All Things Renewable!

Jal Mahal, Rajasthan

Rajasthan Rainwater Management

Water is the most important element of life to sustain. Without water, no living species would ever survive on Earth. This will always be the key element for living on Earth. Having said that, there are many places on Earth where there is not enough freshwater present for humans to survive. 

Desert is one such place. But humans are the master of adaptability and have always found a way to alter their surroundings to build a livable condition. One such story is of Rajasthan, and how have Rajasthan rainwater management helped them to beat the odds.

Contents:

  1. Geography of Rajasthan
    a. Climate
    b. Rainfall
  2. Rajasthan Rainwater Harvesting Techniques
    a.
    The Traditional Technique
    i. Stepwell
    Chand Baori
    Raniji ki Baori
    ii. Taanka
    iii. Johads
    vi.
    Chauka

    b.The Modern Adaptations
  3. The Underline

 

Geography of Rajasthan

Climate

Rajasthan is a semi-arid state since the Thar desert takes up most of its area. Due to the desert, it receives lots of sunlight throughout the year making it ideal for solar power and wind power generation. In fact, Rajasthan has the world’s largest solar power park, Bhadla Solar Park, and also has one of the largest wind power plants, Jaisalmer Wind Park

Rainfall

The Thar desert covers more than 60% of Rajasthan’s land due to which has a lot of stress o freshwater availability. As the Aravalli range falls in the path of the north-west monsoon winds the far western parts of Rajasthan receive very little throughout the year. The western part, where the Thar desert is located, only receives less than 100 mm of rainfall in contrast to over 900mm received in the eastern part annually. This lack of rainfall calls for the preservation of rainwater. 

Rajasthan Rainwater Harvesting Techniques

The Traditional Technique:

Since ancient times the people of Rajasthan have been crafting the technique of storing and harvesting rainwater. Its ancient architectural structure has always been inspired to utilise to take the advantage of the surrounding environment. Here are some of the ancient and traditional techniques used by the people of Rajasthan to preserve rainwater

  • Stepwell 

Stepwells, also locally known as Baori in Rajasthan, are made to get better access to groundwater throughout the year. These are very common in the western parts of India where the availability of clean water is not consistent throughout the year. 

These step-wells are not only used to store and supply water but also have a cultural and architectural significance. Unlike any other water reservatory structure, Baoris was also used as a venue for social, cultural, and religious ceremonies. The architecture of these stepwells helps to facilitate such by having passageways, chambers, and steps beautifully designed with the well. The water present at the bottom end makes a cooling effect from the scorching heat of the desert and was a great place for any gatherings. 

Here are some of Rajasthan’s most prominent Baoris present:

Chand Baori

Chand Baori Stepwell Panoramic view

Chand Baori Stepwell Panoramic view – Click to zoom

Located in Abaneri, Rajasthan, it is one of the largest and deepest step-well of India, having a delft of 100 feet or 30 meters and has 3500 uniquely designed steps that go down over 13 stories!! Well, that’s very deep considering the time it was built, around the 8th-9th century almost 1200 years!!. The Mughal emperors, who visited India in the 16th century marveled at its architecture and gave respected to its cultural importance to the locals. They also had made many additions to the structure later onwards.

Chand Baori Stepwell stairs

Chand Baori Stepwell Stairs -Click to zoom

The kind of detailed work in the architecture without the use of any modern technologies and still to this date is standing strong. Forget about modern tech, electricity was discovered in the 18th century by Benjamin Franklin, 1000 years later.

Chand Baori Stepwell Architecture

Chand Baori Stepwell Architecture – Click to zoom

The step-well was not only created to provide a water supply for the locals but also a place for cultural gatherings. It also has multiple chambers, a temple at the backside of the structure, a haveli, and a resting room for the royals. The stored water in the step-well caused the temperature to drop 4 to 5 degrees Celcius compared to the surroundings. This made the Chand Baori an ideal and significant place for the residents.

Chand Baori Stepwell triangular stairs

Chand Baori Stepwell Triangular Stairs – Click to zoom

This step-well is also been famous due to its appearance in many Bollywood movies like Paheli, Bhoolbhulalia and also featured in The Dark Knight Rises, 2012 staring the Oscar-winning actor Christian Bale in the well climbing scene.

Raniji ki Baori

Raniji ki Baori Entrance

Raniji ki Baori Entrance – Click to zoom

Raniji ki Baori is one of the most beautiful step-well in India. Meticulously carved stones into perfect arches, temples, structures of elephants, gods, and goddesses are simply mesmerizing. 

Raniji ki Baori Meticulously carved stones

Raniji ki Baori Meticulously carved stones – Click to zoom

It is a very different step-well from the lot because it has been spearheaded by a Queen, Rani Nathavati Ji in 1699, hence the name Raniji ki Baori or the Queen’s stepwell.

This also shows that not all women were barred from doing what they wanted due to social norms and still are an inspiration to many. 

This step-well is also multistoried, carved deep into the Earth to 46 meters to harvest and store rainwater. This step-well was also a place for worship for the locals and was used for social and cultural meetings. There are small temples carved out of stone on each floor. This might have been done because with the rise of water parts of the step-well might get submerged. So even if some stories were underwater the people can still worship in one of the mini temples carved at each story. 

Raniji ki Baori mini temples carved

Raniji ki Baori mini temples carved- Click to zoom

  • Taanka 

Taanka is a traditional and ancient rainwater storing technique used in many local communities of Rajasthan.  Basically, it is used to store rainwater or runoff water for drinking purposes by using a basic filtration system.

Taankas of Rajasthan

Taankas of Rajasthan- Click to zoom

Taankas are constructed by digging deep holes that go down up to 6 meters or 20 feet and are plastered using a lime mortar cement mixture. These have a closed top end and have a lid present. This closed system prevents the evaporation of precious water due to extreme heat. This type of water preservation is ideal in desert-like conditions, where every drop of water is precious. Here are some of the major taankas operational in Rajasthan

 

  • Johads
Johads of Rajasthan

Johads of Rajasthan- Click to zoom

Basically, Johad is a man-made pond or a wetland which are constructed to collect runaway waters during rainfalls. Compared to stell-wells these are very inexpensive but have little or no cultural or religious significance. The sole purpose of these structures is to store run-away water and to use it for household or irrigation purposes, in turn, replenishing the groundwater table. Due to its low cost, it has been widely built across the state to store as much water as possible during rainfall. 

Johads can also transform the surrounding environment by attracting birds, animals, and vegetation. Some johads are also used for the cultivation of fish. The water also helps in lowering the local temperature a bit which gives the locals some relief from the dry and hot summers of Rajasthan. 

Some johad are even found to be built in 1500 BC, so preserving these structures is an important task not because of their age but for their usage. Johads have been depleting at a faster rate than ever before due to the population explosion, deforestation, and low maintenance. Many NGOs and the government have joined hands in preserving thousands of johads all across the country. The most significant part is the locals have volunteered in helping these structures to be preserve. Johads greatly help in retaining soil moisture which is vital for agriculture and farming.

So these structures not only provide water supply for household purposes but also recharge groundwater, provide water for irrigation, retain soil moisture and the list goes on.  

This proves an important point is that it not having any cultural significance or any amazing architecture or engineering ingenuity it still does the job better than all above. 

What glitters is not Gold! 

  • Chauka

In a chauka system, rectangular-shaped small plots are dug near agricultural land or in common fields to hold rainwater. This system used dyked structure which means it has one end open to give way for the runway rainwater and has all three sides dammed. When one such structure overflows water it is den again stored by another similar structure. This type of structure helps in spreading the water into a larger area which accelerates the replenishment of groundwater and retention of soil moisture. 

The Modern Adaptations:

With the increase in India’s population is there has been an exponential rise in demand for clean freshwater supply. And it has been one of the most important and scarce essential for human livelihood. Not only there has been a decline in the supply of drinking water but also for agricultural purposes. Rajasthan has been one of the most affected state in India. Due to the effect of climate change, the situation is getting from bad to worse, shattering decades of records. Never has been such a situation risen when the water crisis has been this worse.

As Rajasthan climate has always been hot and dry with a major part of the state only receives 300mm of rainfall annually, making the conservation of rainwater is one of its topmost priorities. 

The Traditional Advantage:

The advantage of Rajasthan is that it has a traditional headstart in the conservation of rainwater for storing and groundwater replenishment. But as time has passed due to the popularity of piped water supply these traditional techniques have not been maintained. Thus were slowly weathering away. 

But due to the increase in demand and lesser drought-free years, the piped water supply failed to keep up. Causing people to rely on groundwater, which was fast depleting.

This has lead to a huge drive in conservation and revival of the traditional techniques of rainwater harvesting in Rajasthan. Leaders like Rajendra Singh, also popularly known as the Water Man of India, stepped in to lead the way went he was emotionally moved in seeing the water woes in the village of Gopalpura, Rajasthan. After joining an NGO, the Tarin Bharat Sangh, he made a remarkable effort in erasing the water crisis in Gopalpur and adjoining areas.

 

Water Man of India, Rajendra Singh

Water Man of India, Rajendra Singh- Click to zoom

Johads played a very important role in replenishing the groundwater table. The government also have spent time and money in maintaining and reviving Johads across the country.

Roof-top rainwater harvesting has also gained high popularity in the more urban cities and towns of Rajasthan. Here rainwater is collected through drain pipes of the roof and is stored in tanks underground. This is the basic principle of this modern technology but has many alterations depending on the usage of the water. This can vary from the addition of sand filters to make it suitable for drinking purposes or using a bed of sand and racks for the replenishment of the groundwater table.

There are other commonly used structures as well for example Anicut. These are sort of a dam but are much smaller in scale. The main purpose of an Anicut, just like a dam, is to act as a barrier to the flow of running water during the rainy season. Anicuts are mainly built for irrigation purposes, but can also serve in the supply of drinking water.

The Underline

Rainwater harvesting is not only very common in Rajasthan, but all across the world where the supply of freshwater is shrinking faster ever before. As the climate is changing day by day year by year, still tonnes of Carbon Dioxide are dumped into the atmosphere. There are more frequent, harsh, and prolonged droughts reported all across the world and the situation is not getting better any time soon. 

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been tracking the Scarcity of Fresh Water and the numbers are seriously grim. 

Rainwater does fall under a renewable source of fresh water which can be easily captured just with your hands. You don’t need high tech to capture it, unlike solar or wind energy. Every household can harvest rainwater just by collecting water into a container or a tank. But as the climate is getting hotter, even rainwater can become a rarity in certain areas. The example we all know what happened in Cape Town were due to lack of rainfall the government had to impose restrictions to the maximum usage of water for each person. 

Here is an article by Nat Geo on Why Cape Town Is Running Out of Water, and the Cities That Are Next.

Let’s do your bit in harvesting rainwater at homes, because we only can save the future by conserving the compound made up of two Hydrogen and one Oxygen atom to help sustain life on Earth.

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7 Comments

  1. WOW Kaustav, I never knew Rajasthan existed. It is absolutely mesmerizing! The architecture is spectacular, while focusing on water harvesting. Great post! 🙂 Love your commitment to exploring renewable energy! That is awesome.

    • Thank you so much for your humble words! I am really trying to more about renewable energy in India and the history linked to it. And honestly I too was unware and was baffled. Will try to spread the word as much as possible.

  2. Shreya gan

    A very well researched post. Informative. Well done.

  3. Great Post, the Chand Baori Stepwell is an amazing feat of architectural engineering!

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