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Pristine glory disappearing

EVERYTHING ANCIENT is not passe ? at least not the ancient wisdom. However, modern day city planners, whether government or private, seem to be hell bent on literally reducing to dirt the great examples of ancient architectural wisdom set up in the heart of erstwhile princely state of Bhopal.

india Updated: Apr 07, 2006 13:32 IST

EVERYTHING ANCIENT is not passé – at least not the ancient wisdom. However, modern day city planners, whether government or private, seem to be hell bent on literally reducing to dirt the great examples of ancient architectural wisdom set up in the heart of erstwhile princely state of Bhopal.

There isn’t a better example of this destruction than the ruined Benazir Palace and the connected unique cascading set of three ponds – the Motia Talab, the Siddique Hasan Khan Talab and the Munshi Hussain Khan Talab – all a great example of optimal use and conservation of rainwater.

The set of cascading ponds and the surrounding palace complexes, the huge Tajul Masajid and the mausoleum-garden complex Bada Bagh are considered a unique architectural wonder and one of its kind construction in the world, simply because of the wonderful and intelligent use of the natural topography and natural drainage leading to optimal use and conservation of rainwater, says Savita Raje, eminent architect and president of Living Heritage Alliance.

She conducted a study using a land development software - Landcad to confirm her theory recently. Raje’s claims are to be experienced to be believed. Even though the glory is almost entirely lost, a visit to the premises of Benazir Palace – now housing a government college – is soothing, simply for the fact that even on a terribly hot afternoon, the palace premises gives a real cool feeling.

However, as per Raje, this cool feeling is nothing as compared to what it might have been during times when the Benazir Palace was originally built and used by the royal family of Bhopal as their summer dwelling.

The summer palace built by erstwhile ruler Shahjehan Begam in late 19th century was in itself an architectural marvel with all the components to provide you real relief in the scorching summers of central India – the major component among them being the cascading set of three ponds – that started with Motia Talab just on the end of the Palace.

The ponds are almost equal in size and such strategically constructed that they gathered the entire drainage and run off water from the Idgah Hills on its west and stored the water for use all through the year. While the Motia Talab was restricted for Wazu (ablution) by the royals and others visiting the Tajul Masajid, the other two ponds were used for domestic and irrigation purposes.

Another major aspect of this system was that the spillover water from the lowest pond – the Munshi Hussain Khan pond was used to irrigate the Bada Bagh – the royal mausoleum and garden complex, the optimally using the water.

The architecture of the Benazir palace itself was such that the winds passing over the set of three ponds were cooled by evaporative cooling and caught in the courtyard in the middle of the horseshoe shape palace parallel to the ponds.

This wind then itself got distributed to the residential quarters on the three side of the courtyard. Ducts were provided beneath the palace to allow the run off and drainage water into the ponds.

Also, the water from the tanks were pulled up through gravitational force into the overhead tank and used in the Hammam (royal bath) just by the side of Motia Talab.

However, over years such mindless constructions have cropped up on the Benazir Palace premises and around the three ponds. The Siddique Hasan Khan pond — the second in the cascading set – has all but perished under the attack of modern constructions.

A row of buildings came up on what used to be the dam wall between the Motia and Siddique Hasan Khan Talab, cutting off the natural drainage.

Also a boundary wall and a new building have been constructed on the Benazir Palace premises, further destroying the drainage and the air circulation system.

Raje rues the fact that planners and citizens did not even twice think of the immense damage they have done to an architectural and historical marvel, simply owing to mindless planning and commercial interests.

First Published: Apr 07, 2006 12:52 IST