Uttarakhand Stories

NAULA – The Traditional Water Harvesting System of Uttarakhand

by Jayanti Rawat
May 06, 2021

Water is the most precious resource on earth, that’s why we have a life on Earth. Since, it is required for almost all activities we do, there are plenty of preservation methods for water. Traditionally, local communities felt their right of ownership for natural water resources and managed on their own. This sense of authority enabled them in building their own water harvesting systems which have been very fruitful and low maintenance. These methods exist in all of India ranging from Western Himalayas to the islands in the south.

Western Himalayas have also shown a great example of the same, which is known as ‘Naula’, mostly present in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. A Naula is a naturally-occurring water aquifer. It is a stone-lined tank which catches dripping water from springs and streams. It appears to be as a temple and is considered like one too. Naula have been considered as sacred in Uttarakhand’s tradition and culture. Carvings of Lord Vishnu or any local deity can be seen in the interiors of Naula, which gives its piousness.

Fig. Ek Hathiya Ka Naula, Source: Shailendra Singh Bisht

Naulas were designed to collect water from subterranean seepages or springs and are used to meet domestic water needs by the local communities. Sustainability was an important factor in old times; local people thought about preserving water for future use and would restrict exploiting the water. Naulas would have surrounding walls joined with a tomb like structure on top, resembling a temple with a small entrance. This small entry to the Naula would restrict animals to go in and ensured a single person entering the Naula at a time.

Fig. Naula from Outside, Source: peoplesscienceinstitute.org

Naulas were worshipped by local communities maintaining it, as it houses a resource ‘Water’ which signifies life. It was worshipped on all major celebrations in these villages of Uttarakhand. The origin of Naulas is about a 100 years ago, and they continue to serve their purpose. People in the Himalayas discovered muddy soil called ‘gajaar’ or ‘simaar’ in local language. This was the area which was low lying and water would accumulate here when a hole was dig. This water was tested for a year, if it would stay, then Naulas would be built. There were these stepped well with wide top and narrow bottom. Elders in the mountains told that trees indicate water, helping in choosing the location of Naulas. These trees include Banj, Fauniyat, Kilonj, Kharsu, Bains, Kanyel, Manja, Utees, all these trees hold water. Trees like pine tree absorb a lot of water and make soil dry due to which Naulas can’t be built near them.

The last Naulas built were just 75 years ago, after which people stopped building due to lack of technique and sense of ownership. They developed dependency on the distributed water system through pipelines. Now most of the villages today are using the distributed water system and have Naulas merely as a summer spot for cool. Though some villages are still dependent on these water systems, the essence is lost as building and maintaining these structures has been forgotten. Naulas signify sustainability and ownership of our resources which lacks now as the precious resource can now be bought!

Jayanti Rawat

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