The Peshwas and the Water system in Pune
2 June 2022
"Nanasaheb Peshwa was inspired by such systems and envisioned a water system....."
The Maratha Empire founded by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in 1674 became a paramount force in Hindustan by the year 1740 controlling areas of Today’s Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh. Under King Shahu, Peshwa Bajirao I is credited for converting the Maratha ‘kingdom’ into an ‘empire’; giving it status of a nation. As city of Pune remained to be the centre of Maratha Empire’s activities during lifetime of its founding father himself; It continued to grow catching with the rapid expansion of Maratha Empire in 18th century controlling the subcontinent.
Even in mediaeval times, any urban centre could not develop without adequate and safe water supply. The Sahyadri highlands and forts have rock-cut tanks and a network of streams and lakes to supply water, but the plains of Pune required a different approach. There were Nahar systems in the cities like Ahmednagar, Bijapur where Maratha nobles had strong presence in the court of Deccan Sultans. Marathas were familiar with this system & in upcoming generations when actual power in Hindustan came into hands of Marathas; they adopted & improvised this system.
Nanasaheb Peshwa was inspired by such systems and envisioned a water system that would not only provide water all year, but would also be clean and ready at the door. Making permanent public water arrangements proved to be a key task as the great visionary Peshwa Nanasaheb anticipated and planned the expansion of peths, gardens, and religious places. Previously, the small Pune population relied on seasonal streams, river water, and wells to survive. Peshwas considered the drilling of wells, the construction of reservoirs and dams and the installation of terracotta and stone pipes through which water could be provided when establishing a township around Pune and other places in Maharashtra.
King Shahu gave Pune as a fiefdom to Peshwa Bhat family for their service to the throne; Peshwa Bajirao shifted from village Saswad and began construction of his official residence-The Shaniwar Wada at Pune in 1730. As Peshwa the Prime Minister of the Maratha Empire himself relocated, many of his chiefs built their wadas in the city. Pune's population rose and it required more water. Residents who lived closer to the river were able to get water, while others who lived further away had a lot of difficulty. During the summer, rivers used to dry up. Pune has several gardens and farms in its proximity, many of which were owned by powerful citizens. The gardens took water from the river throughout the summer, depriving the people of drinking water.
In the summer of 1745, things came to a head. Nanasaheb Peshwa was at the court of Chhatrapati Shahu in Satara, while Radhabai, his grandmother was back in Pune. She ordered that no water be taken from the river for gardens because of the water issue. Her decree, however, was overturned, and a complaint letter was sent to the Peshwa in Satara. Radhabai wrote a stern letter to his grandson Peshwa saying “Saving the garden and starving the city of water will not do. If trees wither for a month or two, they will not die. I envisage fights for water in the days to come. Then, I will not be able to see the misery of the people.”
Understanding the gravity of the situation Peshwa Nanasaheb took step to eradicate this problem once and for all. Peshwa Nanasaheb is usually regarded as Pune's architect. In 1749, he began building of a lake at Katraj to alleviate the annual water shortage. The sloped geography necessitated the construction of two lakes: one smaller upstream and one larger downstream .
The water from this lake poured into a second, lower lake, which held much more water. The lower lake's wall was over 1,000 feet long, 40 feet high, and 15 feet thick, while the upper lake's wall was eight feet thick and 600 feet long. There were separate gates to remove the detritus that gathered at the bottom of the lakes, and openings in the wall that could allow the water to flow out were sealed. Dammed lakes were picked from the Fadtari and the Navlai Streams, both of which flow nearby Katraj.
The water was piped into the city through an underground tunnel built of brick and mortar that was two to three feet wide and seven to nine feet high. A dipping well was located every 100 feet or so to aid in the cleaning of wells. Before the clear supernatant water resumed its journey to the city, the dipping well assisted to separate particles. The underground water tunnels wound their way east of present-day Sarasbaug, eventually reaching the city's centre. It branched off from here to various public tanks as well as private residences, eventually ending in the Shaniwarwada.
Several public and private tanks, wells, and wadas of famous Peshwa-period sardars and other nobles were watered along the path. At Onkareshwar and Amruteshwar Ghats, it eventually enters the river Mutha by an underground tunnel. The majority of private residence’s water came from wells that were narrow in circumference and lined with stone or brick. Some people utilized the Persian wheel to pull water, particularly for garden irrigation. To control and access water flow, stone pipes and taps were employed at specific spots. The museum of the Bharat Itihas Sanshodhak Mandal features pipes and accessories like this. During the Peshwa time, public tanks built above Katraj nahar proved to be of immense utility and convenience to people of various peths.
The Beldars who were used to be known for demolishing buildings, quarrying stones, and reconstructing terraces and complete constructions. To execute this project, 175 Beldars, including their wives, 200 laborers and 305 draught animals such as donkeys and male water buffaloes were used. These figures give us a clear picture of how massive the Katraj water system was in terms of construction. The Katraj system supplied 2.3 million to 2.5 million litres of water per day to mediaeval Pune in its peak.
The project was completed in eight years for a total cost of Rs 2 lakhs. Over a 20-kilometer stretch, over 134 outlets were constructed. Because the Katraj Lake was at a height of 723 metres and Shaniwarwada was at a low of roughly 540 metres above sea level, the water through the tunnels flowed by gravity. One notable example is the Kharadkar Wada in Pune, where the underground water supply was provided by the Katraj dam, which was 11 kilometres away. The fact that no pumping was required is notable. This Kharadkar Wada is divided into three hauds for different activities. One for bathing, one for utensil washing, and one for water storage.
When the canal was carried to the Shaniwarwada, however, the wall was finished, and it appeared that the water could not be brought in. A skilled mason, who had left space for such a facility on his own initiative, pointed it out to the Peshwa, who awarded him a revenue village for his livelihood.
Nanasaheb Peshwa also constructed a dam on the Ambil canal, which flows into the Mutha River west of Shaniwarwada, and diverted its flow to the river beyond the Lakdi Bridge. At the foot of Parvati Hill, he dug a massive tank with a 25-acre footprint. The lake was also used for recreation, with steps extending from the Hirabaug Palace down to the water.
Three more water delivery schemes were implemented in the 1790s. Nana Phadnis created a separate water line from Narhe Ambegaon to Sadashiv Peth's houd, and Sardar Raste and Rupram Chaudhari built another from Kondhwa's lake. Apart from it, Ghashiram Kotwal constructed a water line to his home in the present-day Pune Cantonment. Water for the Pushkarni Howd was collected from the Sadashiv Peth Howd after the last Peshwa, Bajirao II, erected Vishrambaugwada.
Until the early twentieth century, the Katraj water supply plan was in operation, and many homes in the centre city relied on these public tanks. Some of these tanks still remain today, however they are in poor condition. Some of these are Kala Howd, Budhwar Howd, Phadke Howd, and Badami Howd & Nana Houd opposite Nana Wada. Even today, other wadas and even apartments that have retained the wells are effectively utilising the Katraj nahar's clean water as an extra water supply.
The majority of these public tanks remained active until they were encroached upon or consumed by road widening. However, imprudent deep foundation digging for new projects and abrupt channel closures have resulted in a disruption in continuous flow at numerous locations, resulting in flooding.
It is fascinating & noteworthy that numerous parts of this 273 years old water system are still operating in 21st century. It is the historical legacy that city of Pune had & it should be protected in order to preserve the roots of community & its people. Above all it is the symbol of nation’s rich history.
As Steve Berry quotes,
“A concerted effort to preserve our heritage is a vital link to our cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational & economic legacies- All of the things that quite literally make us who we are.”
1) Uday S.Kulkarni,20th July 2021.The Maratha Century,Vignettes & Ancedotes of the Maratha Empire.Mula-Mutha Publishers.Chapter No-9(b),Page No 89-91.
2) Gokhale Pallavee and Deo, Sushama G., Digital Reconstruction and Visualisation of Peshwa.
3) The water supply system of Wadas,Studioaddablog.wordpress.com,September 11,2018.
4) Mate M. S., 1998. A History of Water Management and Hydraulic Technology in India (1500 BC to 1800 AD). Delhi: B R Publishing Corporation
5) Gupta R. R. 2007. The Wada of Maharashtra, An Indian Courtyard House Form Volume I. Cardiff. Proquest Publishers, Chap. 3, Pg. No. 53 – Pg. No. 58.
6) Aditya Deshmukh, Living on the edge. Water and the city of Pune, India
7) Traditional Dwelling – Wada in Maharashtra, India.http://www.archinomy.com/case-studies/684/traditional-dwelling-wada-in-maharashtra-india
8) Saili K Palande-Datar,Sutradhara’s tales:350 years old Peshwa era Katraj Nahar keeps Pune water secure even today,September 08,2021,Hindustan Times.
9) Water System of Pune, Heritage: Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies in Archaeology 4 (2016)
10)Images/Pune Mirror/Google images/Wikipedia