Emperor Babur on irrigation in Hindusthan

25 Dec

I am reading Babur Nama — Journal of Emperor Babur. Babur came from Ferghana Valley, now in Uzbekistan. He was from a fertile valley where canals irrigated the land and this land in turn, produced the sweetest of water melons and reddest of pomengrenates. I went to his land looking for wells and found that many farmers now use wells and tubewells to irrigate those same crops. See my previous blogpost on Central Asia. Babur, it looks like, came to Hindusthan and looked for canals, among other things.  What he found instead were wells and what we now call Persian Wheels (but surely it can’t be be of Persian origin since Babur seemed not to know of them). This is what he writes on irrigation in Hindusthan:

My observations on various aspects of Hindusthan

On Irrigation

The greater part of the Hindusthani country is flat. Many though its towns and cultivated lands are, it nowhere has running waters. Rivers and, in some places, stagnant waters are its irrigation channels. Even where, as for some towns, it is practicable to convey water by digging channels this is not done. For not doing it there may be several reasons, one being that water is not at all a necessity in cultivating crop and orchards. Autumn crops grow by the downpour of the rain themselves; and strange it is that spring crops grow even when no rain falls. To young trees, water is made to flow by means of a bucket or wheel (used to lift water from a well). They are given water constantly during two or three years; after which they need no more. Some vegetables are watered constantly.

In Lahore, Dibalpur and those parts, people water by means of a wheel. They make two circles of ropes long enough to suit the depth of the well, fix strips of wood between them, and on these fasten pitchers. The ropes with the wood and attached pitchers are put over the well-wheel. At one end of the wheel axle a second wheel is fixed, and close to it another on an upright axle. This last wheel the bullock turns. Its teeth catch in the teeth of the second, and thus the wheels with the pitchers is turned. A trough is set where the water empties from the pitchers and from this water is conveyed everywhere.

In Agra, Chandwar, Byana and those parts, again, people water with a bucket. This is a laborious and filthy way. At the edge of the well they set up a fork of wood, having a roller adjusted between the forks, tie a rope to a large bucket, put the rope over the roller, and tie its other end to the bullock. One person must drive the bullock, another must empty the bucket. Every time the bullock turns after having drawn the bucket out of the well, that rope lies on the bullock-track, in the pollution of urine and dung before it descends again into the well. To some crops needing water, men and women carry it by repeated effort in pitchers.”

— Babur Nama, Penguin Classics, 2006, p 264-265.

And yes, let me say it again. I love history. If I were not a geographer, I would have been a historian for sure. Happy reading folks and Merry Christmas!


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