Mehrangarh: The fort with a 500-year-old water harvesting system

Rajput king Rao Jodha ensured a robust water harvesting system while building the Mehrangarh Fort in 1459 in the drought-prone Jodhpur. Over 500 years later, the system is still functional even as most Indian cities struggle with water crises every summer

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Mehrangarh Fort's water harvesting system goes back to the 15th century 

Mehrangarh Fort's water harvesting system goes back to the 15th century. Pic: Mehrangarh Museum Trust 

When Rathore Rajput king Rao Jodha laid the foundation of Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur in May 1459, he would not have imagined that the fort’s water harvesting system would withstand the test of time and remain functional almost 500 years later. The fort on a hilltop is 410 feet above the surrounding plains and houses beautiful palaces with intricate carvings and courtyards, two temples, and museums within its forewalls.

Most of the fort's current structure was built by the successors of Rao Jodha in the 17th century. The fort has seven gates. The main entrance, named Jai Pol (victory gate), was built by Maharaja Man Singh to commemorate his victories over Jaipur and Bikaner in 1806. 

When Rao Jodha decided to build the fort, he faced opposition from Saint Chidiya Nath Ji, the lone resident of the hill. 

He cursed the king that the fort and his kingdom would face water scarcity. 

Though the saint took back his words later, Rao Jodha ensured a foolproof rainwater harvesting and water conservation system to meet all water requirements around the year.

Also Read: How Nahargarh’s 300-year-old water harvesting system beat the desert’s water blues

Ranisar Lake continues to provide water to Jodhpur residents even today. Pic: Flickr

Lakes, ‘kunds’ and water conservation

The place where Chidiya Nath Ji meditated was next to a waterfall that brought down water from the hills. Rao Jodha built a tanka or hauz near the hermitage site of Chidiya Nath Ji, known by the Saint’s name. 

Taankas, found mostly in the  Thar desert of Rajasthan, collect and store rainwater. The fort also had ‘kunds’ or catchment areas like Rasolai Kund and Dev Kund which captured rainwater from the hills.

Just one year after the foundation of Jodhpur Fort, Rao Jodha's first queen, Rani Jasmade Haadi, also began the construction of the historic Ranisar Lake. The lake has five small wells under its base level called ‘kuiyaan’. The aquifers fill these small wells with underground water and are useful during the summer when the lake's waters are inadequate. 

Ranisar provided water for use by the residents of the city and the fort and the lake continues to serve its original purpose even today.

lake water
Natural gradient led to water flow from a higher-level catchment to a lower level. Pic: Mehrangarh Museum Trust

Later, Rani Uttamde Sisodini built Padamsar Lake in the adjacent valley during the reign of Rao Maldeo. An outlet was created in the fortification wall of Ranisar, positioned slightly lower than Ranisar's top level, allowing its overflow to reach Padamsar.

The water harvesting system

The hill's natural gradient led to the flow of water from a higher level catchment area to the lower level one, enabling it to reach various water bodies and locations. The valleys around Mehrangarh served as the catchment area and one of them is the Dhobi Kund which supplements the catchment of Ranisar Lake. 

Also Read: The class 10 dropout from Rajasthan who won the Padma Shri for his Chauka system of water harvesting

Water collected in these lakes and catchment areas was transported using mechanical engineering methods, such as aqueducts and Persian wheels (Arahat), or by lifting manually, according to the Mehrangarh Museum Trust.

The wooden Persian wheel or Arahat is a mechanical water-lifting device that was operated by draught animals such as bullocks, buffaloes, or camels. It was used in Mehrangarh, and other forts of Rajasthan, to lift water from lakes, wells and water bodies at a lower level. 

persian wheel
The Persian water wheel after restoration by Mehrangarh Museum Trust. Pic: Mehrangarh Museum Trust

The Persian wheels had a long rope fitted with clay pots. As the wheel moved with the help of draught animals, the pots would go into the water tank below and lift it for the residents of Mehrangarh. 

The wooden wheels had deteriorated with time. The Mehrangarh Museum Trust has restored the water lifting system to its original state and can be seen at the elevator terrace in front of the Fateh Mahal. The wheels lift water from Ranisar to Jaipol Terrace and further to Fateh Mahal even now. 

Also Read: 1000-year-old Amer Fort’s very modern water harvesting system

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