The Persian Wheel revisited- Araghatta

February 23, 2008

The ‘ara-ghatta’ or rope-pot system of lifting water from open wells was probably invented in erstwhile India of the past. With its use in Iran and perhaps its discovery there it came to be called the Persian wheel.

The araghatta itself became the Rahat or reghat or gharat in North India. Ubiquitous everywhere in India it has all but disappeared with the lowering of the water table in many parts of India and the coming of the diesel and electric pump. As a device it is my surmise that the pulley which became the wheel was first discovered around water. The well itself is a remarkable discovery. A hole in the ground which yields water allowed mankind to ‘conquer’ the open spaces and unyoke itself from the tyranny of being tied to rivers and lakes. The Persian wheel still exists in some parts of remote India and with its disappearance will go a water culture and history. Here Avinash plays the Araghattikka , the person working the Araghatta. Usually bullocks, elephants or camels did the job of moving in circles to lift water.

The biggest confusion amongst authors and people is between the Water wheel and the Persian wheel. The water wheel-the noria- is perhaps an Egyptian invention and is stream or river based water lifting device and a water mill at times.

In the above the Noria or the water wheel is a water mill and not a water lifting device. It uses the strength of the current to move and to translate that to a grinding action.

The Persian wheel is the saqia and is a land based water lifting device from wells, more in the nature of a pump. In fact in parts of Kolar in Karnataka it is called a ‘bucket pump’.

As ground water levels decline in India Persian Wheels cannot reach the water to draw them out from open wells. One such Persian wheel stands forlorn and frustrated as the water table has dipped in Kolar Karnataka India. This wheel has worked for the last 80 years and 2007 was the first time that the water table fell so low that the wheel could not work for day. A nearby open well which draws copious water with an electric pump is suspected of causing the dip. The Rainwater Club works with farmers to ensure efficient use of water and allow the Persian wheel- a symbol of sustainable and carbon free water use- to continue its existence as a living, century old water culture of India.

Ananda K Coomaraswamy argues in his monograph The Persian Wheel argues that it is not justified to draw its origins to Persia. Its mention in the Panchatantra and the Rajatarangini as the cakka-vattakka or the ghati yantra.

The FAO document on water lifting devices is an excellent one to compare the efficiencies of various lifting devices for water

”’ http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/ah810e/AH810E08.htm#Fig.%2026 As it states

The Persian wheel, is a great improvement on the mohte, as its chain of buckets imposes an almost constant load on the drive shaft to the wheel. Persian wheels are usually driven by some form of right angle drive. The first is the most common, where the drive shaft from the secondary gear is buried and the animals walk over it; this has the advantage of keeping the Persian wheel as low as possible to minimise the head through which water is lifted. The second example is a traditional wooden Persian wheel mechanism where the animal passes under the horizontal shaft. The sweep of a Persian wheel carries an almost constant load and therefore the animal can establish a steady comfortable pace and needs little supervision.”

Noria and Saqiya: 

Needham, in Science and Civilisation, Vol. IV(2), gave a clear definition of the two forms, the noria having the containers fixed to the rim of the wheel, and the saqiya on the rope or chain flung over the wheel (p. 356). Having done so, he was able to follow up the evidence gathered by Coomaraswamy and Laufer, and argue that the earliest water-wheel in India was the noria, and that, moreover, India was probably the country of origin of this device. The reasons Needham adduced for this conclusion were two-fold: first of all, the noria was in the Hellenistic world in the first century BC and in China in the second century AD, and this proximity of date in such distant civilisations suggested an intermediate source of diffusion. Secondly, he located the earliest recorded reference (derived presumably from Coomaraswamy) to the noria in the term cakkavattaka (turning wheel) used in the Cullavagga Nikaya (assigned to ca. 350 BC) for one of the three permissible models of water-lift.  Source: D.P.Agarwal Needham on Early Indian Inventions of Hydraulics, Cotton-Gins and Alcohol Distillation



  1. Interesting stuff. Although I must confess that I sense a bit of nostalgia in the tone of your writing, which implies that its already perhaps a thing of the past 😦 So carbon consuming processes like electric pumps do seem to have become a part of the water culture for us!
    By the way, the first Youtube video on the top of the page doesn’t seem to work. I use Ununtu 7.10 and Mozilla Firefox if that helps.

  2. Vishu,
    Can you throw some light on the history of groundwater as a source of water by humans ? – Did the water wheel (essentially deriving motive power from flowing or falling water – man learning about using surface water)precede the persian wheel (in some sense running the water wheel in reverse)- did the pump come first or did the turbine? And did the latter evolve from the former after the discovery of ground water?

  3. Vishwanath, your blog flickers on firefox. It is hard to read! 🙂

    I’ve been following your blog lately It might be a good idea to change the theme.

    Is there any document in Kannada on persian wheels? sounds really interesting!

  4. hey i really like the way you put videos on your site but ive been on some more of your blogs and its just the same pictures and i think it would be really good if you had a diagram or soming to show how its works thanks
    ps i think this comment thing is a really good idea cheers

  5. hey you should put some pictures on this site

  6. I want to contact you Sir. Especially wanted to know the location where the persian wheel shown in hte video is located. We are working to revive this system. Can you kindly let us know.

  7. poner bromas divertidas!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! jajaja Att: Jenny de Avila

  8. poner fotos de niños lindos

  9. it was very useful but can be written in ordinary English

  10. it was very useful but can be more informative
    i want to know the inventor of the Persian wheel

  11. wow

  12. These pumps are beginning to be used in artificial wetland treatment systems (inside homes) in Canada and Europe. Although few in number they are rapidly growing in popularity.

  13. would be glad to see some photographs thank you.

  14. This way, we developed a stronger bond and he
    felt I was. Forestman: Fans of the Lego Castle theme will love finding this mini figure;
    there are so many uses for him and thankfully he come with a bow
    and arrow element and a quiver. By drafting out your plan,
    you can see ways to lay out both images, headlines, and body text.

  15. Being a ITES Services expert, we can provide a list
    seo for blogs oof key phrases when evaluating a website.
    Keyword prominence means howw close tthe keyword is seen almost
    every other innovative marketing procedure.

  16. What happens on the water surface when you try to pump water beyond its 10-metre limit?

    At normal temperatures, liquid water does not exist at low pressure, so if a vacuum pump was put at the top of a tall water coumn, the pump would work away boiling the water and evacuating water vapour, which would then dribble out of the pump outlet.…

  17. The Persian wheel is a mechanised saqiya. This distinction has been left out and therefore the confusion

  18. You must participate in a contest for top-of-the-line blogs on the web. I’ll suggest this web site!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: