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

The Rajput rulers built an artificial lake, Maota Lake, from where water was transported to the hill fort using a pulley system and a network of clay pots. The water was then distributed through a network of copper and clay pipes

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Urvashi Dev Rawal
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Maota Lake at the base of Amer Fort supplies water to the fort even today

Maota Lake at the base of Amer Fort supplies water to the fort even today

The grand Amber Fort located on a hill on the outskirts of Jaipur is a major tourist attraction. Built with pink and pale yellow sandstone and white marble, the fort is an architectural marvel. Apart from its magnificent architecture in the Rajput style, the fort also has an impressive water storage system that is still functional hundreds of years after it was built.

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In Rajasthan, water scarcity has always been a major problem. As the present-day governments grapple with water scarcity, the water harvesting and storage systems in forts across Rajasthan can serve as a model in modern times.

Amber or Amer was founded by the Meena dynasty in the 10th century but later taken over by the Rajputs. Amer fort was built by Raja Man Singh in 1592 on the remains of the earlier structure. The Rajputs ruled from Amer for about 600 years before Sawai Jai Singh II shifted the capital to Jaipur.

Also Read: Delhi water crisis: 5 historic forts from which India’s capital can learn water harvesting & conservation

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In 2013, Amer Fort was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the group Hill Forts of Rajasthan. “Collectively, the forts contain extensive water harvesting structures, many of which are still in use,” UNESCO said.

Well-planned water collection system

The Rajput rulers had planned the water structures in a manner that there was never any shortage of water. The Maota or Maotha Lake at the base of Amer Fort is an artificial lake which was built to provide water to the fort. 

Maota Lake collects rainwater flowing down from the nearby hills through specially formed channels. 

This water is impounded by a masonry dam in a valley below the palace. The rectangular top of the dam has been landscaped as a Mughal garden in geometrical shape. The lake has an island in the centre, called the Kesar Kyari Bagh because it was once home to saffron trees.

The rectangular top of the dam has been landscaped as a Mughal garden. Pic: Flickr

From Maota Lake, the water travelled to the fort through a specially designed water transport system. 

The process of transporting water to the fort involved three stages – one, taking water from the Maota lake to a large underground tank, two, lifting it to the smaller upper tanks and three, using a Persian water wheel (Rehat) to fill clay pots which decanted their content into a collection channel at the top of the system. 

From there, the water was circulated in the palace through a network of earthen pots.

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

Water transportation system

Rakshat Hooja, director of Jaipur Virasat Foundation says that draft animals and a pulley system were used to draw water from the lake and transport it into the six tanks inside the fort, one by one.

Water went from Maota Lake to a large tank at the bottom of the fort through a 125-metre clay pipeline. The tank helped the water to get aerated and desilted. The water from this tank was lifted to the next level by a pulley system. 

Rakshat says the fort has a series of underground water tanks that were used for rainwater harvesting. 

The walls of the tanks were coated with lime and could hold enough water to meet the needs of the residents for two years.

One of the tanks, known as the Man Singh ka Tanka, collects rainwater from the roof of the fort. The tank can hold approximately 3 lakh litres of water. There are steps going down to the bottom of the tank so it is accessible as the water level recedes.

Also Read: Jal Sahelis: Women water warriors fighting drought in Bundelkhand

Similarly, all the rainwater that falls in the Diwan-i-Aam (hall of public audience) is collected in the Diwan-i-Aam ka tanka, which has a capacity of approximately 1 lakh litres. The Diwan-i-Aam has a fountain and an open space that was used as a resting place.

Pulley system to rotate drums at Amer Fort. Pic: Rajasthan Tourism

The fort houses a lush garden known as the Mughal Garden because of its geometrical design which was a key element of Islamic architecture. It is also called the Charbagh. A tank on the roof of Sukh Niwas, a hall within the Amber Fort, provides water for this garden. The tank is connected to the sixth stage of the water-lifting system through a drain.

The Jaleb Chowk Tank is the smallest of the underground tanks. It has a storage capacity of 50,000 litres of water.

Water for emergencies was stored in an underground indoor tank near the entrance. “In case the supply from Maota Lake was disrupted, water could be used from here,” says Rakshat.

After filling the smaller tanks, the water was lifted through Persian wheels fitted with a number of clay pots.

Water purification & supply

Rakshat explains that the water flowed over sedimentation pits so all the sediment and dirt would fall into the pits. “The water moved through zigzag canals. So the silt was deposited on the sides. By the time the water reached the tank it was crystal clear and could be stored,” he says.

Also Read: Chand Baori: India's biggest & deepest stepwell built in the 9th century for water conservation

Clay pots for carrying water at Amer Fort. Pic: Rajasthan Tourism 

On the topmost level, the tank situated on the first floor of Balidan Gate (Dhruv gate), has a storage capacity of about 1 lakh litres of water. 

From this tank, the water is channelled into two drains that distribute it throughout the fort via an elaborate network of pipes that are made of copper and clay.

The water was also supplied to the bathrooms, the hamam (bathhouse) and for the garden. The hamam also had a heating system so warm water was available, he says.

The open surfaces were designed in such a way that they aided in water harvesting. The terraces have a slight slope so the water flows into drains where it is collected. Many spaces in the fort are designed to store water, Rakshat says.

At a time when most states in the country grapple with water shortage during summers, there’s a lot to be learned from the water system at Amer Fort in the desert state of Rajasthan.

(Urvashi Dev Rawal is a Jaipur-based journalist specialising in development, gender, and political reporting)

Also Read: Kalpana Ramesh: The architect leading restoration of Telangana’s historic stepwells⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠

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