Saturday 22 December 2012

The oasis of water in a desert

Today, there is much talk about water harvesting and the State Government has made it mandatory for new house coming up in Bangalore to have water harvesting facility. But this concept existed in Bijapur, a city on north Karnataka, more than five centuries ago.
An efficient and almost hundred per cent successful water harvesting, management and water supply system was  put in p-lace by the Adil Shahis. The capital of Adil Shahis-Bijapur-was bone dry and there was no major source of water nearby.
There were no major water sources too and the ground water table too was low. The Adil Shahis chose Bijapur as their capital because of the natural protection it afforded. There was no tree cover or water for miles round and Bijapur was right in the middle of an arid region.
These natural barriers notwithstanding, the Adil shahis had to search, locate and supply water to a growing populace. When Bijapur was made the capital of the Adil Shahis in 1498, it was a small city but within decades it had emerged as a major trading, political and religious centre of the Deccan.
Bijapur rivaled Vijayanagar in art and architecture but unlike Hampi which had the Tungabhadra nearby to fulfill its needs for water, Bijapur had no river or major dam to speak off.
The Adil shahis then decided on a unique system of  water wells to help overcome the problem of eater. They constructed huge wells and tanks called Bavadis in many places. These bavadis were interconnected through water channels which ensured regular and steady supply of water. 
The bavadis this became the main source of water for Bijapur. These bavadis were not mere constructions in masonry and stone. They were adorned with beautiful arches, carvings and frescos.
Water was also collected from the hills near Bijapur and tunnels dug undergrad to carry them to the city.
After the fall of Vijayanagar in 1565, Bijapur took on the mantle of  being the man city of the Deccan, a position it held till 1686 when it was captured by Aurangzeb, the Mughal Emperor.
Till its capture, people began flocking to Bijapur as it emerged as a seat of  religious tolerance and a vehicle for development of Urdu, Marathi and Persian languages.
Historians say that the population in Bijapur reached a peak during the reigns of Ibrahim Adil Shah II and Mohammed Adil Shah and that the City probably consumed double the quantity of water it needed.
The Adil Shahi Emperors built a number of bavadis such as Taj bavadi, Chand bavadi, Ibrahimpur bavadi, Nagar bavadi, Mas Bavadi, Alikhan bavadi, Langar bavadi, Ajgar bavadi, Daulat Koti bavadi, Basri bavadi, Sandal bavadi, Mukhari Masjid bavadi, and Sonar bavadi.
Of the many bavadis, perhaps the most important are Taj bavadi, Ibrahim bavadi  and Chanda Bavadi. They are also the biggest and they are places of tourist attraction.
The Taj bavadi is a huge well. It is the biggest of the bavadis and also the most beautiful. It is 52 feet deep and 223 sq feet in area. It was built in 1620 by Ibrahim Adil Shah , the second, in memory of his first wife, Taj Sultana.
The entrance arch of the bavadi is very impressive and it has two octagonal tower. The arch between the two towers is 35 feet. The east and west wings of the towers were used as rest houses. It is surrounded on three sides by a colonnade, with a gallery above and on the fourth side is the arch.
Ali Adil Shah (1557-1580) built the Chanda bavadi in 1579 in honor of his wife Chand Bibi. A beautiful complex was added around the bavadi and it was used by the Adil Shahis to house the maintenance staff. The members of the royal family occasionally used the bavadi for recreation.
Chand bavadi, with its unique design, became a model for other wells that came to be constructed later. In its heydays, this well held 20 million litres of water. 

The Adil Shahi  built a dam at Torvi which collected rain water and supplied it to Bijapur through underground ducts. The Torvi dam and another dam in the far eastern side of Bijapur fed the reservoirs of Torvi and Afzalpur. These water works in turn supplied water to Shahpur and Bijapur.
Unfortunately, not much attention of focus has been given to the aquaduct from Torvi to Bijapur. It is a marvel of engineering which can be replicated by the authorities today for solving the eater problem of Bijapur.
Water from the Torvi aqueduct was augmented by the construction of  the Jahan Begam lake or Begum talab,  a 234 acres water source, by Mohammad Adil Shah, who also constructed the Gol Gumbaz.
The Begum Lake is located the south of Bijapur and it was so designed to feed houses and buildings in the southern and eastern sides of  Bijapur.
There is an underground building adjacent to the Begum Talab on its right side. It is from here that earthen pipes were drawn to Bijapur for providing water.
The pipes were laid at a depth of 15 feet and 50 feet and joined and cased in masonry. A series of  towers with a height of  25 feet (7.6 m) to 40 feet (12 m) called as “gunj” were constructed to release pressure of water and prevent pipes from bursting all along. These towers allowed dirt in pipe to remain at the bottom and clear water to flow to the city.
 This unique water system continued for many decades after the fall of Bijapur. A British traveler, Capt. Sykes who visited Bijapur in 1819 says there were 700 wells (bavadis) with steps and 300 wells (Kuans or small wells) without steps within the fort of Bijapur.
Today, apart from these living wells, we can see the remnants of well such as Rangrez Talab, Quasim Talab, Fatehpur Talab and Allahpur Talab.
Today, many of the bavadis are a picture of neglect. Debris and filth are thrown into the bavadis. There is no maintenance and they have fallen into disuse. All this at a time when Bijapur is facing a sever water crisis. The water wells can be used to provide at least water for non-drinking purposes.
Is this not a lesson for our civic fathers to lean and imitate. Should they go abroad to learn about water management when our own ancestors developed a highly scientific and sophisticated water harvesting and water management system. 

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