Prized reservoir losing out to neglect

Abandoned catchment

Prized reservoir losing out to neglect

Summer in Delhi every year bring along problems of water scarcity and contamination. Neither can one trust the water coming in from Yamuna nor the tubewell water. In such circumstances, attention is drawn to the water catchments built by our ancestors who were not so technologically developed then, but certainly had a care for nature and water.

The Hauz-i-Shamsi lake, spread over an area of two hectares (five acres) in South Delhi’s Mehrauli, today serves not only as a water reservoir but also relief to the eyes used to dirt and concrete. Hauz-i-Shamsi was constructed by Iltumish of the Slave Dynasty in 1230 AD. It is said that prophet Muhammad himself appeared in Iltutmish’s dream and directed him to build a lake at the spot. When Iltu­m­ish inspected the site, he reported to have found a hoof print of Muhammad’s horse. He then erected a pavilion to mark the sacred location and excavated a large tank aro­u­nd it to harvest rain water. A palace called the Jahaz Mahal was built on the eastern edge of the reservoir during the Lodhi dynasty (16th c.) as a retreat for use by pilgrims.

A jharna or water fall emanating from the Hauz-i-Sha­m­si is located close to Jahaz Mahal. It is identified as a significant water structure developed by Nawab Ghaziuddin around 1700 AD as a pleasure garden during the Mughal rule. An undergr­o­u­nd pipe (still visible in ruins) supplied the runoff to the jharna from Hauz-i-Sha­m­shi. This was in addition to an open channel close by that carried the overflow of the tank to Tughlaqabad fort to enhance water supply.

The jharna was built in three parts. The first part consisted of the reservoir, the second part was the water fall and the last part, the fountains. Akbar Shah II built the pavilion on the side and his son Bahadur Shah II added the central pavilion, more in the style of hayat hakhsh pool in the Red Fort. The jharna, which was once the Mughal retreat and the highlight of the three day festival of the Phool Walon Ki Sair, is seen now partly in ruins and the surroundings have been encroached upon. The water fall is seen more in the form of a drain in need of urgent restoration measures.

Recently, the HC severely indicted concerned authorities on their upkeep of monuments. A conservation architect has remarked, “The jharna is an extremely significant structure. However, the multiplicity of ownership has led to its neglect. Ideally, the ASI should take it over along with MCD and DDA and ensure that the environment around it is restored.”

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