Baolis and India’s Urban Water Crisis

Capstone City National

Historical structures can solve need of water crisis in megacities of India. Clubbing up of the new methods of water conservation with the traditional one is the need of the hour.

Delhi: Baolis were built as a necessity to store monsoon rain waters that would provide a year-round supply of water, especially during the dry months. Major cities across India still have these structure, most of them either remains undiscovered or neglected. It is believed that Delhi, the capital of India once had more than 100 Baolis, however today only 30 or so remains.

Baolis are step wells or reservoirs were used in ancient India for storing water. Over the ages, the ruling clans in India made this unique architecture put to use in different ways, however, were primarily used for conserving and storage of water. The Baolis were mostly built as public utility structures and often commissioned by wealthy patrons or by members of the royal families.

Baolis and India’s Urban Water Crisis

The current water crisis in Indian cities has led to an attempt by the Archaeological Survey of India and other activists to work towards the revival of these structures which were too progressive for their time.

Vikramjeet Singh Rooprai who is a heritage activist and author of “Delhi Heritage: Top 10 Baolis” says “it is easy to talk to about revival but carrying it out is altogether tough. To restore these structure of importance government needs to first work on their maintenance, to dry them up clean them. Further, continuous management could lead to their revival for they can easily get destroyed when not put to use.” He further added, “rainwater harvesting can serve as a vital solution for their restoration and also to India urban water crisis.”

Expert of medieval history, Dr Shama Mitra Chenoy says, “Baolis are supposed to preserve water unlike tank which is open the sky in the back of these Baoli you have a well and the water from the well is made to seep into Baoli and you reach there and you go down the steps you fill your bucket there is not much water exposed to the sun.” She also said “Baoli is not just a place where you take water, you can rest over there. Baolis used to have rooms constructed at the top, so travellers from distant places used to rest there”.

Baolis from an ecological perspective as explained by environmentalist, Harish Kumar, provides a way for preserving the water resources and help tackle the grave water crisis faced by most of the cities today in India. It can also provide for the development of the Eco-hydrological regime, which is significant to the growth of green surroundings in the cities.

“Even if Baolis are revived”, says Vikramjeet Rooprai, “the government would have to find a way to supply the conserved water to the treatment plant. It cannot be expected from people to carry thier buckets and fill the water. So, the issue needs to be addressed in a planned and phased manner”.

Over the centuries the basic functional Baolis gave way to complex and heavily ornamented architectural structures, Rani ki Vav in Gujarat and Abhaneri Baoli in Rajasthan are good examples of these kinds of Baolis. The common features for all types of Baolis would generally be colonnaded levels or storeys, and a flight of stairs that led from the topmost level to the water below.


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