Irrigation Systems during Kakatiya Regime

-Dr. Hemalatha Guda



Andhradesa, the Telugu-speaking region was ruled by the Kakatiya dynasty from the 10th to the 14th century. They are known for their exemplary policies of irrigation systems, water conservation and management. They primarily implemented Tank Irrigation system, in combination with canal and well systems. The Kakatiyas built canals, wells and an intricate system of reservoirs, lakes and tanks, using cutting-edge engineering techniques. To conserve rainwater and make it available to people and their farms throughout the remainder of the year, the Kakatiyas constructed reservoirs called cheruvus. They majorly instituted small tanks, which turned out to be the only sensible water-use strategy available in their area. Big tanks known as samudras were also built during the Kakatiya regime. The tanks were inter-linked to form an intricate chain system. Canals and wells were built on a need basis, ensuring the best possible irrigation means to the arable lands. The water management policies and methodologies were scientific to the core. During their rule, practically every village had at least one tank, which considerably aided development of agriculture and subsequent growth of trade and economy. The important water bodies constructed by Kakatiyas include Ramappa, Pakhala, Laknavaram, Ghanapuram, and Bayyaram. The Kakatiya kings attempted to increase the extent of cultivable land and encouraged “Land Reclamation Policy”. Their pioneering irrigation systems gave impetus to the coming eras and are still being used today.

Key words: Kakatiya Regime, Irrigation systems, Tank irrigation, Agriculture, Water, Land Reclamation Policy


The Kakatiyas are one of the most prominent dynasties in the southern part of India.  Their era prevailed from the 10th to the 14th centuries CE. The Kakatiyas’ sovereign territory included majority of the Telugu-speaking region. Their rule spread to portions of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra, as well. They patronized various art forms, literature, architecture and temple-building. Their rule can be regarded as a golden age, as it marked the beginning of a major epoch of medieval history of Andhradesa. They were pioneers of water conservation and management, ensuring surefire drinking water supply and excellent irrigation systems.

Introduction to Irrigation

The artificial application of water to the soil or agricultural land, in order to fulfil the demand for water is known as Irrigation. Irrigation is the process of replacing or supplementing rainwater with an alternate source. Tank, Canal, Well and River Lift are the main systems of irrigation, based on the source. Run-off water is collected in small areas, commonly known as catchment areas. A tank is a type of reservoir that intercepts and stores water from such catchments. Waterways that obtain water from a single or multiple reservoirs or rivers are known as canals. Wells tap the water available in the deeper strata of the ground. River lift is a system in which water is drawn straight away from the rivers. Suitability of the system of irrigation depends on various parameters like amount of rainfall, type of soil, topography and the type of crops to be cultivated.

Proper irrigation systems contribute to food security and economic stability, especially in areas of low or irregular rainfall. Sustainable and efficient irrigation practices are essential to ensure long-term agricultural productivity and environmental balance. Prevention of over-irrigation, water-logging and usage of minimal water are the characteristics of an ideal irrigation system. The Kakatiyas were cognizant of the significance of effective irrigation systems. They recognized that tank irrigation is suitable for the peninsular plateau region. Tank irrigation may be defined as the storage irrigation scheme, which utilises the water stored on the upstream side of smaller earth dam called a bund. The earthen bund reservoirs are thus, in fact, called as tanks. The Kakatiyas built an inter-linked system of reservoirs, lakes, and tanks by adopting innovative engineering techniques. This is apparent from the ample archaeological evidences in the form of inscriptions and literary sources. Numerous water bodies built during their era are operational till date.

Irrigation Systems during Kakatiya Regime

Inadequate irrigation facilities prevailed in the pre-Kakatiya period. Furthermore, cultivable land was limited in extent. Tending to the agricultural exigencies, Kakatiyas embarked upon the endeavours of construction of tanks and other water bodies in their territory. Divine prosperity has been attributed to the construction of tanks. In fact, it is considered as one of the seven acts of merit (Sapta santanamulu). The Kakatiya dynasty constructed 46,531 water bodies, out of which 5000 are inter-linked chain tanks.  Epigraphs of the Kakatiya regime refer to more than 38 tanks of significant size that catered to the irrigation needs of thousands of acres and supplied water via artificial channels.  The water bodies catered to the needs of drinking and domestic water demands of people, as well. Sustainability was one of the primary attributes of the design of irrigation systems that were in harmony with the natural environment, with a due diligence to the ecological balance.

The geographic area ruled by Kakatiyas is home to perineal rivers like Godavari and Krishna and their tributaries videlicet, Penganga, Kadem, Swarna, Maneru, Pranahita, Vaira, Kinnerasani, Paleru, Munneru, Aakaeru, and Dindi. All these river flow at lower height, where as the agricultural lands are situated at greater elevation of 200 to 650 meters above sea level. Utilisation of the river waters for agricultural purposes was hence not a viable option. Kakatiya kings recognized that the region is semi-arid and canal irrigation systems are quite incongruous, an account of its geographical location regardless of flowing of two perineal rivers Krishna and Godavari through its heartland. The rulers not only identified this challenge, but deciphered it by adopting Tank irrigation. The topography and rainfall pattern in the region make tank irrigation ideal for storing and regulating water flow for agricultural use.

Construction of tank adjoining a temple was the hallmark of Kakatiyas. Among all tanks, the Ramappa (adjacent to the famous Ramappa temple) and the Pakala lakes are particularly noteworthy due to their size. Tanks were not just confined to certain localities, but dispersed throughout the Kakatiya kingdom. This led to consistency in the expansion of agriculture and parity in the country’s prosperity across the regions. The Kakatiya rulers constructed the Ghanapuram tank, presently knowns as the Mulug Ghanpur water tank, with an extent of 1,620 hectares, capacity of 1,430 million cubic feet (mcft) storage and yield of the basin being 602 mcft.  The Ghanpur Reservoir earth dam, linking the Ghanpur and Rajavaram (near Warangal) tanks has been upgraded recently. With an enhanced capacity of 1.5 trillion cubic metres, the dam is 8.06 km in length and 15 metres in height. It is fascinating to know that the rice harvested under this tank is known for its special and distinctive taste.

Tanks with suffixes such as teruvu, ceruvu and samudra have been mentioned in the inscriptions. Few such instances being Kesari-samudra, Udaya-samudra, Coda-samudra, Malla-samudra, Visvanatha-samudra, Lakshmi-samudra, Rama-samudra, Lingagiri-ceruvu, Samisetti-ceruvu. Kannada words kereya and kere, which are equivalent to a village tank, are also stated in the inscriptions. In the village under the Kakatiya rule, the number of tanks built was according to the extent of its arable land. Tanks were built and maintained at the expense of local villagers. The king offered the necessary support to the villagers for the construction of the tanks, though. Control and maintenance of the irrigation (like desilting) was carried out by local or state bodies. Construction of teruvu, ceruvu (tanks of small extent), which was the most prudent strategy suitable for the topography, rainfall and soil conditions of the area. As and when the conditions permit and the water demand necessitate, samudras or big tanks were built. To leverage the irrigation needs, the tanks were inter-linked to form an intricate chain system. Canals and wells were built on a need basis, ensuring the best possible irrigation means to the arable lands. The water management policies and methodologies were scientific to the core.

Numerous inscriptions which depict the instances of well irrigation in the Kakatiya period are available. A Gunduru inscription records to the construction of a well by a Malla. Another inscription (1162A.D) mentions the construction of a well by Malyala Kata. Several mechanisms which employ either bullock- power or man-power, utilised to lift water from the wells were revealed in the inscriptions. Use of etam, a pulley specifically used for water-lifting was referenced in the Hanmakonda inscription. Women were actively involved in the construction and maintenance of water bodies during Kakatiya regime. The role of women in the development of irrigation is revealed by epigraphs which mention water bodies named after women, Rudrama-Kaluva, Kuppamma-Kaluva, Vengamma-Cheruvu and Prolakamma-Kaluva.

Along with their focus in improving irrigation systems for agriculture, the Kakatiya kings adopted ‘Land Reclamation Policy’ in the difficult landscape of Telangana, Rayalaseema and portions of the coastal belt. They made an effort to increase the arable of land by cutting forests and putting vast swathes of newly discovered land under the plough. Following his victory over Ambadeva, the kayasta chief, Prataparudradeva gave orders to an officer Irugappa Keti Nayaka to clear the trees at Kochcherlakota in the Prakasam area and establish the village of Duppipadu, or Dupadu. At that time, extensive forests dominated the area west of the Srisaila mountain, which corresponds to a substantial portion of the present-day Nandikotkur in Nandyal district. Likewise, several Kakatiya kings ordered to convert forests and grasslands to human habitats. Numerous new villages in the Kadapa, Kurnool, Prakasam, and Nellore districts were, thus formed.

Finding people to move to the recently -established villages and encouraging them to settle there was not always simple. The government encouraged individuals and enterprising farmers to migrate to the new villages by offering them additional privileges like tax holidays. They were exempt from paying taxes on farm produce for an initial period of three years. Taxes were imposed at low rates starting in the fourth year and were progressively increased until they were the same amounts as those in the older villages. Construction of other infrastructure, road connectivity, temples and tanks were done simultaneously, making the village a full-fledged and self-sufficient entity.

Remarkable water distribution structures like sluices were constructed for effective conveyance of irrigation water. This facilitated water-rationing and equitable distribution of water resources. Sustainable and competent irrigation systems led to an upsurge in agricultural production. Change in the cropping patterns like crop rotation was feasible. Alongside traditional crops, commercial crops were incorporated in the farming. A substantial in increase farm income and flourishing industries such as textiles, metalworking, and pottery, resulted in an increase trade and commerce. In particular, long-distance trade thrived during Kakatiya regime. Ambient cultural, socio-economic conditions prevailed in those times.

According to Cynthia Talbot, Professor of History, UT Austin: “during the Kakatiya era, inland Andhra economy underwent considerable growth due to the extension of agriculture into uncultivated territories, the boosting of agricultural productivity through the construction of irrigational facilities and an overall rise in trade and commerce in which the temple as an institution was ultimately intertwined”.

Key Influences of Kakatiya Irrigation System

Subsequent rulers ignored the irrigation systems developed by the Kakatiya rulers. Big dams replaced the systems, as we moved to modern times. As control over water was lost, the region not only remained thirsty but also was relegated to backward area in the process of development. The state was compelled to look back and draw inspiration from those of the Kakatiya era and resort to restoration of irrigation systems. The four-fold influences are Technological Inspiration, Water Management Practices, Community Involvement and Ecological Restoration. ‘Mission Kakatiya’ which proposes an efficient and sustainable tank restoration programme has been technologically modelled based on the erstwhile gravity-fed channels, reservoirs, and check dams of the Kakatiya era. Sophisticated and sustainable water management strategies like crop rotation and water rationing for equitable distribution of water resources have been included in the mission. Proposal for active involvement of the community in the management of the irrigation system, as adopted by the Kakatiyas, is one of the objectives. Harmonizing of the irrigation system with the natural environment which was a key feature of the ancient system, has been recommended in the mission, intending ecological restoration and biodiversity conservation.


The Kakatiyas who ruled Andhradesa during medieval era were pioneers in water management practices and conceived the design of innovative irrigation systems. They built multitude of tanks, or reservoirs that store rainwater, canals and wells for irrigation purposes. Large extents of land were brought under cultivation by ‘Land Reclamation Policy’. Agriculture flourished and subsequently trade and commerce boomed, making the state economically sound. By drawing inspiration from the Kakatiyas’ irrigation system, the tank restoration programme in Telangana ‘Mission Kakatiya’ has proposed sustainable and community-driven approaches to tank restoration water management, ensuring the long-term viability of agriculture and the well-being of local communities.


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