Pyaavs and Paanpois

Glimpses of Water Dispensing Units of Pune
by Swapna Joshi & Tanvi Kanim
An act of piety; a gesture of altruism; a space to pause and share; a place to quench thirst; a notion of providing drinking water to all; all these thoughts and actions converge at a location where stands a public drinking water dispensing unit. This is the story of two colloquial expressions of water dispensing units from Pune, the historic pyaavs (drinking water fountains built during colonial period) and the modern paanpois (free drinking water units).


Imagine you are walking on a busy road, on a bright sunny afternoon and desperately need water to quench your thirst. If you are not carrying a bottle of water, the immediate solution might be to buy a bottle of packaged drinking water. Another answer to this also might be the Water ATM: an automated water dispensing unit that is new in Indian cities, but taking root rapidly. However, the question is what could be a more traditional and sustainable approach to access water. We know of different types of wells, dams and piped water systems that have been used to fetch potable water. But less is known about manually operated drinking water dispensing units. These are narratives of the ‘pyaavs’ and ‘paanpois’ from the Pune Cantonment, two lesser known yet important perspectives of water dispensing units.

A defunct old drinking water fountain (L). A modern functional drinking water dispensing unit (R).

Water from the streets

The historic drinking water fountains are locally called as pyaavs while modern water dispensing units are generally called as paanpois. However, this nomenclature is often used interchangeably as well. The East street, MG Road, Solapur Road, Bootee Street of Pune Cantonment is a small geographical area within which there are two historic drinking water fountains and six new water dispensing units. Every structure has a unique facet and each locality has a unique story.

(Courtesy: Google Map Data 2022, acquired on 15-02-22)

Vital facets of drinking water units

A one of kind 20th century drinking water fountain from Pune.

1. Drinking Water Fountain : Pyaav

There are only two-three such pyaavs, colonial period drinking water fountains in Pune, which were patronised in the memory of deceased souls. Two structures are extant today, however they are dysfunctional. Pyaavs are testimonials of a legacy of philanthropy that took root in many Indian cities during the 20th century.

Paanpoi near Solapur Bazaar police station donated by Shri Vivek Yadav.

2. Drinking water dispenser : Paanpoi

Similar in their motive of providing drinking water like the elaborate pyaavs, there exists a practice of installing paanpois. Backed by community support, such drinking water dispensing units are a good source of drinking water on streets. Paanpois are simple in form but highly utilitarian in nature.

Information plaque on the drinking water fountain located at Ambedkar Road.

3. People, Philanthropy, Memory and Water

The common thread that connects these two forms of water dispensing units is the act of philanthropy and provision of potable water. Preserving the memory of the deceased soul and sharing it with society, is another vital aspect of all the old and new water units.

The past versus the present

With centuries apart, the Ambedkar Chowk in Pune cantonment (or Camp Area as it is commonly known) has seen both a pyaav and a paanpoi.

The Pyaav

Dating back to 1910, the pyaav is one of its kind, situated outside the once-famous Napier hotel and built-in loving memory of Late Dorabjee Dadabhoy Bootee. Late Dadabhoy Bootee was a prominent personality of the city administration as well as the social life of Poona city in the early 20th century. He was the Vice President of the Municipality and Proprietor of Napier Hotel.

A conjectural illustration of how the drinking water fountain must have looked originally.
The dilapidated Bootee pyaav in front of Aurora Towers.

The Bootee pyaav lies dilapidated in a filthy condition to one corner of the road. Built out of marble and black basalt stone, it has a trough and a water spout for people to drink water. It must have been a water dispenser for anyone traversing through East Street at one point in time. The plaque on the lower half of the structure has etched lettering.

The trough or basin that would collect water coming out of the spout.
The plaque on the lower half of the structure.

The niche and the pedestal that might have bust or statue of Late Mr. Bootee or some other sculptural art.

The Paanpoi

The motive behind the setting up of this paanpoi is to provide free drinking water to auto-rickshaw drivers who queue up their autos in the lane as well as to any commuter who feels thirsty. This Paanpoi unit consists of two earthen pots that are filled with water by the people who use them. These earthen pots keep the water cool even during scorching summers.

Lost in the urban chaos

This pyaav built in early 20th century has suffered through time. The surrounding ground level has risen so much that it has taken up the plinth of the structure. Being outside a Rani Lakshmibai Udyan, on the corner of a narrow lane, this pyaav must be a thirst quencher for locals, visitors to the park and other commuters. However, today the pipe connection providing water is defunct, making the pyaav unusable. Interestingly, the patron of this pyaav is labelled as the ‘Indian Community’ on the plaque, which apparently donated this pyaav in memory of the cantonment magistrate Lieutenant Colonel H. Minchin. But the community living in its vicinity today does not have any connect with this water dispenser.

A conjectural illustration of how the drinking water fountain must have looked originally.
Information plaque and the broken basin of the pyaav.

Ironically, now it is being used as a support to stack empty water buckets and dustbins. The pyaav is surrounded by eateries, coffee shops, tea stalls and street food shacks. But this old structure remains neglected and lost in the urban chaos. Though the functionality of this pyaav is lost, the requirement of public drinking water dispenser in the surrounding areas persists. Steps to restore and revive such pyaavs, if taken by civic bodies, can aid in reinstating the lost heritage as well as reduce the use of packaged drinking water to some extent. Like newly built paanpois, old pyaavs can also become thirst quenchers.

Novel ideas of dispensing units

Traditionally, paanpois setup along city roads more often seem to have been earthen pots. However, there are a few examples of stone structures like the Solanki pyaav, built off the East Street in 2005, but which has fallen out of use now. It was constructed as an outcome of the philanthropic efforts of the Solanki family.

The modern dispensing unit (now defunct) which is off East Street, is called a ‘pyaav’.

Another interesting example comes from the Solapur bazaar police chowki, situated at the juncture of Solapur road, where Shrimati Vasantibai Andraji Mutha has donated a paanpoi in the form of a water cooler. This was also built in 2005 and is still in use today. The tradition of providing free drinking water in memory of the deceased is being continued with a new refurbished look.

Crossroads of Paanpoi

The road that connects to Solapur Bazaar Police Chowki is rich in hosting paanpois.

On the Solapur road, near Pulgate bus stand, there are three paanpois within half a kilometer radius. There is one earthen pot paanpoi next to the Mutha water dispenser, one outside Mutha bungalow. Donated by a resident of Pune cantonment, a certain Shri Vivek Yadav is the patron of the paanpoi next to Solapur Bazaar Police Chowki on Napier Road.

The paanpoi outside Mutha Villa is constructed out of the joint efforts of Pulgate Rickshaw Stand members. The members of this group take care of the earthen pots and fill it up using a tap just next to it. An auto-rickshaw driver says that this allows them to fill drinking water in their bottle while they are waiting at this stand for passengers.

Some stories of lost treasures

An iconic pyaav (drinking water fountain) which was built during the Queen’s Jubilee year for the troops on the rifle range, is not to be found in the current cantonment settlement. An old sketch exhibits the artistic fountain which has beautiful gable roofs, water basins on two sides and gargoyles as water spouts. This probably must have been one of the city’s most exquisite drinking water fountains. An old newspaper clipping writes that it was erected by Command of the Duke of Connaught to commemorate the Queen’s Jubilee and designed by J. Adams who was the architectural executive engineer and surveyor to the Government. Based on this cursory information, this pyaav is likely to have been built in late 19th century. This piece of water heritage needs to be traced and mapped on the city’s water narratives. It is a unique element of architecture associated with water and a testimony to the people who thrived on its water.

The Jubilee fountain sketch, however, the actual structure remains untraced. (Courtesy:
A modern earthern pot paanpoi near St. Mary’s Church which has fallen out of use.

While on one hand, historic fountains are defunct and unknown, on the other hand, some modern paanpois are also left unattended. It is a fading out tradition in current times. It is necessary to not only acknowledge the presence of pyaavs and paanpois but also an effort is required to reinstate the system of public water dispensing. This water element is connected to the city streets and it creates spaces for commuters to pause and rest. A Marathi poem written by Kavi Yashwant befits this narrative –

“yehi bhai yeth pahi, ghatli hi paanpoi… dharma jaati kon ti bhed aisa yeth nahi…”

which can be read in this context that paanpois are all accommodative, invites everyone to share water and unknowingly builds a connect through water.


  • Chiplonkar, S.H (ed). July 1880. The Quarterly Journal of the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha. Volume 3. Number 1: 15-18.

  • Gazetteer of Bombay state district series Vol XX – Poona district, Printed at the government central press, 1954,, Accessed on 12.02.2022.