RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It is really hot in India - 123 degrees hot in the northern part of the country, and a third of India continues to suffer drought. Last week, we heard about farmer distress in the hard-hit state of Maharashtra. This week, NPR's Julie McCarthy reports on an ancient practice there used to locate precious water.
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: First, a bird's eye view of just how dire the water shortage is in the western state of Maharashtra. Photographer Raju Shinde sends up a small drone a half a mile up above the earth, which beams back live video of the landscape below.
RAJU SHINDE: (Speaking foreign language).
MCCARTHY: "I've been shooting this area for the last decade," he says, "observing the changes." They are profound. Not long ago, he says, this vast acreage where the drone is hovering was underwater. It was a brimming dam. But after several years of drought, this reservoir that once supplied the water to the entire nearby city of Beed is now empty.
And we're standing in the field where the water was. There's not a drop of water here.
As the drought has worn on, there's been over-extraction of the groundwater. One farmer after the next, one resident after the other has drilled a borewell, often relying on the likes of this man.
We should turn to our water diviner to see if here, in this empty dam, he can find water.
Fifty-six-year old Ambadas Raut.
Can you get your copper rods and demonstrate that for us?
Raut's profession dates to the ancient Egyptians, who etched water diviners on their temple walls. The Bible alludes to Moses dowsing for water. Raut, a slight man, stands stock-still, holding at his side the rods known as dowsing sticks. He moves forward in tiny steps.
And his feet barely move off of the ground.
He's deep in concentration.
And he's moving forward, and these copper rods will then cross when he reaches water. And he's now reached water. On that spot is the water.
AMBADAS RAUT: Water. (Through interpreter) We have found one flow of water so now, again, I need to move into another direction to see - another spot to see how the flow is.
MCCARTHY: He marks the spot, smudging the dirt with his sandal. On three consecutive tries, he finds what he says is a new flow that intersects the original one, copper rods crossing each time.
RAUT: (Through interpreter) There is either a very good source of water - there's a lot of water - or it could even mean that it is very close to the surface.
MCCARTHY: Of course, it's all hypothetical until you actually drill a well. But for a small fee Raut, a retired farmer, has divined water for some 400 clients with what he says is an 80 percent success rate.
Do you feel a force coming up from the earth? Do you feel something physically?
RAUT: (Through interpreter) It's not that I feel anything physically. It's what any normal person would feel they hold an iron close to a magnet. That pull? You can feel that pull.
MCCARTHY: The former president of the American Society of Dowsers says it's the mind that does the work. The tool just does the indicating, which prompt the question - could I hold those copper rods and find water, or do you have a gift?
RAUT: (Speaking foreign language).
MCCARTHY: He says it's an ability honed by practice. I take up the rods, find a dry spot and the sticks forcefully cross. There is no scientific explanation for this. The U.S. Geological Survey notes that some water exists under the Earth's surface always everywhere, which would explain the dowser's ability to find it. But water diviner Ambadas Raut is mystified himself by the physics at work in this ancient practice.
RAUT: (Through interpreter) What is this? I have no clue. Maybe only God knows what this is. But I just know that it is there.
MCCARTHY: Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Maharashtra.
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