Water as an Urban Technology in Medieval India – An Introduction by Sara Keller

— Yanitsa Ganeva

As a part of the lecture series “Global Exchanges – Trade, Knowledge, and Religion” in the summer term 2023 at the University of Erfurt Dr. Sara Keller delivered a lecture on the subject of water in medieval India.

Organized by Dr. Elisa Iori and Dr. Mateusz Fafinski of the UrbRel research group, the lecture series examined the question of the wide-ranging effects of global mobility and exchange on societies through different perspectives and examples. One of them was presented by Dr. Sara Keller on 13.06.2023 in the form of a lecture on the topic “Water in medieval India: Circulation and Integration of hydraulic knowledge”.

Opening the presentation with introductory information on medieval India, its exchange with other societies and their influence on Indian agriculture and rural landscapes, Dr. Keller investigated in detail the impact of Persian irrigation technologies on the Indian urban space. The emergence of new hydraulic techniques such as underground cisterns, qanats[1] and the Persian wheel not only changed the hydro-systems of cities but also modified water related practices and urban landscapes. Sara Keller explored these dynamics of integrating foreign knowledge in the already established cultural system of medieval India through examples from Western India and the Konkan coast. An intriguing discussion with the audience, focusing on questions of the correlation of gender, religion and water as a religious and social but also spatial phenomenon, ensued after the lecture.  

The podcast presents the first part of the lecture, focusing on the question of water as an urban technology in general, and the discussion on hydraulic technologies in late medieval urban India in particular. This first part of the lecture elaborates on Mughal emperor Babur (1483-1530) and the introduction of the central Asian hydraulic culture during the early Mughal period.

— Yanista Ganeva

is currently completing her master’s degree in Religious Studies at the University of Erfurt. She was a student assistant with the Religion and Urbanity group until September 2023.

Images mentioned by Sara Keller

Fig 1: Babur supervising the laying out of the Garden of Fidelity, via Wikimedia Commons

Fig 2: Map of the Timurid Emprie. The red rot marks the Fergana valley where Babur was born.

Fig 3: The Delhi Sultanate under Ibrahim II Lodi and Babur’s Campaign in 1526. Stefan Bollmann, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

Fig 4: Trade routes during Babur’s period. Blue lines mark the maritime trade routes. The northernmost east-west line shows the Silk Road with the smaller north-south line linking the Silk Road to the trade ports further south.

Further Reading by Sara Keller

Keller, Sara. 2021. ‘Cloistering Water: Technological Rupture, Religious Continuity (Western India, 16th century).’ South Asian Studies Journal. https://doi.org/10.1080/02666030.2021.1967610. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02666030.2021.1967610

Keller, Sara. 2021. ‘India: Life around Water.’ Exhibition brochure, Photo exhibition at the Augustinerkloster, Erfurt, Germany from the 07.07. to 08.08.2021. https://www.uni-erfurt.de/en/university/current/news/news-detail/ausstellungseroeffnung-indien-leben-am-wasser.

Keller, Sara. 2022. ‘Tangible and Imagined Spatialities around Water: The Munsar Lake as a Case Study for South Asian Hydro-Space (Viramgam, India, 11th–12th centuries). Religion and Urbanity Online. https://doi.org/10.1515/urbrel.17262808

Keller, Sara. 2022. ‘Religion and urban waterscape in South Asia: Kankaria or the ghāt revisited.’ Moderne Stadtgeschichte (MSG), Bd. 1. 69-83.

Keller, Sara. 2022. ‘Releasing temple gold. Spatial fix in medieval Saurashtra through water epigraphy.’ Down by the water: Interdisciplinary Studies in Human-Environment Interactions in watery Spaces, edited by Veronica Walker Vadillo, Emilia Mataix Ferrándiz and Elisabeth Holmqvist. BAR – British Archaeological Reports. 15-35.

Keller, Sara. 2022. ‘Der frühe südasiatische Garten: Sinnlichkeit und Spiritualität um die Stadt.‘ in Gärten: Von der Naturbeherrschung zur gesellschaftlichen Utopie, edited by Bettina Hollstein, Sandra Tänzer, Alexander Thumfart. Wallstein. pp. 57-91.

Keller, Sara. 2023. ‘Vāstu śāstra as Ideological Guides to South Asian Urbanity: (5th–15th Century and Beyond).” Religion and Urbanity Online, https://doi.org/10.1515/urbrel.22600402

Keller, Sara. 2024. ‘Alternative Urbanities. Mapping gardens and reservoirs in pre-modern Indian cities (the case of Vadnagar).’ Religion and Urbanity Online. https://doi.org/10.1515/urbrel.28602859.

Keller, Sara (ed, forthcoming 2024). Accessing Water in the South Asian City. Delhi: Primus.

Keller, Sara. (forthcoming 2024). ‘The lake as Urbanity marker. A model of water topography in the Western Indian city (10th -16th century).’ International Quaterly for Asian Studies.

[1] Qanat (from Arabic for “channel”) or karez is a traditional hydraulic system originating from the Persian world and going back to the first millennium BC. In the qanat system, aquifer water from a hill is lead down to an inhabited area in lower altitude thanks to a carved or constructed, gently sloping, underground channel.


Ganeva, Yanitsa. “Water as an Urban Technology in Medieval India – An Introduction by Sara Keller”. Religion and Urbanity Blog. KFG “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations” (FOR 2779). 01/08/2023. https://urbrel.hypotheses.org/6241

Cite this blog post
urbrel (2023, August 1). Water as an Urban Technology in Medieval India – An Introduction by Sara Keller. Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations. Retrieved May 29, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/v3gg

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