Naul and Dhar - A Cultural Heritage of Himalayas

Kapina Naul, Sketch by Nidhi Tewari
  • Article tells you about the Naul and Dhar system of Uttarakhand that provided water to the hilly people and was also a form of water-harvesting.

The harvesting system of water resources and the well-maintained tradition of caring for them has been going on in our country since time immemorial.


To read article in HINDI


In the Indus Valley Civilization, we find many historical evidences of ancient water management. Evidence from excavation shows that there used to be reservoirs at that time and the technique of drains and wells for the drainage of rain water was also developed. Small dams of pebble-stone and mud were also made in the water streams. These dams were used for drinking water, irrigation and watermills.


Different practices of water harvesting and management exist in different regions of India, which are still in practice today. While Naul, Bauli, Pokhar and Kuhal are used for water in the Himalayan region, Kund, Talab, Khadin in the desert, and Bandhara, Eri, Surangam in the southern region are used. The geographical location of a particular region determines the local water harvesting system and its conservation method.


Traditional sources of drinking water are mainly natural sources of water in rural areas of Himalayan states like Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. Even today, about 40 percent of the rural population is dependent on these waters. Many rural studies of the Himalayan region reveals that the first settlement started in villages around water springs.


The natural water springs in Jammu and Kashmir are known as Naag or Chashma and in Himachal Pradesh as Bawdi or Bauli. The water springs in Sikkim are called dhara.


The natural water springs in Uttarakhand are known as Naul and Dhar or Mangra.


In Uttarakhand, the social, historical and cultural importance of these Naul and Dhar is very important. Many of the Nauls here are very ancient. According to historians, most of the Naul and Dhar located in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand have been made from the medieval to the eighteenth century AD.

Synarakot Naul. Pic by Kaushal Saxsena.


A number of Nauls near Champawat including Ek Hathiya Naul, Baleshwar Naul, Udia Naula of Gannath, Syunrakot Naul of Patia and Jahnavi Naul of Gangolihat are still famous from an architectural view-point.


It is said that once there were more than 300 Naul'as in Almora town, which were used by the urban people for drinking water. Many villages or mohallas of Kumaon have also been named after the Naul & Dhar, such as Panuvanaul, Champanaul, Tamnauli, Ranidhar, Dharnaul etc.


The rich tradition of Jal Pooja (worship of water) in Naul & Dhar is performed on marriage and other special occasions in the rural areas of the state. The tradition of Jal Pooja is still visible today in Uttarakhand. Certainly this tradition shows the utility of water in our lives and its importance in the environment.


In fact, Naul is made at such a source where water reaches the ground by leaking. The structure of Naul is similar to that of a square small stepwell. The three directions of Naul are closed by the stone wall, the fourth direction remains open. In order to prevent the dirt from going into the Naul, it is protected by a slate roof, called Pathar.


The shape of the Kund is like a Vedi which remains more wide towards the top and gradually becomes less wide towards the bottom.


Another form of Naul ie is found at some places is called Chupatol here. Chupatol does not have the shape of a Naul. It is found in the rough form and does not have a roof. It is made by making a pit near the source ie stopped by flat stones.


The special point about the Naul that its springs are very sensitive. If an unskilled person somehow manipulates the texture and basic technique at all, then the springs of the naul's become extinct. Not only this, the flow of water in the Naul is reduced even after landslides and earthquakes occur.


Sometimes the water level of Naul also reduces due to which it is on the verge of drying. In the construction of the Naul, care is taken that extra water is not stored in it. For this, a proper drainage system is made from inside. After reaching the level of the upper floor of the Naul, excess water comes out easily from this drain.


Murthies of Gods and Goddesses are installed in the sanctorum of Naul. The walls, pillars and ceilings of Naul are embellished with various artistic designs. According to religious belief, rural people consider Naag Devta and Vishnu as the abode of God in Naul, so people take special care of its cleanliness. Naul's description is also found in local folk songs. In a Mangal geet, the sanctity and importance of Naul is told in this way.


'Naul Nagini vaas……

yeh meri naul kaili chinaichi

Ramichand lai, Lachhiman lai

Bharat, Shatur lai, chinaichi

unri bahuwan lai, Sita dehi

Uramini dulahini, naul ulainch. '


There is a curiosity among the people of the village that who would have made this beautiful Naul the abode of the Nagas…. !! Then the Gidaris who sing the Mangal geet say that Lord Ramchandra and his brothers Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna together have created this beautiful Naul and Sita bahurani and Urmila dulahini clean this Naul.

Kapina Dhar. Pic by Author.


Dhar or Mangra


Dhar or Mangra is the most popular source of traditional drinking water in Uttarakhand. When the underground water of a mountain comes out as a spout, then the people's make a stone or wooden drain's and drop its water on the ground in such a way that the water kept under it can be filled easily. In some of the ancient Dhars, their mouth was found to have the main motif of Makara, Kamadhenu or Singh.


In rainy season, water level causes springs to break out of the ground in many places. In such springs, water is visible for a short time. The villagers put leaves at the exit gate of these seasonal springs. Depending on the texture, many types of dhar are found locally in Uttarakhand, such as sirpatya dhar, munpatya dhar and patbidiya dhar etc.


For centuries Naul & Dhar of Uttarakhand had a direct and important role in the happiness and misery of the village women folk. Women share their thoughts with each other while filling water in these springs. From this point of view, the social significance of Naul and Dhar must be seen.


Many study reports reveal that the condition of the traditional springs of Uttarakhand appears worrisome.


At one time, this tradition of water harvesting gave cultural richness and vibrancy to the society. There was a sense of collective participation in the maintenance of Naul-Dhar, the responsibility of their cleaning and renovation. People used to participate in shramadaan with great enthusiasm.


Today, due to migration, environmental imbalance, lack of public participation and supply of water through pipelines and tube wells, these traditional water springs have got neglected and are in bad condition.


This is a big question mark for our society.


The need of the hour is that proper policy-making efforts should be made to revive this magnificent tradition of water harvesting. Such long-term plans should be implemented keeping the society in mind and involve local people esp. in rural areas.


In order to keep the supply of water flow in Naul & Dhar evergreen, it may be important to make chalk in the catchment areas and plant trees of broad leaf varieties. Such work will not only ensure the sustainable development of the environment, but also the proper protection of this cultural property and tradition.


Today many social organizations and environmental lovers are spreading awareness among the rural people about conservation of naul and dhars.

 Author works as a Research Associate at Doon Library and Research Center, 21, Parade Ground, Dehradun, and writes on a continuous basis on subjects related to socio-economic, environment, society and culture. 

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