Traditional Water Conduits of Valley

Rapid population and climate change have numerous effects on the environment, in land as well as water, water scarcity being one of them. Water scarcity leads to limitation of safe drinking water, it limits the practice of hygiene and effect health systems, brings lot of repercussions, especially on health, and brings social tolls on women and children, who are primarily responsible to collect the water from the sources. Poor water quality leads to waterborne diseases and infections, such as amoebiasis, giardiasis, and toxoplasmosis. Contaminated water could carry viruses like Hepatitis A and E, bacteria like E. coli, diarrhea, dysentery, polio, and meningitis. Unclean water for washing can cause skin and infectious eye diseases, such as trachoma. Some groundwater that is deemed unfit for drinking contains high levels of fluoride, iron, salinity, and arsenic. People suffer from fluorosis when there is excess amount of fluoride. The topic we are dealing with here, however, is not the diseases. We are talking about one ingenious way that is serving the urban population, when drinking water supply system alone is not able to do the same.

Regarding the hiti system in Nepal, legend goes that there was this lady with a shovel who was being followed by a dog. Water started to emerge from where the dog would move. That is how water spouts are believed to be formed in Kathmandu. As per the study, there are 573 hiti systems only from 10 municipalities in Kathmandu. Apart from the beliefs, the traditional water spouts are an exemplary testimony of cultural tradition and civilization. The hiti systems were built in Kathmandu as well as other cities of Nepal. But, most of them are lost or in a state of deterioration. The system in Lalitpur has survived because of the strong local communities and the urgent need for water, both in rural and urban zones, as per UN Habitat. The hiti is supported by rajkulo ponds and wells that are part of the traditional water architecture group, along with the ghats and jahdu.

In Lalitpur, there is Manga hiti, Tanga hiti, Saugh hiti, and there is Maru hiti, Kwa hiti, and Tha hiti in Kathmandu. Similarly, there’s Tulutulu hiti, Jelah hiti, Golmadhi hiti, and Vhindyo hiti in Bhaktapur. These are some of the hitis inside the city. These provide for city dwellers. However, there are hitis outside the cities, as well. Some hitis are there for irrigation purposes, whereas some hitis lies at the bottom of mountains. These hitis are the sources of water in the cities. Mainly, three hiti systems provide for the city; these are Budhanilkhantha, Tikabhairab, and Bageshwori hiti systems. The hiti in Hadigaun is believed to be the oldest of hitis, as per available manuscripts.

These hitis serve the purpose of drinking water, household use, and also for irrigation. And, they also signify social, cultural, and religious norms. Many festivals are related with the hiti systems, Sitinakah and Machhindra Nath Jatra being two of them. Some people still believe that there is tantric marvel involved while bringing in water from the reservoirs. The systematic process reveals that our ancestors had this abundance of knowledge regarding water resources, their uses in the future, and how to utilize and channelize the same. These hiti systems were built in Nepal by Lichhavi kings, and developed by Malla dynasties. And, these ancient water spouts, popularly called dhungedharas in the native language, have been an integral part of the Newari culture.

In the history of Nepal, Lichhavi and Malla dynasties are the foundation of civilization of Kathmandu valley. These traditional water supply systems were developed during these periods, with excellent knowledge of physical structure of the terrain and available natural resources, along with the management of the same for civilization. These rajkulos were used to irrigate, and at the same time, function as the sources of water for neighborhoods, and stood as a beautiful works of art and architecture. One can see lots of sculptures of gods and goddesses and animals on the spouts. Among the many forms of water architecture found in Nepal, the hiti is believed to be the most elaborate and intricate in design and technology. These architectural elements hold a vital role in religious and social spaces. Such water systems, which have survived centuries, now are on the verge of going extinct, or are in a state of deterioration.

The source of the hitis are mostly natural underground shallow aquifers or springs that are located near or around them, and linked through an intricate underground supply and drainage lines that use natural sand filter systems to purify the water as it flows. The dense black mud bedrock of the valley prevented the deep underground aquifers; thus, a network of several ponds was constructed at strategic locations to collect rainwater and recharge the shallow aquifers. The wells also served as excellent sources of water and to collect and store rain water. Thus, the system of rajkulo and hiti was able to provide water for irrigation and household purposes in the rural and urban areas all year round. The hiti is supported by the rajkulo, ponds, and wells that are part of the traditional water architecture group, along with the ghats (riverside cremation sites) and jahdu (drinking water tanks). The rajkulo was built to irrigate the paddy fields in the villages and facilitate drinking water in the cities supplied by the hitis. Thus, this system of bringing water from the natural sources to the cities forms a unique cultural landscape that has survived centuries. Further to this, the traditional water spouts help in preserving biodiversity.

With urbanization, these water spouts are drying up, or are in a state of deterioration, which is likely to result in water scarcity. There is also concern of the sewage system and sanitation. Natural disasters are also likely to affect the water channels. Constructing and preserving the same will not only improve the biodiversity, the conservation activities also largely address the public demand. Thus, there’s a need of preserving traditional water spouts to fulfill the requirement, to keep the culture and tradition alive, for cultural exchange, and to promote tourism. Groundwater resources are considered to be significant and economical water resources. The comprehensive recognition and proper utilization of this valuable resource has an important influence on the sustainable development of social and economic activities. These hitis, along with its utilities, reflects our culture and is a part of our identity. It is important for individuals, societies, and municipalities to manage and maintain them. It is therefore important to educate people about preserving these traditional spouts and the importance of ponds and rivers. For example, there was a successful Bagmati river cleaning campaign. It is about time we all understand, and the new leadership has also given us hope regarding preserving these ancient heritages.

Check Also

Ensuring Drug Safety: Enhancing Drug Testing Laboratories in Nepal

Words by Sadhana Dahal Introduction In the realm of healthcare, medicine wields an immense power …

Sahifa Theme License is not validated, Go to the theme options page to validate the license, You need a single license for each domain name.
%d bloggers like this: