Ahar Pyne – Traditional water harvesting system of Bihar

Ahar-pyne system is an indigenous irrigation technology, which continues to irrigate substantial areas even today in South Bihar plains of India. This system has evolved from an understanding of the particular agroclimatic conditions of the region.

An Ahar is rectangular embankment type water harvesting structures, i.e. a catchment basin embanked on three sides, the fourth side being the natural gradient of the land itself.

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Ahar beds were also used to grow a Rabi (winter) crop after draining out the excess water that remained after Kharif (summer) cultivation. Ahars differ from the regular tanks in that the bed of an ahar is not dug and usual tanks do not have the raised embankment of an ahar. While ahars irrigating more than 400ha are not rare, the average area irrigated by an ahar during early 20th century was said to be 57 ha.

Water supply for an ahar comes either from natural drainage after rainfall (rainfed ahars) or through pynes where necessary diversion works are carried out. Water for irrigation is drawn out by opening outlets made at different heights in the embankment. Pynes are artificial channels constructed to utilise river water in agricultural fields. It is this system that made paddy cultivation possible in South Bihar, which is otherwise unsuited for this crop. In particular, it helped farmers meet the crucial water requirement for paddy during hathia, i.e. the grainfilling stage

Ahar-pyne system of indigenous irrigation is historically the most important source of irrigation in South Bihar and even today provides a shining example of participatory irrigation management.

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