Aerial view of the agrosystem.

A traditional paddy farming system
below sea level.

Naeema Ali

The birth of the cultural landscape was marked by the onset of the land reclamation process, locally known as “Kayalkuthu”. When the region encountered acute food shortage in the late 1800s, the virgin landscapes were considered as a gift from the backwaters and were brought to agricultural glory.

Kuttanad cultural landscape.

Here, water management was quintessentially a unit of the cultural expression of the site specific challenges faced by people, be in terms of topography, climate or social hierarchy. The low-lying landscape was subjugated for the benefit of men and women and how they did this narrates the legend behind the existing agricultural landscape of Kuttanad. These radical ingenuities tell us stories of how humans and nature exchanged roles between being makers and takers of the landscape.

Circular Stories

The salt which came across as a curse sealing the fate of the farmers, however, was a blessing for the fishermen due to fish migration from the sea. Hence, the circle of life in Kuttanad was explicitly linked to this cycle of blessing and curse intermingling with the cycle of water and salt. Likewise, Kayalnilams also operated to optimize their performance within this spatio-temporal context specific to Kuttanad.

Cyclical water system.