Seeking to bring attention to centuries-old baolis in the city and celebrate their architectural and cultural legacy, Delhi Assembly and heritage activists have joined hands to bring out a thematic calendar. Delhi is home to over 20 baolis (step-wells), many of which lie buried under earth or obscured by modern constructions around it.
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Spread across the capital city from central to south Delhi, many baolis have for ages stoked the curiosity of residents, but several of them have also slipped into oblivion due to lack of awareness or preservation. “Delhi Assembly wanted to come up with a heritage-themed calendar for 2017. And, so, I suggested baolis as a theme. We finally selected 12 baolis for it, from Ugrasen ki Baoli near Connaught Place to Rajon ki Baoli in Mehrauali.
“The idea is also to bring our youth closer to our heritage, many of whom now just flock to malls and multiplexes, or visit baolis without understanding their significance,” noted heritage activist Sohail Hashmi told PTI. While Hashmi conceptualised and provided text for the calendar, city-based young heritage campaigner and photographer Vikramjit Singh Rooprai contributed the photographs.
“Some of the photographs were taken in 2016, while a few other a year before that. Some of them were taken even earlier, in different seasons. Baolis is how our ancestors used to store water. “And, though, it would be a great idea to revive these water storage mechanism, measure must be taken to make sure they remain in use, otherwise, they will become a breeding ground for mosquitoes,” he said.
The other 10 baolis which find a place in the calendar include — Gandhak ki Baoli, located in Mehrauli and said to bear the name due to the rich sulphur (gandhak) found in its water, Hazrat Nizamuddin Baoli, Red Fort Baoli, Wazirpur Baoli of Lodi era and Tughlaqabad Baoli. The calendar, made both for wall and table, was released by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on December 31 under the ‘Heritage of Delhi’ series at the Delhi Assembly, itself an iconic colonial heritage building.
“This (Gandhak ki Baoli), the oldest surviving step well in Delhi is believed to be have been commissioned by Shams-ud-din Altamash for use of visitors to the hospice of Qutb-ud-din Bahktyar kaaki,” the text for the February month reads. “Step wells are a combination of a well and stairs that descend to the level of subterranean water for easy access. Though Delhi once had over 100 step wells, we are now Left with about two dozen,” the Delhi Assembly says in its message on the calendar.
Hashmi also rues the drying up and disappearance of these baolis, saying, efforts must be made on their revival, while protecting them from the onslaught of modernity. Perhaps the most famous among them is the Ugrasen ki Baoli, popularly known as Agrasen ki Baoli, “this ‘rubble masonry’ structure is located off Hailey Road adjoining Connaught Place.
“It’s a famous hangout place for the youth in Delhi, but how many know its history and significance. A little curiosity about these ancient structures only adds to the joy of visiting them. History is taught in boring ways in schools, and heritage walks should familiarise children early with such structures,” says Rooprai.
Both Rooprai and Hashmi conduct regular heritage walks in the city, and duo believe a simple calendar can also contribute in building awareness about these “lesser-known architectural heritage.” “The other baolis includes Arab ki Seari Baoli, located in Arab ki Sarai complex near Humayun’s Tomb. The Lodi period step well was believed to have been used by the 300 Persian craftsmen, who worked on the Humayun’s Tomb,” Hashmi says.
Built by Nasir-ud-din Roshan Chiragh-e-Delhi, the disciple and successor of Nizamuddin Auliya, the water of Nizamuddin Baoli is considered holy by the devotees of the Sufi saint. For Red Fort Baoli, the text reads: “This largest baoli in Delhi is located inside the Mahtab Bagh of the Red Fort till it ran dry a year ago. Its water was used to irrigate the lawns of and gardens of the fort.”
Wazirpur Baoli is located in Wazirpur complex, a congregation of Lodi-era structures in Sector 5 of R K Puram in south Delhi. Purana Qila Baoli is located inside the ancient fort. “Firoz Shah Kotla Baoli, built as part of the palace of Feroz Shah Tughlaq, is the only circular step well in Delhi and still has plenty of water in it,” Hashmi adds.
Two very lesser-known baolis included are Hindu Rao Baoli, which falls in the premises of the eponymous hospital and Loharheri Baoli, located in sector 12 of Dwarka.