The diggers of suranga are vanishing in India
Shree Padre, Kasargod
Chaliya Kunhambu, 64, is standing on a road, 30 km away from Kasargod, the district’s headquarters. If he could connect all the surangas he has dug in 50 years, he would reach Kasargod walking underground all the way!
Kunhambu has dug not less than 1,000 surangas. With an average length of 60 kolu (a kolu is 2.5 feet), he has dug 45 km.
Imagine digging a cave in hard laterite soil, that too for 45 km. It’s a record unlikely to be broken — because India has probably less than half-a-dozen suranga diggers left.
A suranga is a traditional water harvesting structure of Kasargod district — a man-made cave for water that can be dug only in a particular type of laterite soil that’s not very hard and not too soft.
Generally, a suranga is dug across a hill with a gentle gradient. When the ‘cave’ intercepts the water table, water starts flowing into it. You get pure water round the year, and you don’t need a booster pump.
The biggest advantage of a suranga is that it is possible to dig it in the upper reaches of a hill where no other water harvesting structure like a tank or an open well is possible or affordable. A poor farm labourer with some courage and commonsense can dig a suranga in a couple of months, working one or two hours in the evening — without affecting his livelihood elsewhere.
Not much is known about the history of the suranga in Kasargod. It resembles the qanats of Iran and Afghanistan, and is similar to the karez. Very few surangas are dug today. Kasargod has a few. But suranga diggers like Kunhambu are a rarity. Knowledge of this traditional water structure is vanishing fast.