Saturday, July 27, 2002
M A I N   F E A T U R E

Crumbling heritage
Ranbir Singh

The artistically designed entrance of Alijaan ki Baoli

IT seems the ancient people of Haryana were not entirely satisfied with the construction of wells, kunds, kundis and masonary tanks and wanted to further innovate the existing techniques or build newer and more durable devices for obtaining ground water. In a very ingenious manner, finally, the designers thought of adding flights of steps and underground shelters to wells. Thus originated the structure of baolis. In the medieval times, a score of baolis were built by wealthy individuals and rulers in Haryana. Baolis, baoris or baws, as is the name given to step wells or wells with a deep inclined quay, were built at many places in southern and eastern Haryana. These fine relics of the medieval period, now almost defunct, tell us how the people of this land used very ingenious and durable techniques for obtaining water. Besides kunds, kundis, wells and masonary tanks, baolis served the people in many useful ways. Their formidable appearance, sheer massiveness and architectural style are indeed remarkable.


Most baolis in Haryana were built either by the highly resourceful officials of the Mughal court or by wealthy Mahajans of the respective towns. At Meham, an ancient and important town on the Delhi-Hisar highway (no. 10), two baolis had been built by Muslims, One of them, now destroyed, was situated to the east of the town. The second baoli, bigger and more magnificent than the first one, was built by Saidu Kalal, a mace-bearer at the court of Mughal Emperor Shahjehan. It is in partial ruins and exists on the Meham-Bhiwani road. Its massive supporting walls and a few arches caved in during the devastating floods in 1995. The state’s Department of Archaeology made an attempt to restore it but after a while hastily withdrew and left the debris in its massive pit. This 400-year-old historic baoli, the largest in Haryana, served travellers and troops in the medieval period. The baoli was ideally situated beside the old Delhi-Multan track road. Baden Powell, a Captain in the British East India Company’s army, vividly described its magnificence in his book The Village Communities. Powell came across this baoli when he undertook a journey from Calcutta to Peshawar to inspect the cantonments around 1840 AD.

A flight of steps leading to the deserted Meham baoli
A flight of steps leading to the deserted Meham baoli

Baolis, similar to those in Meham, also exist in Mahendragarh, Kaithal and Hodal towns, and Charkhi village near Dadri in Bhiwani district. The baolis in Mahendragarh, Meham and Kaithal are massive in size and constructed with lakhauri bricks and rectangular-shaped gravel stones. The baoli at Kaithal exists behind the compound wall of the Civil Hospital. Regrettably, refuse from the hospital is dumped into its pit. It appears that this baoli was constructed during the Mughal period. Thouh the structure of this historic baoli is still sturdy, no concerted effort has been made to clean and preserve it.

The medium-sized baolis in Charkhi village and Hodal, though similar in design to the one at Kaithal, were constructed entirely with stone by the local Jat jagirdars. Hodal was under the domain of Maharaja Suraj Mal in the early and middle eighteenth century. Maharani Kishori Devi, the first wife of the Jat Raja, hailed from Hodal. Her family was bestowed the jagir of Hodal by her husband. Descendants of her family say that their forefathers constructed the baoli. Situated in the middle of the town now, behind the main bazaar street, this baoli now lies in an abandoned and crumbling state. Similar is the fate of the baoli at Charkhi village which was constructed some 200 years ago by two Sangwan Jat brothers — Tulsi Das and Mohan Das. It is even known as Tulsi-Mohan ki Baoli. Covered heavily with wild bushes, it is also in partial ruins. I was told that till only a couple of decades ago, village women used to fetch potable water from the baoli well. Adjoining this defunct and dilapidated baoli are ruins of a couple of old chhattaris, built around 1840 AD in the memory of Mohan Das and his near and dear ones. These memorials were destroyed in 1853 AD in cannon fire unleashed by the artillery of Raja Raghubir Singh of Jind. The troops were sent here to suppress a violent revolt by peasants, who refused to pay the enhanced land revenue. The baolis at Rohtak, Silana, Thanesar, Badshahpur, Pinnanghave, Sirsa, Bhiwani, Dayalgarh and Lohari (a small village south of Jhajjar town) are also crumbling.

The inside view of Ghaus Khan ki Baoli
The inside view of Ghaus Khan ki Baoli

The Farrukhnagar and Narnaul baolis are architecturally very significant and unique. The baoli at Farrukhnagar, also known as Ghaus Khan ki Baoli, is circular in shape. With its upper rim having a circumference of 96 feet, this three-tiered baoli has a provision for lifting water. The second or the middle tier contains a circular veranda. The second tier is also connected to a 40-foot-long tunnel, which has an opening across the fortified wall towards the town. The tunnel is several feet below the road. This road leads to Jhajjar town, 26 km away. Some historical documents reveal that the baoli was built by Jawahar Singh, the valiant son of Maharaja Suraj Mal of Bharatpur, when he captured this fortified town in 1760 AD. Official documents disclose that the baoli was cleaned in 1861 AD during a famine. The Archaeological Survey of India, which is responsible for the maintenance of this unique monument, has shown some neglect towards the historical structure. The other baoli in the town, named Mittar Sen ki Baoli, was built by a wealthy Mahajan.

Narnaul was an important town during the Mughal period. The administration of this nizamat was in the hands of Nazaf Kuli Khan. It also remained under Sher Shah Suri for some time. He built a fine mausoleum here in the memory of his grandfather. Several high Muslim officials and mansabdars used to live in the town. Among them was Ali Khan or Alijaan. He built a baoli here. The Alijaan ki Baoli is located at the western end of Narnaul town. Based on a sandy piedmont of Dohan, the baoli is almost in ruins now. During its 400 years of existence, the people of Narnaul, especially its Muslim community, utilised the cool water of this baoli. Its fountains and water chutes must have once looked splendid. Due to the passage of time and lack of maintenance, its well and some parts of underground cabins have crumbled. The fountains, rendered defunct centuries ago, are now almost a heap of rubble, where urchins come to play hide and seek. Of the other two baolis in the town, one is within the compound of the industrial training institute and the second, called Nagpurion ke Baoli, is on the western periphery. Both are now lying unused and abandoned. The structures of both, however, is in a good state of preservation. But unlike the baoli of Alijaan, these two have not been declared protected monuments by the state’s Department of Archaeology. These are also more than 100 years old.

The uncared for baolis are a reminder of our heritage. With the availability of modern and more comfortable means of obtaining water, these fine relics have been rendered obsolete. But a concerted study into their history and architecture provides us a deep insight into the ingenious methods developed by our people for ensuring regular water supply. These socially significant devices may now be no longer used but their preservation is the sacred duty of the present generation. It is regrettable that both the government departments concerned and the community has not been taking any initiative for their preservation, citing shortage of funds as an excuse. Several such water sources whose structures are intact could have been revived under the Rajiv Gandhi Drinking Water Technology Mission, functioning under the Department of Rural Development. If timely care is not taken, these structures will not even exist as historical monuments.

— Photos by the writer