TYPOLOGY | Irrigating
SYSTEM | Surangam
PEOPLE | Indian

The surangam is an ancient technology unique to the Western Ghats coastal regions of southern India. Derived from the Kannada word meaning ‘tunnel’, these subterranean, horizontal wells are dug with pick axe and wedges. Unlike the qanats that leave traces of their existence on the surface of the earth in pock-marked lines of wells, the surangam is inconspicuously buried. Local people in the districts of Kasaragod and Dakshina still use traditional indigenous knowledge to determine the location of these man-made water caves, which are unlike any other vertical wells found throughout the rest of India. The traditional surangam water harvesting system is dug horizontally, allowing aquifer water to transfer easily and inexpensively by gravity through the uneven and steep laterite rock prevalent in the region. Water is usually collected in an open pit constructed outside the surangam and used to provide water for drinking, domestic use and irrigation. Today, in the Kasaragod district in the northern Malabar region of Kerala and the joining Dakshina Kannada district of Karntaka around five thousand traditional water harvesting structures exist. Local people depend on surangams for drinking, household and irrigation, however deforestation, bore wells and pumps threaten this effective and inexpensive water harvesting technology, skill and tradition.

Illustrations by Brittany Roy