Thursday, December 17, 2015

Resurrecting the Karez

Source: Deccan Herald.

Nondescript air vents spotted in several places of Bidar have proved to be important pieces of history along with the city’s artistic monuments and traditional houses. These vertical access shafts, which look like wells, are parts of the unique Karez water system of this heritage city. Karez is a traditional water harnessing technology, appropriate for dryland regions with a hilly terrain. The system was introduced in Bidar by the Bahamani Sultans who ruled the region between the 14th and 16th centuries.

Bahamani Sultans, whose origin is traced to Persia, showed keen interest in Persian culture and language. It is said that the two Karez structures in Bidar have been constructed by them under the supervision of Persian engineers. In fact, the origin of this technology of water supply, also known as Qanat, is attributed to Persia or Iran. With time, it spread to other countries and at present, such subterranean s are present in about 38 countries across the world. This system is used to tap water from sources (aquifers) at a higher elevation (normally rocky terrain) and supply it to human settlements for household use and irrigation purpose. Such underground channels are normally found in regions with laterite hills or basaltic rocks.

Indigenous structures
In Karnataka, subterranean horizontal water channels are found in Bidar, Kalaburagi and Vijayapura regions. Surangas, one of the major water sources in Dakshina Kannada district, are also similar structures. Though there is a lack of documentation to clearly identify the socio-economic factors linked to the Karez system in Bidar, it is believed that the primary objective was to supply water to human settlements. The waterway — that links a motherwell to a supply system near the exit point — taps groundwater and rainwater, thus becoming a reliable source of water. Such a structure stands as a testimony to the engineering marvel of the medieval era.

It has been found that there are six Karezes in Bidar and efforts are on to rejuvenate two of them — the Naubad Karez and the Jamuna Mori Karez. Records say that while Naubad Karez supplied water to people, Jamuna Mori Karez took water to the royal family and others living inside the fort. The length of Naubad Karez, which starts from Naubad and ends in Aliabad, is 2.8 km. Now, the district administration is tapping into the prospects of this heritage structure as a water source and also a tourist attraction. Work is on to rejuvenate both the Karezes.

The work of Naubad Karez was begun in 2012, when Harsha Gupta was the deputy commissioner (DC) of Bidar. After initial research, planning and awareness programmes, which were very crucial for the success of the work, desilting (excavating) the channel was commenced in June 2015, when P C Jaffer was the DC. Around 150 labourers, eight cranes and eight trolleys were engaged in the task.

At present, 27 vertical shafts have been found linked to this Karez and they are situated at a distance of about 50 metre from each other. Researchers believe that these vertical shafts provided necessary ventilation for the workers and allowed them to clear the mud accumulated during the excavation work. In other words, they are used to excavate channels and perform maintenance work. So far, 17 vents have been desilted. A group of local enthusiasts called Team Yuva are assigned the task of supervision of the work. The work has been proved successful and right now, the dried channel brims with water. The first sight of water was made in September 2015, when water started flowing up to 2.5 metres in the Karez. While this development stalled the work for the time being, it has accelerated hopes that the structure could be a potential water source to the water-deficit city. Anurag Tewari, the present DC, said, “We are delighted about the progress. Even the State Government has offered support by releasing the necessary funds. Once the work gets completed, we would get a clear picture of the ancient water supply system.” The district administration hopes that Karez rejuvenation work will also help revive other water sources in the area.

Kerala-based geologist and professor Govindan Kutty has been leading the activities to create awareness about the historical and geographical significance of this heritage structure. He opines that more studies should be done to understand the technology and objectives of the ancient system. Earthen pipes discovered at the site indicated the period of construction. He felt that consistent efforts are necessary to restore and reuse it.

Ghulam Yazdani, who was the director of the Archaeology Department under the Nizam rule, in his book Bidar: Its History and Monuments published in 1915, has described how three major water sources of the city — Kamathana Tank, Anadooru Tank, and Noubad Tank — shared water springs with the Karez. The ancient Kamathana Lake is said to have been built during the Kakatheeya regime, between 11th and 13th centuries. One of the inscriptions found in the city mentions that this lake was a major source of water to the city. Majid Labbaf Khaneiki, a groundwater expert from International Centre on Qanats and Historic Hydraulic Structures (ICQHS), who visited Bidar in February 2015 to study the groundwater status, and the indigenous water supply system, felt that Naubad Karez is significant for its design, purpose, and social and cultural implications and felt that it matches global standards. Revival and proper maintenance of this ancient water supply system could help in enhancing the groundwater level of the city. Experts strongly feel that Bidar’s Karez has all the features necessary to qualify as a UNESCO world heritage structure.


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