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Take A Safe Sip...
Aishani Gupta | 01 Feb 2011

Surangas are traditional horizontal man-made caves for water. Kasaragod district in Kerala has an estimated 6,000 surangas out of which majority are still in use for drinking water and irrigation.

WATER IS life. Its availability as a source to quench our thirst and fulfil basic needs requires setting up of a clean and well-sustained water channel. Significant efforts are made by people of Kerala in this regard. A ninety year old suranga at Sheni, 35 kilometres from Kasaragod, quite distinct from others, might be of interest to historians and researchers. Being used until the last season, it had served both as a suranga and an open-well.

Surangas are traditional horizontal man-made caves for water. Kasaragod district in Kerala has an estimated 6,000 surangas out of which majority are still in use for drinking water and irrigation.

They resemble qanats of Iran. While qanats are thousands of years old, surangas don't seem to have their origin before one or two hundred years ago.
The qanat, according to some researchers, is an extensively Iranian invention since 7th century BC and it later spread to other parts of the world.
 
In Iran, there are about 50,000 qanats today. Although many of them have damaged as a result of drilling of deep wells over the years, a great number of qanats are still use throughout the country. City of Tehran got its water supply from qanats till recently. The combined length of these qanat systems is 272,000 kms. The longest one is in Gonabad district in Khorasan province and stretches to 70 kms! Qanats are present in Afghanistan and China as well. In China they are called as Karez.

More Like a Qanat


The suranga at Sheni, approximately 250 metre long suranga, situated by the side of Shri Sharadamba High School resembles the qanats more than its other counterparts in the district. While digging very long surangas, it was a practice to dig tiny well like structures starting from inside the suranga and opening at the top of the hill surface. These structures, called air vents helped in two ways. For one, they provided fresh air for the suranga diggers to breathe and continue their work. Secondly, they provided them some extra sunlight from outside. A very small number of Kasaragod surangas have such air vents.

The Sheni suranga has seven such vents, a few of them have served as open wells as well. Anybody who sees the land surface here won't believe that just twenty feet below, a plentiful water source could be there. The topsoil is a black coloured hard laterite cap that is extremely difficult to dig out with a pick-axe.

Apart from providing water for irrigation, in good old decades, this was the only drinking water source in this surrounding. About 30 families were drawing water with the help of a pulley and rope from the 'wells' emanating from the surangas.
 
With the changing water scenario, this suranga is slowly being relegated to history. Realizing that the water table is going down, locals have had bore well dug about 7-8 years ago. Now that bore well caters to their irrigation requirements. Government bore wells and hand pumps have also come to the village.
 
Even now though, the suranga has water. A few families are taking that water in a pipe for their drinking water needs. After the arrival of bore wells, run off from the nearby area is diverted into the suranga with the help of a trench. As a result, all filth, plastic waste, etc., into this water body. This deterioration has stopped the handful of families from drawing water from the suranga well. They too have started using bore well water now.

An engineering feat like these deserve to be well maintained and repaired from time to time. Water is an essential source. Handled preciously and judiciously, it can continue to sustain life and support the generations to come.