WillyLogan.com

Technology, History, and Travel

Category: Medieval India (Page 2 of 3)

maota-lake-pan

Another Goodly Lake

View of Amber Fort. The first stage of the water-lifting machinery is in the lower right of this picture.

View of Amber Fort. The first stage of the water-lifting machinery is in the lower right of this picture.

In a blog post last summer, I discussed pre-modern artificial lakes in western India, including Jal Mahal Sagar in Jaipur and the Alwar Sagar. In arid western India during the Mughal period, artificial lakes provided water supplies for the cities that were growing in size during that time. These lakes still serve this purpose, although they have been supplemented by more modern lakes impounded by concrete or earthen dams.

Before the founding of Jaipur in 1727, the capital of the Kachhawaha Rajputs was at Amber (sometimes alternately spelled Amer). Amber Fort, built around 1600 during the reign of Man Singh I, was the royal palace; it is perched on a hill above the town. The water supply for Amber Fort was Maota Lake, impounded by a masonry dam in a valley below the palace. The rectangular top of the dam is landscaped as a geometric Mughal garden.

Overhead view of Maota Lake Dam, showing the Mughal garden on top.

Overhead view of Maota Lake Dam, showing the Mughal garden on top.

Maota Dam garden, Dilaram Bagh.

Maota Dam garden, Dilaram Bagh.

Since it supplied the all-important water needed for the inhabitants of Amber, Maota Lake was enclosed by the outer defensive walls of the city. Moving the water from the lake up to the palace posed a difficult engineering challenge. The topography of the site, and the requirement that the palace be located on a hilltop above the lake, made it impossible for the builders of Amber to use a gravity-fed aqueduct. Rather, they constructed an animal-powered multi-stage pumping station. A series of five ox-driven bucket lifts raised water from the lake level up to the palace.

Wooden gears that transferred the power of oxen walking in a circle to the bucket lift.

Wooden gears that transferred the power of oxen walking in a circle to the bucket lift.

View down the shaft of the top-most stage of Amber Fort's water lifting machinery.

View down the shaft of the top-most stage of Amber Fort’s water lifting machinery.

The pre-modern water-raising machinery at Amber Fort is similar to technology used throughout southwestern Asia, from India to the Levant. In 2013, UNESCO declared Amber Fort and five other Indian castles a World Heritage Site, collectively designated “Hill Forts of Rajasthan.” Among other features of the forts deserving of world heritage status, the inscription mentioned “extensive water harvesting structures, largely still in use today.”

Amber Fort celebrates its designation as a World Heritage Site, July 2013.

Amber Fort celebrates its designation as a World Heritage Site, July 2013.

(For more on the architectural aspects of Amber Fort, and other Rajput structures, please see my post “Batman Goes to India.”)

01233-qutb-minar-jet_1823px

How many Qutb Minars is this?

The tallest pre-modern structure in India is Qutb Minar, a 238-ft (72 m) tower in southern Delhi. Qutb-ud-Din Aybak, the first sultan of Delhi, started building the tower in 1199. Several succeeding generations of rulers added to and modified the tower; it only reached its full height after Qutb-ud-Din’s death. Even the British tried to add their own cupola on the apex of the tower, but it did not match the aesthetic of the rest of the tower, so it came down in 1848. The British cupola now sits by itself on the landscaped lawns of the Qutb Minar complex. Qutb Minar and the surrounding area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.

Qutb Minar towers over surrounding ruins in south Delhi.

Qutb Minar towers over surrounding ruins in south Delhi.

Publications about Indian construction projects in the early-independence period often compared the new projects with pre-modern Indian monuments; Qutb Minar was a particularly popular item of comparison. Towers or tower-like structures invited comparisons most readily. The ventilation stack of Tarapur Atomic Power Station, India’s first nuclear powerplant, was 366 feet (112 meters) tall—much taller than the Qutb Minar,” as several publications noted.1 Qutb Minar was also used as a standard measuring stick for height for any structure. According to an article in Assam Information, “the height between the bottom of foundation and the top of the piers” of the Saraighat Bridge, the first permanent crossing of the Brahmaputra River, “it almost as much as the height of the Qutb Minar.”2 The winner in any early-independence period height competition was Bhakra Dam. Indian Recorder and Digest stated that the height of the dam, “which is the highest structure in Asia, is about three times that of the Qutab Minar.”3

This rhetoric established continuity with the pre-colonial past, but also attempted to transcend it. The colonial period had been a difficult time for India’s educated elites. Although they believed in their own country’s historic greatness, they also absorbed the western critiques of India as backward, underdeveloped, and imprisoned by tradition.4 Building dams, bridges, and nuclear powerplants was a way to recreate India’s past greatness, which had been lost during centuries of colonial domination. The new India’s greatness, though, would not be based on Indian tradition, but on western ideas and technology. The structures of independent India were bigger, and by implication better, than anything the Sultans of Delhi or the Mughals had been able to make. In the sources that I have read, nobody seemed to care that a concrete ventilation stack was not aesthetically comparable to an intricately-wrought red sandstone and white marble tower.

  1. “Tarapur: Gateway to the Nuclear Age,” Economic Studies 10 (1968), 421. []
  2. “Saraighat Bridge: A Boon to Assam,” Assam Information, November 1963, 20. []
  3. “Dedication of Bhakra Dam,” Indian Recorder and Digest, November 1963, 6. []
  4. Ashis Nandy explained the internalization of western ideas by Indian elites in a lecture I attended in Delhi on June 11, 2012. []
jal-mahal-pan

Goodly Lakes

“Indeed, these Indian Lakes are goodly things, and may be reckon’d amongst the most remarkable structures in the world.” – Pietro della Valle (seventeenth-century Italian traveler to India)

Early-modern European travelers to India were unanimously impressed by the civil engineering works that they saw there, particularly artificial lakes and irrigation systems. I am impressed by these works as well. In the current post, I will explain the historical background of some of the artificial lakes and tanks that I have come across in my explorations of western India.

Jal Mahal Sagar is a roughly circular lake just north of the city of Jaipur. The lake takes its name from Jal Mahal (“Water Palace”), a picturesque structure that rises out of the lake near the southwestern shore. Even the dam that impounds the lake is picturesque; it is crenelated like the wall of a Rajput fortress. (See “Batman Goes to India” for a description of Rajput architecture.) The lake had a practical purpose beyond providing a location for the water palace: storing water in order to sure that the city of Jaipur received a reliable supply. Jal Mahal Sagar was an integral part of the original plan of Jaipur when the city was constructed in the 1720s.1

Hilltop view of Jal Mahal Sagar.

Hilltop view of Jal Mahal Sagar.

Jal Mahal, just outside of Jaipur.

Jal Mahal, just outside of Jaipur.

View of the fortresslike dam of Jal Mahal Sagar.

View of the fortresslike dam of Jal Mahal Sagar.

Some artificial lakes have since found uses that their builders did not intend. Take for example the Padam Talao, which now falls within the protected area of Ranthambhore National Park, a tiger reserve in eastern Rajasthan. The park’s crocodiles and deer drink from and wallow in the lake. Humans are not allowed in the water.

Padam Talao, in Ranthambhore National Park.

Padam Talao, in Ranthambhore National Park.

Smaller than artificial lakes are tanks. Whereas lakes fill a pre-existing valley behind a dam, tanks are intentionally dug into the ground. Since they do not have to follow the local topography, tanks can be made in whatever shape the builder pleases. Many of them are built with rectangular plans, which I think reflects the Hindu conception of an ordered world and cosmos (as also reflected by the rectangular street plan of Jaipur). It is not the result of European influence.

An exemplary tank is the Sagar, located behind the city palace in Alwar. According to the descriptive plaque at the site, the tank was originally dug in the eighth or ninth century, then rebuilt in its present form in 1813 by Maharaja Bakhtawar Singh Ji. The tank is a perfect rectangle, surrounded by steps descending to the water on all sides. Twelve domed pavilions rise from the edge of the water. Today, the water is overgrown with algae, but people still come to the tank to feed the fish that manage to live in the water.

View of Alwar Sagar.

View of Alwar Sagar.

Hilltop view of Alwar Sagar.

Hilltop view of Alwar Sagar.

  1. Giles Tillotson, Jaipur Nama: Tales from the Pink City (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2006), 20. []

Page 2 of 3

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén