Ethnographic research in the central Aravalli Hills of Rajasthan documents a coherent system of groundwater irrigation distinctively different from the system of dams, wiers, and perennial canals redesigned for India by the British during the early nineteenth century and continued by contemporary Indian governments. This paper articulates these indigenous principles and practices and contrasts them with those found in the scholarly literature on irrigation in Rajasthan which follows modern engineering concerns. Our analysis indicates a difference set of questions to guide future research on surface impoundments and groundwater management. Furthermore, this study has broader implications for an understanding of the human-shaped hydrology of northwestern India, where the earlier system has been overlaid, but not fully displaced by subsequent irrigation projects. Indeed, indigenous practices involving groundwater recharge and retrieval may have continued to flourish and expand, achieving a new order of hydrologic and adaptive complexity, through the local initiative of the peasantry to adapt to the unintended spillage, soakage, and siltage from the grand system of dams and perennial canals constructed by the state.
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Rosin, R.T. The tradition of groundwater irrigation in Northwestern India. Hum Ecol 21, 51–86 (1993). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00890071
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