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Drinking water to flow in Mumbai’s heritage fountains again

Mumbai’s civic body is planning to restore 18 ‘pyaus’ across South Mumbai and, in the process, create a heritage tourist circuit of these structures. Pyaus are drinking water fountains. Some were constructed with troughs for horses and cattle.

mumbai heritage fountains, water flow in mumbai mountains, water in mumbai fountains, bmc news, mumbai news, indian expressMadhavdas Kothari Pyau at Dhobi Talao, Metro Junction. (Photo: BMC)

They first came up in the late 19th century — in Mumbai’s open-air markets, trading hubs, popular commute routes and busy junctions — in a philanthropic effort to make drinking water available to all. Now, they are making a comeback.

Mumbai’s civic body is planning to restore 18 ‘pyaus’ across South Mumbai and, in the process, create a heritage tourist circuit of these structures. Pyaus are drinking water fountains. Some were constructed with troughs for horses and cattle.

Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is expected to carry out this restoration project — in the making for a number of years now — across Colaba and Bandra areas.

As an extension of this project, BMC is also considering tracing pyaus that have disappeared over the years and marking them with plaques or dummy installations, said an official of the corporation.

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According to experts working on the project with BMC, 80–100 pyaus may have disappeared over the years. Some of these have been traced with the help of oral history, and by scanning old photographs and films.

The idea was mooted in 2018. Vaastu Vidhaan, a firm working for heritage conservation, submitted a proposal to the civic body for mapping 22 existing pyaus, which could be restored to create a heritage circuit.

Two years later, BMC picked four pyaus from this list of 22 — all housed in Veermata Jijabai Bhosle Udyan in Byculla — and began the process to restore them.

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Over the past three years, it has also been separately restoring other pyaus across the city — the Vaswani pyau on Mint road, the Anand Vitthal Koli pyau on Gokhale Road, the Madhudas Kothari pyau at Dhobi Talao near Metro junction and the Kothari pyau opposite GPO in Fort. These are not part of the list of 18 in the current heritage circuit plan.

Rahul Chemburkar from Vaastu Vidhaan, who spearheaded the restoration project, said: “Pyaus are an important aspect of Mumbai’s socio-cultural history. Not only were they an expression of philanthropy, but are an icon of equality. Moreover, water is an integral socio-cultural element and pyaus express this. This concept inspired the idea of restoring them in an effort to preserve the historical identity of the city.”

Some of the pyaus up for restoration date back as far as the late 1800s, inscriptions on them show. These are some of them (among those mentioned in Chemburkar’s proposal to BMC): Sir Cowasji Jehangier’s Fountain at Dhobi Talao constructed in 1865; the Kessowji Naik pyau at Masjid Bunder (1876); the pyau at Don Taki in Kamathipura (1901); the Nawab Ali Ayaaz pyau and Sir Cowasji Jehangir’s fountain, both at Mazgaon (1865); the Seth Devram Keshawji Contractor pyau at at Maheshwari Udyan (1943).

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A senior civic official from BMC’s heritage department said: “BMC began the restoration process with these four pyaus, and several smaller projects were undertaken to restore them across the city. Going forward, the plan is to restore the remaining 18 together, so that the circuit can be launched. The costing for the project is underway, on the basis of which administrative approval will be sought. Because of the magnitude of the project, we had earlier decided to take it up in parts, and pyaus were restored as isolated projects too.”

First published on: 25-07-2022 at 03:45:39 am
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