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In Pics: Mumbai’s Beautiful and Ancient Fountains Are Getting a New Life!

In Pics: Mumbai’s Beautiful and Ancient Fountains Are Getting a New Life!

Ancient Mumbai’s historic architectural genius also reflects in more than 30 pyaus across the city which are fragments of history of a city that never sleeps.

The concept of ‘water charity,’ has been a longstanding tradition in India. In the olden days, it was a common sight to see a foot traveler on the streets of South Mumbai, stop by a local water fountain, have a refreshing drink of water, rest a bit to soothe his tired muscles and move onward.

Indeed Hutatma Chowk (Martyr’s Square), has one of the finest examples of these heritage ornamental fountains – the Flora Fountain, built as early as 1864.

Flora Fountain at Night. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

This sort of historic architectural genius also reflects in more than 30 pyaus (drinking water fountains) across the city – documented by the Municipal Corporation.

With profound iconography and free flowing designs, these early 20th century structures are fragments of history from a lost time.

The last few years have seen these fountains lose their identity owing to negligence, lack of maintenance and developmental advances.

A classic example of this is the demolition of the Bharat Mata Pyau on 12th December 2010, for to a road widening project.

Rahul Chemburkar, a city-based conservation architect, is dedicated to the cause of saving these historic pyaus. Jokingly referred to by his friends as the ‘Pyauist,’ his firm – Vaastu Vidhaan Projects– specializes in heritage conservation.

Rahul’s interest in Pyaus began in 2009, when he was commissioned by the Municipal Corporation to work on a pyau. A native of Chembur in Mumbai (therefore the surname is Chemburkar), the dysfunctional pyaus in the 70s piqued his curiosity as a child. He revisited these as part of his research.

“I came across a documentation by Dr Varsha Shirgaonkar which included most drinking and pleasure fountains in the city. These structures may not be as elaborate as Mumbai’s other heritage sites like VT or Gateway, but reflected and resonated the Indian culture of water charity, which was a confluence of two important factors: the memory in which they were built and its public utility as a water dispensing unit,” says Rahul.

You may have walked past these pyaus, but we bet you wouldn’t know the unique historical narrative behind them:

1. Kesowwji Naik Fountain and Clock Tower, Bhaat Bazar, Masjid Bunder

Kessowji Naik Fountain & Clock Tower, Bhaat Bazar, Masjid Bunder, 1876 Credit: Vaastu Vidhaan Projects
As the plaque on the 22-foot fountain reads – it was built by Kessowji Naik, a wealthy Gujarati merchant and his son, Nursey Kessowji at Bhat Bazar’s Mirchi Gally and presented to the city of Bombay.
It was opened for public use by the then Governor of Bombay, Sir Philip Edmund Woodehouse on 8th Jan 1876.
While this pyau has spouts and earthen pots to cater to thirsty of travelers, the spilled water falls into a trough for thirsty animals.
The dome has an exquisite chaitya pattern, while the architecture bears sculptures of Nandi bulls, a peacock, and an elephant. In 2015, through public-private funding, Rahul’s team successfully restored the fountain and clock towe

2. Sir Cowasji Jehangir Fountain, Kala Chowki

Sir Cowasji Jehangir Fountain, Kala Chowki, 1865
This five-and-a-half foot tall pyau near yesteryear’s Rangari Badak Chawl Tarffic signal at Kala chowki was built in 1865 by MacDonald of Abeerdeen, with a donation from Sir Cowasji Jehangir. Presently located at Babasaheb Ambedkar Road, it was originally built to serve people along the regular no. 6 and 7 tram routes.
A red granite structure without carvings, it has a semi-circular niche arch and a capital dome. The east side niche has projected a bowl and spout for drinking water. As per the residents of Rangari Chawl, there was a paved mori (open space for washing hands and feet) around the fountain back in the day.

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3. Devidas Prabhudas Kothari Pyau and Kabutarkhana

Devidas Prabhudas Kothari Pyau and Kabutarkhana, 1923
A typical Jain Kabutar Khana and pyau, it was built in 1923 and displays Islamic architectural characteristics with four minarets. Located at the Ambalal Doshi Marg and Mint road, opposite the General Post Office, Shri Devidas Kothari built it in the memory for his daughter, Leelavati in May 1923.
It was renovated once in 1968 by Hakimchand Shantilal Joshi and later by the Gupta Family in the vicinity. It is maintained by a private trust now.

3. Anand Vitthal Koli Pyau, Prabhadevi

Anand Vitthal Koli Pyau, Prabhadevi, 1929

The Anand Vitthal Koli Pyau was built at Prabhadevi by Shri Anand Vitthal Koli in 1929 in the memory of his father Vitthal Koli and uncle Keshav.

Outside Zandu Pharmaceuticals at Dadar’s Gokhale Road, this pyau has a natural Kurla stone finish. Its placement is considered strategic as it stood close to the textile mills like Jupiter, Shriram Stanrose to provide drinking water to mill workers back in the 90s.

It also served the devotees of the nearby Siddhivinayak and Prabhadevi temples.

4. Mancooverbai Ranadas, Horniman Circle

Mancooverbai Ranadas Pyau, Horniman Circle, 1873
This joint pyau and animal trough, with an adjoining well, was built in 1873 at Horniman circle, a prime business location. The regular offloading of cotton in the area named it Cotton Green.
The increasing industrial activity with the dawn of the Bombay Stock Exchange demanded a pyau. Built in Kurla stone, the pyau was erected by Bai Mancovverbai Ranadas, the widow of Viz Bhukandas for public use in 1873.

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Why should we restore pyaus?

“The city may go on, but when a pyau is lost, it will never be able to bring back its lost history. These water fountains that start from Flora Fountain increase in numbers when one travels north up till King Circle. Documenting and preserving them could help us create a pyau circuit in the city,” says Rahul.

The restoration of any pyau based on several factors like age, architecture, cost, water engineering, tenders, — takes between 6 to 9 months. The central challenge is the maintenance after restoration.

fountains-mumbai-pyaus (1)
Jijamata Udyan Pyaus
While the flow of water in these pyaus was continuous in the past, the water supply now only lasts only a few hours. So, the restoration work today includes installing water tankers and value addition in grade II & III pyaus, through sculptures, giving them a distinct identity in the chaos of the city.
The revival of these pyaus could also reduce the consumption of bottled water by at least 5 per cent in the city, Rahul believes.
“Built in the late 19th  and early 20th century with large budgets of Rs 5,000-20,000, these pyaus were designed by the natives of the city for the natives. We are the custodians who have to restore and maintain to the gifts of our ancestors,” he says.
Merely restoring structural edifices makes them tombstones. Life can be breathed into them with help from the general public, and CSR initiatives by private organizations, Rahul says.
The Mumbai Pyaav Project, initiated by like-minded individuals propagates the cause of the pyaus through heritage walks, cultural forums, lecture series and promotes the restoration work done by different architects around the city. It is striving to bring alive this history, by familiarising citizens with these water fountains in the nook and corners of the city and highlighting them as tourist attractions.

The hope to restore and revive these pyaus and return them to the city with their glory is a long way. But this is definitely the beginning!

Connect to The Mumbai Pyaav Project here.

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