Historic Water Systems of India

Active Project

Site and Significance

Threats to Water Collection in India

Access to water bodies was once a central consideration for the settlement and survival of any civilization. In recent decades, with intense development pressures and the advent of piped water supplies into cities, contemporary Indian society has disclaimed its water-based heritage, and in the process, has sacrificed access to this essential resource. In addition, climate change will continue to exacerbate this problem by disrupting the quantity and frequency of rainfall as population growth and agricultural production place even greater strain on reliable water supplies. 

Traditional Historic Systems 

Historically, forts and settlements around water bodies were completely dependent on captive water systems like river and lakes or built systems like wells and tanks. Over time, these built systems (like those in Burhanpur, Bidar, and Bijapur) became more complicated and elaborate, made up of a combination of wells and underground water channels, and protected water sheds. This growth resulted in settlements that became dependent entirely on built systems. 

Our Involvement

Reviving Traditional Management Systems

There is an urgent need to bring India’s historic water systems back to life. The revitalization of traditional water management systems and the recovery of local knowledge will help address the water crisis for contemporary communities. To this end, World Monuments Fund (WMF) is embarking on a major initiative to locate and assess the potential for reviving historic water systems. The project is an opportunity to address intersecting contemporary issues, including the impacts of urbanization and climate change on access to clean water. 

From water contamination to the destruction of watersheds, damage to traditional systems presents a critical issue that WMF will prioritize in working with local partners. This project builds on WMF’s previous efforts to revitalize the water systems of the Deccan Plateau, following their inclusion on the 2020 Watch.

A Comprehensive Survey

The overall scope of this project includes development of a comprehensive repository of information on traditional water systems and associated structures in India that will inform selection of future rehabilitation projects. Once rehabilitated, these functional water management systems can dramatically improve community access to clean water.

Identifying Need through Research

In the first phase of the project, all available data on the traditional water systems across India will be studied to produce an overview of the country’s various systems. This study is the first step toward recognizing the importance of India’s traditional water systems and assessing their extent. The data gathered will highlight gaps in documentation and help define next steps. 

The research in these preliminary phases will allow WMF to identify sites that require rehabilitation, while the final phase will determine which of those water bodies and systems can be restored and, with effective management, contribute significantly to the local water supply. Primary research, site surveys, and analysis will result in associated conservation plans.

Learn More 

World Monuments Fund safeguards cultural heritage around the globe, ensuring our treasured places are preserved for present and future generations. 

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World Monuments Fund India’s work at Rajon ki Baoli, New Delhi; Taj Bawdi, Karnataka; Kundvav, Gujarat; Jaipur Baolis, Rajasthan; and Temples and Ghats in Wai, Maharashtra, has been undertaken in partnership with the TCS Foundation.

World Monuments Fund India’s work at the Taj Bawdi Community Center (Eastern Serai) has been made possible by support from The Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust.

Last updated: June 2024.

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