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Deccan Herald » Spectrum » Detailed Story
Borewells without a pipe
Ingenuity finds its best expression in humanity's search for sources vital to its existence. Surangas can be a good example for this, Harish Halemane tells us
Call it a craft, for drilling a hole horizontally through a rock with the most basic of equipments demands certain dexterity. Call it a tradition as village residents in some coastal districts have been practicing it for centuries. Call it magic, as these people know almost instinctively where to drill the mountain to find pure drinking water.

'Surangas' are the best examples of human ingenuity that finds an expression, when nothing else comes to their rescue. Certain farming communities in Kasaragod district of Kerala and Dakshina Kannada district closely study factors like the hill's slope, geo-system and the exact catchments areas to drill the tunnels for water. All that they use for drilling them is pickaxes and wedges.

The laterite soil in this region is an important factor in drilling Surangas. Presence of this soil ensures the tunnel does not collapse. For this reason, trying Suranga method in other regions may not be safe.

Masters of the art

Village residents who are masters in the art of 'Suranga' drilling have been becoming a dying tribe, yet their craft still has its relevance. A mere glimpse of the mountain is enough for them to find which section of the hill received more water (through the presence of termite hills and some plants) and where they should start drilling. Certain indigenous methods help them learn the amount of water found in a place.

And they do this all, as this is often the only way of finding drinking water in a rocky region. Its geo system makes digging borewells impossible. Also, Suranga diggers are mostly poor coolie workers, who can't afford to try other methods of getting water. Nor can they employ others to do the job. So, resting briefly after a day's work, the coolies would begin drilling the hill. The job gets tougher, as the hole gets deeper.

Workers may not find adequate light and are suffocated by lack of air inside the tunnel. When they work in the nights, they use candles or coconut oil lamps. During the day, they keep mirrors at the entrance to reflect sunlight into the tunnel.

Diggers also know how precisely water flows and so, dig the tunnel with a slight rise. Water would flow downhill through the tunnel and fall into the pit dug outside. It's then used for irrigation without a pump.

We may see such an irrigation system in Kottanguli, near Mulleria, in Kasaragod. About five acres of areca nut garden has its adequate supply of water from the Suranga here. Collected in a large pit, water is flown into the fields through sprinklers using the siphon method. Kottanguli Venkatakrishna Bhat, the man behind the mission, has spent Rs 2 lakh to create this facility.

Bayar, the village around Kasaragod's Posadi Gumpe hill, has 2000 Surangas. Rainwater falling on the hill and captured in the ground, oozes through the tunnels' wall and flows out. This's because the rainwater is allowed to recharge the earth and trees above the hill stop the water from flowing through its slope. The phenomenon is also at work in places like Niduvaje, Uluvana and Keremoole. Some areca nut gardens in these areas don't require irrigation until May.

So pure is the water from the tunnels that you may never ask for mineral water after tasting it. Bayar and the neighbouring Manila, in Karnataka find adequate water from the Suranga. Most farmers here know the art of drilling Suranga and their services are reserved for an entire year. Almost everyone in the farming communities here knows Suranga digging, but their numbers are dwindling fast.

Origins of suranga

Suranga digging seemed to have been exported to Goa from this region, where girls from Karhad Brahmin community (natives of the region) go after marriage. But then, Karhad is a place in Maharashtra, from where the community is said to have migrated to Karnataka, prompting speculations that Suranga may have its origins in Maharashtra.

Though it's difficult to ascertain the history, Quanat (a concept similar to Suranga) is practiced in several Middle Eastern countries like Iran and Iraq from 700 B C possibly; the concept could have been brought to the Indian shores by the Arab traders. Suranga's presence may be diminishing, thanks to the deforestation and depleting ground water, but certainly it can be revived by planting more trees in hills and allowing natural vegetation to flourish.
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