loni bhapkar barav with mandap_banner

From Podhis to Pipes

Transforming Waters of Pune
by Chhavi Mathur
Contributing Advisors: Manas Marathe, Saili Palande-Datar
Background music by: Joy Monteiro

“I, in rains that fall,
waters that travel through rocks,
flows that touch your feet.”

(Photo credit: Saili Palande-Datar)

Water flows through Pune (erstwhile Poona) and its environs as rains, rivers, streams, canals, and aquifers. As Pune evolved from a hamlet to one of the largest cities in Maharashtra, water has been harnessed for drinking, washing, agriculture, and more. Through our heritage, both tangible and intangible, patrons, rulers, governments and technology have often altered the flows, the freedom, the paths of these waters –

Do I sit or flow,
Meander or piped in,
What will it be today?

Captured Waters

I trickled, tumbled,
Atop the hills around,
Until I was held.


Early historic
circa 200 BCE – 500 CE

The Podhis

As commerce and religion coexisted, patrons facilitated excavation of these rock-cut cisterns to collect surface and groundwater in the residential areas (viharas) of the Buddhist and Jain monasteries on Sahayadris between the Konkan coast and the Deccan, for drinking, bathing as well as for ritualistic purposes.

The Podhis
Brahmi inscription (religious gift of cistern by Vinhudata, son of Kosiki) at Bhaje Caves. (Photo credit: Saili Palande-Datar)
The Podhis
A podhi at Bhaje Caves. (Photo credit: Saili Palande-Datar)

circa 750 CE

Stepwell at Pataleshwar cave

A stepwell in Pataleshwar cave temple, the oldest caves in Pune city, excavated by the Rashtrakutas. (Source: James Burgess)

900 CE – 1400 CE


Baravs 1
Barav at Loni Bhapkar. (Photo credit: Manas Marathe)

Baravs or stepped ponds, built in forts or outside villages, collected rainwater and underground water. They offered a space for community gatherings and resting spaces for travelers and pilgrims. The niches in the walls would house sculpture of deities and the waters were often used often for ritualistic purposes.

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Barav 2
Barav at fort Chavand, Junnar. (Photo credit: Saili Palande-Datar)

1100 CE – 1400 CE


Taakyas or taakis are complexes of rock-hewn cisterns first excavated in Yadava forts like the taakya at Fort Chavand. Ganga-Jamuna taakya in Shivneri Fort has an outer chamber used for fetching water and a chamber that lies largely in the rock-bed which kept waters cool and clean.

Taakya at Fort Chavand. (Photo credit: Saili Palande-Datar)
Did you know?

While these water structures were mostly utilitarian, some of them also served as spaces for people to socialize.

Ganga-Jamuna taakya in Shivneri Fort. (Photo credit: Manas Marathe)

1400 CE – 1600 CE

A cultural centre for learning

(Contributed by Saili Palande-Datar)

A composition in Marathi by saint Namdeo (13th -14th century CE), contemporary of saint Dyaneshwar, talks about the Nagendra tirtha, a stepped well which existed in the precincts of Nageshwar Temple complex in Somwar Peth, on the banks of the Nagzari stream. Legend says that people believed that the waters of Nagendra tirtha could cure skin diseases, including leprosy.

Kasbe Poona was largely a hamlet with potters, coppersmiths, blacksmiths, etc. and during this period saw a rise in cultural exchange and growth. Several saints such as Sheikh Ismauddin, Sheikh Salahuddin, Govinddas, and Brahmin families from Karnataka province moved here and brought their spiritual and literary practices to Poona. By the end of this century, Somwar peth (Peth Shahpur) and Shaniwar peth (Peth Mutazabad) were established adjacent to Kasba peth (initial settlement).

1600 CE – 1700 CE

Sultani and asmani calamities

By 1595, the Bhonsale family (Maloji Raje) was granted the jahagir of a group of villages including Kasbe Poona by the Nizam of Ahmednagar. Due to unstable alliances of the Marathas during the early 17th century, Kasbe Poona saw itself at the centre of power struggle between the Marathas, Mughals, Nizam Shahi and Adil Shahi.

Around 1630, Murar Jagdeo (Adil Shahi) destroyed Kasbe Poona’s military base and disallowed cultivation and habitation of land through an act of “gadhvacha nangar firawane” where ploughing of land by a donkey marks it as an uncultivable and inhabitable waste land. It was also the time when the monsoon failed and the region saw severe famine. Such “sultani” (political) and “asmani” (climatic) calamities led to a mass exodus from Kasbe Poona.

(Contributed by Saili Palande-Datar)

During the later part of the 17th century, Dada Konddev and Queen Jijabai reinstated the faith of people in the prosperity of Kasbe Poona’s lands. As people returned to the area, they dug wells (kups) to harness the underground waters for drinking, bathing and washing. Many of these wells were used up to the 19th century.

1600 CE to 1700 CE


Wells in Kasbe Poona were of two kinds – the Aad generally has a small diameter while the vihir is larger and has steps.

1700 CE – 1900 CE


Sarasbaug and Parvati talav. (Source: Wikicommons)
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Ramnadi & Pashan Lake

Lakes (talavs) were built during the Peshwa period for reasons beyond utility and rituals such as recreation, aesthetics and disaster management. Parvati Lake, built by Balaji Bajirao soon after the flooding of the Ambil Odha (stream) flowing to the east of Kasba peth, marks one of the early disaster management measures of Pune. The lake bloomed with lotus flowers and provided a great spot for boating. An island garden was built with an open temple, to which Saras cranes were brought by Sawai Madhavrao Peshwa, thus, giving it the name “Sarasbaug”. In 1968, Parvati talav was filled and converted into a garden.

In the British era, man-made lakes like the Pashan Lake were built to provide water to suburbs like Pashan and Sutarwadi. Today this lake’s waters are covered with water hyacinth.

Pashan lake built by the British. (Photo credit: Arul S. Vasan)


Captured Waters

Today, efforts for documentation and conservation of several water structures of heritage and/or religious importance are undertaken through participation of formal organizations as well as citizen groups. Those functional today, cater to water requirements of the locals.

Limbraj Maharaj Vitthal mandir in Budhwar Peth houses a kup. (Photo credit: Chhavi Mathur)

The waters of this vihir are pumped out through pipes and used for the temple. (Photo credit: Chhavi Mathur)

“Centuries later,
To drink, dive, rest or pray,
My stillness beckons.”

Flowing Waters

Surrounded by hills, several streams and rivers flow through Pune. While these formed the bed of early settlements around Pune, the fate of these flowing waters was shaped by technology adapted by the invading powers.

Your hands carve my paths,
My course reflects your power,
Flows no more my own.


8000 BCE to 3000 BCE

Prehistoric wanderings

As the monsoon became stronger during this period, the water flows through Pune increased and riverbanks became prominent places for vegetation and animals. Microlithic tools and cultural relics tell tales about the moving communities that followed the seasonal flows along Pune’s rivers in search of food and water.

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Tracing the Lost Waters

3000 BCE to 900 BCE

Chalcolithic settlements

Small farming communities settled in floodplains near river bends which retained water even in the summer months. Their main livelihoods included agriculture, fishing, hunting and livestock raising. The community in Inamgaon next to River Ghod used as a diversion system to harness water from the river.

1100 CE to 1300 CE

Sacred waters

Mula and Mutha rivers are seasonal and often flood during the monsoons. Yadavas built ghats along the River Mutha. The confluence of Mula and Mutha was regarded as sacred.

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River Mula Mutha
Scared Waters
(Source: Wikicommons)

1300 CE to 1500 CE

Medieval settlement

Poona started to grow from a small settlement on a mound along the Nagzari stream (a feeder stream of Mutha River). It saw a change of hands from the Yadavas, to the Deccan Sultanate rulers, and finally the Bahamanis in the mid-14th century. Poona gained military importance and Kille-Hissar (a.k.a. Juna kot or old wall) was built to contain the armory and a marketplace in the present-day Kasba peth. The houses lay outside the walls. The River Mutha likely provided a natural defence to Kille-Hissar and the people within it.

(Image adapted from the book ‘Queen of the Deccan’, by INTACH Pune chapter)

1500 CE to 1600 CE

Nahars – an adaptation of Middle Eastern qanats

The Bahamanis split into several kingdoms, of which Nizamshahi and Adil Shahi occupied regions around Poona. Nizamshahis adapted the qanat systems of the middle-east to build water transportation (nahar) systems in several Deccan cities such as Ahmednagar, Aurangabad and Junnar, which later influenced the water development in Poona. Water from the aqueducts was accessed through masonry cisterns, located below the ground surface, called “hauds”.

The haud at the Pirzada Wada was linked to the nahar in Junnar. (Photo credit: Manas Marathe)

1638 CE

Poona’s first dam

“Seri-Parvatiche Dharan” or “Bel Dharan” was built across Ambil Odha by Dadoji Konddev to promote irrigation and resettle Poona. Like the modern-day dams, this too led to uprooting and relocation of local communities.

(Photo credit: Chhavi Mathur)

1700 CE to 1800 CE

Nahars in Poona

In 1720, Poona became the power centre of the Peshwas. It witnessed a surge in resident and pilgrim population in subsequent years, stressing the existing water infrastructure. Peshwe Balaji Bajirao’s grandmother, Radhabai, persuaded him to improve the water availability within his kingdom. As result the first aqueduct in the city of Poona – “Nahar-e-Katraj” was constructed in mid-1700s. This aqueduct brought water to Shaniwar wada (Peshwai residence) and also branched off to public and private hauds.

As Poona grew further and the number of peths increased, more nahar systems were commissioned and by the end of the 18th century, Poona was served by four major aqueduct systems.

08_Peshwa _Aqueducts_icon
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Peshwa Aqueducts

1700 CE to 1800 CE

Fountains in Poona

Hazari karanje at Shaniwar wada. (Photo credit: Manas Marathe)
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Pyaavs and Paanpois

In water stressed regions, ornate fountains may be built as symbols of abundance and power. Hazari karanje at Shaniwar wada, was fed by the Katraj aqueduct and the fountain at Vishrambaugwada was fed by Nana Phadnavis aqueduct.

Fountain at Vishrambaugwada. (Photo credit: Saili Palande-Datar)

1700 CE & Onwards


Lakdi Pul over Mutha River and Holkar bridge over Mula River are amongst the first bridges built in Poona by the Peshwas. These bridges have since undergone several transformations and many new ones have been built.

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Crossing the River
Holkar bridge, built in 1770 over Mula River. Painting by John Frederick Lester. (Source: British Library)


Flowing Waters

While we have discontinued nahars, channelized, polluted and covered up streams and rivers, the flowing waters of Pune continue to support many of our cultural practices and livelihoods.

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Rivers of Life
Fishermen under Chande-Nande bridge at the Mula River. (Photo credit: Chhavi Mathur)
A polluted, channelized Mutha River continues to be a part of our cycle of life and death. Mutha River as seen from Sangam bridge. (Photo credit: Chhavi Mathur)
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Whispers of a River

“Paved walkways for people to go,
Roads over rivers for traffic to flow,
Bridges stand sturdy for trains to pass,
Pillars for the Metro coming up fast.
You seem to forget that when you build,
You cross over, while I stand still. ”

Piped Waters & Public Health

For a brief period, water flowing through aqueducts coexisted with the piped system. The development of water infrastructure was marked by a more utilitarian approach and ambitious, large-scale projects that were meant to demonstrate the engineering prowess of the British. As a consequence, the traditional water infrastructure was neglected and Pune eventually became more dependent on piped water and borewells.

The introduction of steamships created the first truly global trade networks, which Pune was drawn into. Globalization for Pune meant a faster exchange of goods, culture, knowledge and diseases. During the many epidemics in this period, Pune was one of the more severely affected parts of the Bombay Presidency, a trend that has continued to this day with COVID-19.

Travel straight lines
Hidden within your pipes
I lose my rights.


1817 CE

Pune’s cantonments

The East India Company (EIC) won the Battle of Khadki against Peshwa Bajirao II and set up the Kirkee cantonment along River Mula and the Poona cantonment along the Mula-Mutha Rivers. Peshwa’s territories were now administered under the Bombay Presidency.

(Source: Wikicommons)

1817 CE to 1857 CE

Maintenance of traditional water systems by the EIC

In the early rule of the East India Company, aqueducts continued to be the main source of drinking water and wells, rivers and streams were used for washing and bathing. EIC hired prisoners from Yerwada jail to maintain some of this infrastructure, instead of the traditional communities like the beldars and mehars. Even the smallest of the repairs had to be approved by the Public Works Department of the Bombay Presidency, making it a tedious process.


Disease, water and sanitation

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1826 CE – 1837 CE

Cholera comes to Pune

Poona was hit by the cholera pandemic between 1826 and 1837. Suspected modes of transmission were miasma (noxious odor), ‘specific poison’ and sexual intercourse. Robert Owen, a textile manufacturer and social reformer,

established a preliminary connection between cholera and the filthy sanitary conditions for factory workers in London. Precautionary notices were issued by the Board of Health in London in 1831.

(Source: Wellcome collection)
1842 CE

Chadwick’s report, sanitation and aesthetics

Edwin Chadwick’s social reform publication of the 19th century sparked sanitation reforms movements which were supported by public health workers (like Florence Nightingale), writers (like George Elliot, Charles Dickens) and artists alike. This focus on sanitation also spread to British colonies.

(Source: Amazon.in)
1849 CE

Cholera, pilgrimages, sanitation

In England, John Snow and William Budd proved cholera was a water-borne disease. Hospitalisation was not imposed on the indigenous population in India. The colonial state investigated the relationship between Hindu pilgrimages and cholera, and subsequently, regulated pilgrim movement and the sanitation of sites of pilgrimage, such as Poona and nearby towns.

(Source: Wikicommons by Tony Hisgett)
1854 CE

Malaria and mosquitoes

Improved sanitary conditions were considered as important as medication for managing malaria. On the right is the front page from a report on malaria and sanitary conditions in and around Poona Cantonment by a combined committee of medical and military experts. (Source: British Library IOR/P/351/37 20 Dec 1854 nos 6117-19)

(Source: Wikicommons, authored by Wellcome collection)
1866 CE

sanitary conference and travel quarantine

The third International Sanitary Conference was held in Istanbul in 1866 where Asiatic cholera was discussed at length. At this conference, water was internationally accepted as one of the vehicles of cholera and the countries agreed to impose institutional quarantine on those who travelled across continents. It was a turning point in sanitary diplomacy.

(Source: Harvard Library, ©2018 CC 4.0).
A quarantine guard ship. (Source: Wikicommons, authored by UK National Maritime Museum)

1844 CE – 1848 CE

J.J. Bund over Mula River

In order to supplement the clean water supply to Poona cantonment, an embankment or a bund was built over the Mula-Mutha Rivers with financial assistance of a Parsi merchant, Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy. The water was filtered, pumped to reservoirs and reached cisterns in Poona cantonment through iron pipes. J.J. Bund also prevented downstream flooding of the river.

The yearly tradition of regatta in Poona was started here, which is now continued by the College of Engineering Pune.

(Source: Wikicommons)
(Source: Wikicommons)

1850 CE to 1859 CE
Discontinuation of J.J. Bund

J.J. Bund was abandoned as the principal source of water supply due to the release of excessive sewerage from Poona city into the Mula River. Poona Municipality was established and alternate sources to increase the water supply to Poona were explored under Philip Hart.

1858 CE – 1870 CE

Railways and steam engines

Railways came to Poona in 1858. Bhushi dam, built in the late 1860s, supplied water by cast-iron pipes to several surrounding locations to fuel steam engines.

(Source: Railway locomotive and Engineering, October 1907 edition)

1865 CE – 1877 CE

Khadakwasla reservoir

In 1866, James George Fife R.E. proposed to the British government his plan to build the Khadakwasla dam. This project commenced in 1869, the dam was built and Poona got its first piped water connections in 1877. This was considered the most promising water-works undertaken in the Deccan at that time. The lake was named after Fife and two canals were built along the left and right banks of the Mutha. These waters served the city, cantonments and several villages by means of canals and pipes for drinking and irrigation purposes. In many places, people gave up wells and started using the canal water.

(Source: Internet Archive)

1876 CE – 1879 CE

Water reaches homes

Bombay Act No. VII permitted the construction and maintenance of any water systems in the broader public interest and gave the British complete control over natural water resources in Bombay Presidency.

During the famine of 1876-1877, several tanks were built as a part of irrigation works to store surplus waters from the canals.

A few hundred households in Poona received water connections for the first time.

1880 CE

Iron vessels & coppersmiths

Many coppersmiths immigrated to Poona from nearby cities like Ahmednagar, Nasik, etc. Earlier many different kinds of brass and copper vessels were used for water-related activities like drinking, carrying, rituals, etc. In Poona, they shifted to making cheaper iron vessels and the variety of vessel designs reduced.

Tambat lane, Kasba peth. (Source: Wikicommons, authored by Aarya Joshi)


Plague and Public Health

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1896 CE to 1897 CE

Plague and Epidemic Diseases Act

In 1896, 4500 cases of plague were reported in Poona which was thought to spread by bad water and overcrowded and unsanitary living. The fear of plague lead to an exodus of sanitary workers from Bombay and Poona, which would render the cities inhabitable. In 1897, the Epidemic Diseases Act was enacted for the first time in India in the Bombay Presidency.

This act prevented movement of people, including pilgrims, and allowed government officials to enter, inspect and sanitize houses, detain and isolate possibly infected people and issue any orders to stop the spread of disease.

1897 CE

Plague and assassination

The Epidemic Diseases Act was implemented in Poona by the Poona Plague Committee, with Walter Charles Rand as its chairman. Strict measures including home searches, cleansing, institutional quarantine, burning of belongings, demolition of structures, etc. hurt the cultural and economic sensibilities of natives in Poona, and lead to Rand’s assassination by the Chapekar brothers at a spot where a memorial stands adjacent to today’s busy Ganeshkhind road.

(Source: Getty Research Institute)
(Photo credit: Chhavi Mathur)
1897 CE to 1907 CE

Plague and public health

The Poona plague necessitated the building of public health facilities just like during the recent COVID-19 epidemic: A “jumbo” General Plague hospital as well as institutional quarantine centers were constructed by the authorities. Henry Nevinson’s travel accounts mention that by 1907, plague had killed a third of the population in Poona, including Savitribai Phule, a paragon of women’s rights.

View of the 23 out of 40 wards of the general plague hospital. (Source: Getty Research Institute)
Provisions of water for drinking, washing and bathing were made outside each ward. (Source: Getty Research Institute)

1899 CE

Sewerage scheme

Household sullage was either discarded into Peshwai underground masonry drains that went directly into the Mutha River or into the nullahs or was discharged into roadside drains and gutters. With insufficient water to flush it away these turned into cesspools (Source: Poona Sewerage Scheme, by J. C. Pottinger, 1899).

Discharge of sullage on the roadside. (Photo credit: Chhavi Mathur)

1908 CE to 1916 CE

Piped water system & water quality

The first network of piped water systems was constructed that served a population of more than 100,000. Public health engineers were closely involved in managing water quality in waterworks in Poona. Filtration, chemical treatment and daily analysis of canal and piped waters was managed by the PH laboratory. Today, many such tasks are facilitated by the public health department at the Armed Forces Medical College and the Municipal Corporation.

(Photo credit: Nitya Shukla)
(Photo credit: Chhavi Mathur)

1919 CE

The first anti-dam movement in India

Mulshi dam over Mula River and a hydro-electric power plant to enhance water and electricity supply to Poona and its environs resulted in India’s first anti-dam movement led by Pandurang Mahadev (‘Senapati‘) Bapat in the 1920s called the Mulshi satyagrah.

(Source: Wikicommons)

1919 CE – 1940 CE

Sewage system

In 1919, city administrators began to discuss building of a drainage and sewage system in Poona, which would further increase water requirement. The proposals ran into dispute with the Bombay government and it was only in 1930-1940 that a common out-fall sewer and disposal plant and sewer lines became functional.

Drainage chambers along River Mutha. Rangja, a street art group in Pune painted several of these in 2020. (Photo credit: Chhavi Mathur)

1952 CE

Master Plan of Poona and Virus Research laboratory

The Master Plan of Poona focused on expanding the piped water system. The Rockefeller Foundation set up the Virus Research Laboratory, a field station to study mosquito-borne viral diseases (present-day National Institute of Virology).

Electron micrograph of Dengue virus. (Source: Wikicommons, authored by CDC)

1957 CE – 1980 CE

More dams around Pune

Panshet dam and Varasgaon dam were built as storage reservoirs for the Khadakwasla reservoir. Water was filtered and purified at Parvati Water Works. Pawna reservoir catered to the increasing water demand of the industrial and IT hub near Pune. The deluge due to Panshet dam burst in 1961 was the biggest man-made disaster in Pune, which impacted the city’s growth.

Pune Paradox
Panshet dam. (Photo credit: Prathamesh Kudalkar)


Piped waters and public health

Today, water flows are invisible or ignored until the taps are turned. Pipes and motors carry waters even from the traditional water infrastructure. With rapid urbanization, water from the dams is no longer sufficient leading to a greater dependence on groundwater extraction and distribution through water tankers. With restricted mobility due to COVID-19 quarantines and lockdowns, the inequality in access to water became clearer when people were forced to choose between obtaining water and physical distancing.

Water tankers amid up and coming development in Pune. (Photo credit: Chhavi Mathur)
Piped waters of the stepwell at Pataleshwar cave, now covered by cement ceiling and a metal mesh. (Photo credit: Chhavi Mathur)

Be a bit wiser,
Wash hands, use sanitizer,
Waterless taps, dried wells,
we all fall down.


  • Marathe, M. 2019. Reimagining water infrastructure in its cultural specificity. Case of Pune. Technical University Darmstadt. urn:nbn:de:tuda-tuprints-92810

  • Adams-Wylie, Charles Henry Benjamin, 1871 or , Compiler., and Stewart, F. B., , D.1919, Photographer. Poona Plague Pictures, 1897-1908 (1897). Web.

  • Pati, B. and Harrison M. 2018. Society, Medicine and Politics in Colonial India. 1st ed. SA. Routledge India. ISBN 9780367735258.

  • Deepak K. 2017. Disease and medicine in India: A historical overview. Tulika Books ,India .

  • Kantak, M.R. 1991. Urbanization of Pune: how its ground was prepared. Bulletin of the Deccan College Research Institute. 51/52, 489–495. jstor.org

  • Annu. Rev. Med. 1982. The Rockefeller Foundation virus program: 1951-1971 with update to 1981. 33:1-30.

  • Sutradhara’s tales – column in Hindustan times-Pune News by Saili Palande-Datar

  • Internet archive. (www.archive.org -detailed references in Resources section)

  • British Library (www.bl.uk accessed Oct 2021)

  • Digital collections at the National Librabry of Medicine (https://collections.nlm.nih.gov/ – detailed references in Resources section; accessed Oct 2021)