Ancient Rainwater Harvesting Systems

Jal hi jeevan hai (water is life). Water is an indispensable part of our life. But some of us do not know that every drop counts. Our ancestors knew this and that is why they built many water harvesting systems.

Khadin system 

A khadin, also called a dhora, is an ingenious construction designed to harvest surface runoff water for agriculture. The khadin system is based on the principle of harvesting rainwater on farmland use of this land for crop production. It was first designed by the Paliwal Brahmins of Jaisalmer, western Rajasthan in the 15th century. A Khadin is an earthen embankment built across the general slope which conserves the maximum possible rainwater runoff within the agricultural field. The embankment not only helps to increase moisture in the submerged land, but also prevents the washing away of the top soil and the manure added to it.

Suranga system

Suranga (also Surangam or thurangam) is a traditional water management system used to provide a reliable supply of water and irrigation in Kerala and Karnataka. A suranga is basically a horizontal tunnel dug in the slope of a laterite hill for about 30 metres to 40 metres , which uses gravitational force for extraction of the underground water and collects into a storage tank. 

By Vssun – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

As both the areas are covered by uneven and steep laterite hill which makes borewell expensive, surangas are considered as a relatively cheap option. The water can be collected by using a small barrier, which then can flow through a plastic or bamboo pipe into a storage pit or tank.


Bhitada village, Jhabua district of Madhya pradesh developed the unique Pat system. This system was devised according to the peculiarities of the terrain to divert water from swift-flowing hill streams into irrigation channels called pats. The diversion bunds across the stream are made by piling up stones and then lining them with teak leaves and mud to make them leakproof. The villagers irrigate their fields by turns. The channel requires constant maintenance and it is the duty of the family irrigating the fields on a particular day to take care of the Pat on that particular day.

Kuis / Beris

Found in 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 with meagre rainfall. The mouth of the pit is usually made very narrow. This prevents the collected water from evaporating. The pit gets wider as it burrows under the ground, so that water can seep into a large surface area. The openings 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.

Baoris / Bers (Stepwell)

Baoris or bers are community wells, found in Rajasthan, that are used mainly for drinking. However, unlike the wells that we can find in the West, here the descent into the well is made up of hundreds of steps (hence the name Stepwell) that enclose places of great beauty and spirituality. Most of them are very old and were built by banjaras (mobile trading communities) for their drinking water needs. They can hold water for a long time because of almost negligible water evaporation.