Delhi existed much before the arrival
of the lift-pump, electricity and chlorine. The seat of one
empire after another since the 11th century, it has always been
a prosperous and populous city.
The Tomar king Anangpal's city of Dhilli was founded around
1020 AD, near the present Surajkund in Haryana, 5 km from
Tughlaqabad in Delhi. Having a semi-circular shape and called
Surajkund because it had a sun temple, the tank had a stepped
stone embankment. Its purpose was to impound the rainwaters
of the Aravalli hills. During the Sultanate period that followed,
several cities were built in the terrain of the Aravalli hills.
All these cities had extensive water harvesting systems, which
enabled the people to meet their daily needs.
Sultan Iltutmish (1210-1236 AD) built a large tank known
as Hauz-e-Sultani or Hauz-e-Iltumish. Alauddin Khilji and
Feroz Shah Tughlaq later had the tank repaired. In the regime
of Feroz Shah Tughlaq, the channels supplying water to the
tank were blocked by miscreants. The sultan ordered the cleaning
of the water channels and the reservoir was filled with water.
This tank, measuring 200 m x 125 m, is still used by pilgrims
visiting the Dargah of Kaki Saheb. The tank has recently silted
up and its catchment area has been encroached upon by private
builders and the Delhi Development Authority (DDA)
Besides tanks, sultans and their nobles built and maintained
many baolis (stepwells). These baolis were secular
structures from which everyone could draw water. Gandak-ki-baoli
(so named because its water has gandak or sulphur) was built
during the reign of Sultan Iltutmish. The water of this beautiful
rock-hewn baoli is still used for washing and bathing. Adjacent
to this, there are the ruins of other baolis like Rajon-ki-baoli,
a baoli in the Dargah of Kaki Saheb, and a caved baoli behind
Mahavir Sthal. During this period baolis were built in other
parts of the city too.
Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq (1325-51 AD) inherited Delhi with three
competing habitations, and added a fourth one to it - Jahanpanah
- which means the shelter of the world. The Satpula (meaning
seven spans) was built to regulate water supply for irrigating
the area falling outside the city. Built across the southern
wall of Jahanpanah, it is a dam towering 64.96 m above ground
level. Its seven principal spans were sluices that controlled
the water in an artificial lake.)
Emperor Shahjahan (1627-58 AD) first shifted the city from
the Aravalli hills towards the plains of the Yamuna. But he
made sufficient arrangements to meet the water needs of the
new palace, the army, and the common people. His system of
Shahjahani canals and dighis was probably the
best creation of the time.
Shahjahan ordered Ali Mardan Khan and his Persian artisans
to bring the waters of the Yamuna to the city and to his palace.
Ali Mardan Khan not only brought Yamuna waters to the
palace, but also linked this canal with another from Sirmaur
hills, presently located on the Delhi border near Najafgarh.
The new canal, Ali Mardan canal, channelled the waters of
the Sahibi river basin to merge into the old canal.
In the main city, the canal charged dighis and wells. A dighi
was a square or circular reservoir of about 0.38 m x 0.38
m with steps to enter. Each dighi had its own sluice
gates. People were not allowed to bathe or wash clothes on
the steps of the dighi. However, one was free to take water
for personal use. People generally hired a kahar or a mashki
to draw water from the dighis. Most of the houses had either
their own wells or had smaller dighis on their premises. In
the event of canal waters not reaching the town and the dighis
consequently running dry, wells were the main source of water.
Some of the major wells were Indara kuan near the present
Jubilee cinema, Pahar-wala-kuan near Gali-pahar-wali, and
Chah Rahat near Chhipiwara (feeding water to the Jama Masjid).
In 1843, Shahjahanabad had 607 wells, of which 52 provided
sweetwater. Today 80 per cent of the wells are closed because
the water is contaminated by the sewer system.