Qanats in the Irrigation Milieu of South Asia

Authors: Dale R. Lightfoot*, Oklahoma State University
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Asia, Historical Geography
Keywords: water resources, irrigation, history of water, qanat, South Asia
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Napoleon Foyer/Common St. Corridor, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Thousands of qanats—underground aqueducts that convey groundwater as a flowing stream to farm and village—were constructed over the past three millennia across dryland areas of the eastern hemisphere. South Asia lies near the eastern edge of Old World territories watered by qanats and, though they are less ancient and less common here than in southwest Asia, they are important to the irrigation milieu in some places. More than 20 qanats (aka nahar or bhandara) were constructed in laterite in the semi-arid Deccan Plateau of southern India to augment water supplies in Aurangabad, Burhanpur, Pune, and Bidar. Qanats in Pune were constructed after 1430, a century before Mughal rule in India, though most qanats on the Plateau date from 1600-1790s and entered the landscape as Mughal control expanded in the Plateau in the 1590s through 1680s. The qanats at Bidar (3) and Pune (3), and 11 at Aurangabad all ceased flowing between the 1930s-1970s, but three at Aurangabad and one at Burhanpur remain in use for irrigation and municipal water supply, and one at Bidar was refurbished and returned to service in 2017 for washing clothes and irrigating crops. As many as 5000 short qanat tunnels, known locally as surangam or mala, were constructed in laterite rock in the hilly terrain of the Western Ghats in Kerala state (SW India). These were mostly constructed through local efforts in the 20th century—though a few are still added each year—and are maintained to provision houses and irrigate farms.

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