construction of the kunds. The catchment area varies from 20sq.m. to 2 hectares. In times of deficient rainfall the kunds can be used as water reservoirs by filling them by water tankers.




Kuis and dakeriyan are found in abundance in Bikaner district of western Rajasthan. These are 10-12 m deep pits dug near tanks to collect the seepage. Kuis can also be used to harvest rainwater in areas of meager rainfall. The mouth of the pit is usually made very narrow to prevent the collected water from evaporating. The pit gets wider as it burrows under the ground, so that water can seep in into a large surface area. The openings of these entirely kuchcha (earthen) structures are generally covered with planks of wood, or put under lock and key. The water is used sparingly, as a last resource in crisis situations.




Tankas, also called small tanks, are traditionally found in the main house or in the courtyard of the Bikaner houses. It is an underground tank with circular holes made in the ground, lined with fine polished lime where the rainwater is collected. Often, tankas are beautifully decorated with tiles which helped to keep the water cool. This water is used only for drinking purposes. The tanka system is also found in pilgrim towns like Dwaraka in Gujarat, where they have been in existence for centuries.











The traditional water harvesting systems described above have been in existence for many centuries. They have evolved using the age-old wisdom and knowledge of the terrain developed over many hundreds of years. They serve the essential water requirements of the people, especially in the water deficient areas of the Thar Desert. In recent times, however, these water harvesting systems have fallen into disuse or are being degraded by the march of industrialization and urbanization. There is an urgent need to regenerate and revive these ancient systems which are especially suited to the requirements of specific areas.