The introduction of new water supply techniques in the Deccan region of India helped make water a crucial factor in local warfare. Improved water supply and conservation influenced military networks, especially at sites located on the strategic frontiers between local polities. Water management also served residential complexes within fortified sites and agricultural improvements in the surrounding arid landscape. This survey of the Naldurg Fort, overlooking a lofty gorge on the Bhima River in the modern state of Maharashtra, examines how builders in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries dammed available water to service a strategic frontier military garrison, thereby creating a refreshing environment for a pleasure palace and garden.
All photographs and the survey are by Nicolas Morelle.
Water architecture is neglected in heritage studies of the Deccan. It remains little studied compared to the conservation of other monuments in India and has vast potential for future research (Hegewald, 2001). District gazetteers provide most data on the archeological and historical usage of landforms but do not contextualize the information. Surveys of settlement history in the Deccan have shed light on demographical, economical, and political processes, then pay limited attention to physical and water phenomena (Kosambi, 1988). According to James Wescoat, historical geographies of specific periods and places give more attention to landforms and landscapes but offer little in the way of a much-needed environmental synthesis (Wescoat, 2019).
My research addresses the crucial relationship between military and water architecture to illustrate the interdependencies found through the example of a specific site, its design, and the progressive control of the territory according to several criteria: agricultural, economic, and military by virtue of progressive control of water, its catchment, and retention. As Wescoat has demonstrated throughout his work, an archeological study must focus on human strategies for transforming a site, revealing the defensive and economic opportunities for settlement (Wescoat, 2019).
2 The Historical Context of Naldurg Fort
The origin of the fort dates to the Bahmani Sultanate (748–933/1347–1527), the first Muslim sultanate in the Deccan region. During their rule, the Bahmani initiated the first fortification campaign for its forts between 752–885/1351–1480 (Figs. 1–2). The governor of Bijapur, Yusuf Adil Shah (854–916/1450–1510, also known as Adil Khan or Hidalcão), declared independence from the larger Bahmani Sultanate in 895/1490 and founded the Bijapur Sultanate (895–1097/1490–1686, also known as the Adil Shahi Sultanate). Adil Shah seized territories south of the Bhima River, including Naldurg Fort. However, the battle and subsequent victory by the powerful Vijayanagara army at Raichur Doab in 926/1520 prompted the defeated Adil Shahi Sultanate to review its fortifications and use of artillery. These changes culminated in a veritable military and technological revolution during their reign.
By 957/1550, during the reign of Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah I (r. 940–65/1534–58), the Adil Shahi became aware of existing weaknesses in the defensive system for the sultanate (Eaton, 2014). As a result, Ibrahim Adil Shah I initiated a series of adaptations and modifications at the border forts, and specifically for Naldurg in 965/1558, committed to retrenchments in the west, an observation tower in the northeast, and large outworks constructed on the cliffs. In 980/1580, Naldurg Fort was besieged unsuccessfully for the first time by Sayyad Murtaza of Ahmednagar, deeming the improved defense system impregnable and allowing it to protect the northern frontiers of the sultanate.
Funding was acquired after the victorious campaign against the Vijayanagara Empire at the Battle of Talikota in 972/1565 and the subsequent conquest of their territories in the south, leading to the new construction of a defense system by the Adil Shahi and the evolution of artillery. Fortification campaigns also were widespread between 967–988/1560–80. An essential component of this new defensive system included water and its management. Hence, the water became both a garrison resource and an element of defense.
3 The Geographical Context of Naldurg
The Naldurg Fort is situated in southern Maharashtra, in the basaltic region of the Deccan Traps, the great plateau along the chain of the Western Ghats. The Deccan Volcanic Plateau extends northwest from this core area into the Saurashtra Peninsula of Gujarat, and to the north beyond the Narmada River into the Malwa Plateau of Madhya Pradesh, and finally, southward into the Karnataka and Telangana states. This essay focuses on the central Deccan plateau region of Maharashtra, situated at the tip of the Balaghat plateau – at an altitude of 600 m – and bordered by the Godavari and the Bhima Valleys. The southern escarpment of the plateau continues to the southwest through Osmanabad, Tuljapur, and Yermala, creating an opening at Naldurg. In the east, the plateau levels at the basin area from Harni till Gulbarga. The site had exceptional geostrategic relevance, situated on the natural frontier and intersecting trade routes.1 Moreover, numerous forts line the length of the Deccan plateau, such as Dharur and Sholapur, incorporating natural land formations that protect the major trading routes (Figs. 3–5).
The Krishna River, originating in the Western Ghats at an altitude of 1337 m and just north of Mahabaleshwar, is situated about 64 km from the Arabian Sea and flows from west to east through the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh before emptying into the Bay of Bengal. The major tributaries in Krishna are Bhima, Dudhganga, Ghatprabha, Koyna, Malprabha, Maneru, Musi, Palleru, Panchganga, Tungbhadra, and Warna.2 The total catchment area of the Krishna basin, 251,369 km², includes 69,425 sq km within the state of Maharashtra, comprising five sub-basins, namely the K6 in the Naldurg area (Fig. 4). The geographical area of the K6 sub-basin is 3,564 km², consisting of two districts, viz Osmanabad and Solapur, with populations of 10,000.3
The source of the Bori River is found slightly above Dharur, flowing through Naldurg to merge downstream with the Bhima River in the Krishna basin. Habitation along this river enabled the fulfilment of the most vital need in the semi-arid Deccan climate,4 access to water. Inhabitants conserved this precious resource by constructing dams. Today, eight modern examples are situated north of Naldurg, including the large Naldurg Dam built in the 1990s, regulating the flow of the Bori River and replacing the old Naldurg Fort Dam.5
The Lower Bhima K6 basin covers are primarily located over the multi-layered Deccan Trap, a formation consisting of numerous nearly horizontal layers of solidified flood basalt.6 Traps generally form flat-top hills giving rise to plateaus created by lava flows that can reach 30 meters in thickness. Nearly forty-eight lava flows have been reported on the Deccan Trap. Dark gray to pale brown in color, and fine-grained in texture when fresh, the individual flow units in some areas are separated by thick layers of red clay material, called red bole. The occurrence of red bole formation is widely seen in this district. The layers of clays, cherty limestone, and freshwater sedimentary rocks forming the Deccan basaltic flows are called inter-trappean beds, which occur sporadically. The lava flows are broadly divided into the following categories: amygdaloidal or zeolitic basalt, compact and massive basalt, flow breccias, and vesicular basalt. Joints and cracks are found within compact basaltic formations. The K6 sub-basin stretches over a plateau (97%) and a highly dissected hilly area (3%). The breakdown of some basaltic rocks leads to fertile black cotton soil7 (the color ranges from dark brown to dark grayish-brown). The deep basalt bedrock has limited permeability and storage capacity, contributing to chronic water shortages, particularly in areas of low precipitation (Wescoat, 2019). Deep soil comprises 60.7% of the lower Bhima sub-basin.
Soil texture is critical for determining the appropriate agricultural systems and crops, thereby ensuring optimum productivity (bulk density, hydraulic conductivity, infiltration rate, porosity, and soil structure). In the Lower Bhima K6 sub-basin, approximately 87.16% of the area contains fine-textured soils and the remaining 12.84% is coarse-textured soil. A direct correlation exists between the character of the soil vis-à-vis the storage of water and nutrients. Medium to fine-textured soil can store the greatest amount of moisture and nutrients and is the most favorable for crops. The basin is composed of 52.18% medium soil with sandy clay and 6.82% of coarse loamy soil. The deeper soil is made of 34.98% medium sandy clay soil and 6.02% coarse loamy soil, making 90.54% of the land cultivable.
Once utilized, land in this region can result in the cultivation of appropriate crops and types of agriculture,8 taking into consideration the quality of soil and the availability of water for sufficient irrigation (kharif [from June] and rabi [from November to March]). Kharif or monsoon crops are sown and harvested during the rainy season in South Asia, consisting of millet and rice, while Rabi crops are sown in winter and harvested in spring.9 The prosperity of the region is enhanced by the local soil without arduous labor for fertilization and is suitable for the production of cotton and sugarcane. The sub-basin supports the growing of cereals, oilseeds, and sugarcane in 53.66% of the area.
Although the Naldurg region is a semi-arid climate, it benefits from periodic monsoons. The monsoon climate dates to about 10 ma BP and yields three months of intensely erosive rainfall between June to September, followed by nine months of soil moisture deficits. The windward side of the Western Ghats receives monsoon rainfall of 3 to 4 m/y, which cascades over waterfalls, cuts steep valleys, and drains rapidly into the Arabian Sea (Wescoat, 2019). Maharashtra receives rainfall from both southwest and northeast monsoons. The state has highly variable rainfall ranging from 6000 mm in upper catchments to 400 mm in shadow areas of lower catchments.10 However, the K-6 Bori basin experiences a severe deficit (Wescoat, 2019)11 with an average annual rainfall of 747 mm (ranges from a maximum of 1124 mm to min 242 mm). Regulating the flow of rivers, conserving water, and managing the stock, require dams and reservoirs to ensure year-round access to water and irrigation techniques increasing the production and productivity of crops. These irrigation techniques include retaining flood water, which can be released into the river through the dam or stored and diverted for other uses.
4 Water and Archeology
Following the results of the French-Indian archaeological research mission in the Deccan Forts,12 undertaken to study the significance of the sultanate frontier forts, including Naldurg with its series of modifications made between the fifteenth–eighteenth centuries, it is necessary to focus on the technological advancements during the sixteenth century vis-à-vis the arrival of Iranian hydraulic techniques developed in Iran and Central Asia since antiquity. The coexistence of traditional systems of baolis (some dating to the Calukya period in the eleventh century and remaining well preserved [Davison-Jenkins, 1997]), canals, and reservoirs reveals continuity and an association with religion under an aegis system imbuing special religious status for patrons, “in fact, in the Vijayanagara period, reservoirs were most commonly endowed by nayakas, elite leaders with a primarily local power base. To be the patron of a reservoir was a potentially realizable goal for local elites, one accompanied by special religious merit and political prestige” (Morrison, 2010).
Symbolic aspects of water – religious and political – are essential for contextualizing water usage within this culture. Water is sacred and preserved in religious and other associated spaces. Great basins and artificial lakes were built by the Deccan sultanate rulers in order to supply water to the population and strategically-important forts, e.g., Dharur and Naldurg13 (Fig. 6). Technological advancements in the second half of the sixteenth century made it possible to store vast volumes of water inside forts, accommodating larger garrisons. Water and its management were a key component in the agricultural policies and investment in both the Deccan sultanates and the Kingdom of Vijayanagara. Therefore, water is directly associated with the power of the sultans, reinforcing patrimony, prestige, and the intended religious affirmation noted above.
5 The Bori River and Its Territory
The Bori River is the main source of water in the eastern part of the K6 Krishna River basin.14 Originating in Tuljapur (Osmanabad district), the total length of the Bori River is 122 km, with a catchment area of 1,917 km². The river flows year-round with a significantly increased flow during the monsoon. The Naldurg Fort was developed on a basaltic plateau surrounded by the Bori River. A second phase of the fort continues on the opposite bank, a craggy basaltic island, and is connected by a dam. The castle front, built on a steep precipice (between 20 to 50 m) overlooking the river, which flows rapidly due to the steep relief (10 m west upstream to 50 m east downstream), clearly defines the end of the basaltic plateau. As a result, the fort is easily defensible and offers an ideal position for establishing a dam.
Further isolating the fort, a large dry moat was dug to secure the promontory that remained naturally connected to the plateau in the southwest. Access to the site was permitted through a bridge placed upon the dry moat, which was judged unnecessary to fill with water – a commodity too precious to stagnate. This moat, like the natural one north of naya qilah, measures around 560 m, and therefore, is located slightly below the dam. These findings indicate that the moats may have served as a spillway for the reservoir in case of floods or surplus water, helping to avoid increasing pressure on the dam and the geotechnical risk of flooding.
As the archeological study has shown, the moat was dug 6 m deeper during a subsequent refurbishment of the fortification entrance, requiring a complete rebuilding of the main gate at a lower level,15 assuming a first fort existed without a dam and the naya qilah (the new fort). The builders had opted for a moat in this location both for water diversion and to optimize defense of the western front. Consequently, dam construction was motivated by considerations for geotechnical protection and adding to the defensive system of the fort (Figs. 7–8).
The rocky terrace relief of Naldurg is determined by the basaltic plateau, despite erosion due to leakage from the river (water drained from the plateau). The terrace forms a tabular or aclinal relief built upon horizontal layers showing terraced plateaus bounded by escarpments. The rupture in the slope marks the end of the plateau and produces a rocky amphitheater-like formation upon the course of the river (where the dam was built).
The Bori River is the principal cause of channel erosion in Naldurg. The plateau also has rills enabling the construction of water reserves (reservoirs) inside the fort. Sedimentation is slight, other than the vase-like formation in the river south of naya qilah, and then on its banks (according to the Bori-Benetura Component, 3% of the area is highly dissected and hilly, with 97% forming a plateau).16 The strength and solidity of the rocky soil in the riverbed comprise the essential elements needed to construct a permanent dam (avoiding water seepage through the soil), “in Vijayanagara, the builders were interested in the soil nature and the watercourse, which they examined before building a dam. On sandy soils with high levels of sedimentary input, dams could not be made permanent” (Davison-Jenkins, 1997).
6 The Dam
Construction of a great dam began under the reign of ʿAli Adil Shah I (r. 965–87/1558–79), as attested by the inscription in the pani mahal or water palace from 1022/1613, and finished forty years later during the reign of Ibrahim Adil Shah II (r. 988–1036/1580–1627) (Yazdani, 1921). The project not only fulfilled the defense needs but also ornamental and recreational purposes reserved for the sultan and elites in the sultanate. The pani mahal, built into the thick walls of the dam, houses water jets and allows for a continuous supply of water. The inscriptions on the site revealed that the dam project was conceived contemporary to the fortification in 965/1558, even though construction had lasted for several years. The dam connects two parts of the fort with the northern part, naya qilah. Therefore, the dam is the product of the defensive plan conceived after the defeat of Adil Shahi at the hands of the Vijayanagara army in 926/1520.
During the monsoon, typically between June and September, with an average rainfall of 132–88 mm – aside from years when it fails – rain swells the Bori River and the reservoir of Naldurg, proving its efficiency by regulating water levels. The release of water through the dam’s gates becomes a center of attraction for hundreds of tourists during August (Figs. 9–10).
The reservoir continues to be the principal source of water and ensures that the site does not become vulnerable during the dry season. The position of the dam within the site itself helps secure the hydraulic resource, while the artificial lake maintains the quality of water (drainage is not discharged). The fort’s water tower system can garrison an enormous army of 15,000, not counting the horses and elephants used during the raids of 988/1580 (Sherwani, 1973).17
Hypothetically, if one were to consider that a person living in the arid climate of the Deccan during the sixteenth century would need 10 L of water per day on average (cooking, drinking, and hygiene purposes), an elephant 110 L and a horse 40 L, an army of 15,000 (even if hyperbole from period chroniclers), with 100 elephants and 2,000 horses would require an average of 241 m3/day. Considering that the reservoir surrounds the river up to the western part of the naya qila (an area of 82,569 m2), it could ensure a supply on average of 327,000 m3 (without accounting for the upstream flow and evaporation of around 5 mm a day). The position of the reservoir is not random, having been situated at the same level as the agricultural zones on the plateau, and ensuring that water is distributed into these spaces without reaching the arid zones.
The reservoir epitomizes successful water management by allowing effective control of the landscape, and it is also a major investment by the elite. Its close association with the fort makes a powerful statement about one of the greatest dynasties in sixteenth-century India. The inscription placed within the water palace informs us that the space is reserved for the sovereign, and especially his guests, who were awestruck at the mastery of water jets when viewed from a balcony facing the ornamental gardens below. Indeed, the center of the room features a fountain with a water jet linked to water pressure from the dam because the room level is lower than the water level of the dam.
The inscription (i2 on the plan) carved into the marble with Naskhi reads:
From the court of the king, the refuge of the faithful, the victorious, Mir Muhammad Imadin was named. (2) to construct this bund [dam in Sanskrit] which, by the Grace of God, has attained glory like the ramparts of Alexander.18 (3) on seeing it [the dam] the eyes of our friends light up[,] and the eyes of our enemies are rendered blind. (4) I asked my spirit to date the construction. The spirit said: ‘May this dam remain intact by the grace of the king’ [e.g., 1022/1613.]Yazdani, 1921
Under the patronage of Ibrahim Adil Shah II, Mir Muhammad ʿImadin (ʿImad-i-din), the engineer in charge of the construction, his technological superiority is demonstrated by comparing his work to that of Alexander the Great and referring to Iran and Ancient Bactria (Figs. 11–13).
The Naldurg reservoir has remained in very good condition. Built with stone and water-resistant lime mortar (144 m long, 19 m high, and 15 m wide) (Goblot, 1976), which is dissimilar to dams of the Vijayanagaras or the Yadavas (Davison-Jenkins, 1977). These are very large (up to 60 m thickness), adapted to the topography of the area, and require a tremendous amount of earthwork to maintain. Unlike the rest of southern India, for example in Andhra Pradesh, where the Kakatiyas constructed many clay reservoirs using granitic soil or gneiss (metamorphic rock), the great width of old reservoirs in the Deccan compensates for the porousness of the original basaltic soil, ensuring the entire structure is watertight. In the laterite-rich region of Bidar, the reservoirs built by the Bahmani sultans were easily constructed using this impermeable clay to cover the structure (Philon, 2010).
There is a continuing tradition of hydraulic installations in southern India from antiquity to modernity, with a notable shift in the medieval period when urban areas grew significantly. During the medieval period, conveying water to existing settlements was more common than creating new settlements near available water sources. Some ancient theoretical treatises address the construction of dams (Mate, 2006), e.g., the Porumamilla inscription (published by Sukhthankar, 1982, pp. 97–109) answering questions on the construction, the dam’s location, experts, and materials to be used. A description of the Anantraj Sagar Dam by Vijayanagara notes that about 1,000 farmers worked at the construction site daily for two years.
Inspired by gravity dams typical of the Deccan in the sixteenth century, the Naldurg Dam resists the horizontal force of water because of its size and slope. Basically, the mildly curved structure – one of the first arched examples constructed in India (Viollet, 2000)19 – enables the dam to withstand water pressure estimated to be thousands of tons on the slopes of the plunging valley. The strength of the dam is based on the structural ratio existing between the thickness and the radius of the curved surface, which in a dam cannot exceed 1/500 to optimize its resistance, much like an eggshell (Salvadori, 2005).20 The sheer amount of earthwork necessary to support the dam above the rocky valley is also an incredible feat.
Three spaces within the dam are clearly defined: the circulatory lane on the top connecting two parts of the forts and controlled by two gates; the pani mahal reserved for the sultan and his entourage – an area of life and leisure (Hegewald, 2001), cool and pleasant during the hot hours of the day; and the third lower level is an abode for bats, but it once was a space with many sluice gates and pipes for monitoring the downstream flow of water. Crest and sluice gates enabled the water load to be calculated and the water levels of the reservoir to be adjusted. The three sluice gates are found at different levels to better regulate pressure, and the main sluice gate, two meters wide and situated above the dam at an altitude of 560 m, can swiftly evacuate water in case of flooding. Although the flow of this sluice gate is limited, a diversion canal had been built upstream from the lake, and a moat was dug in front of the western front, allowing for the evacuation of overflow water, as described in the previous section (Figs. 7–8).
Access to each room housing a sluice gate is through a stairway from the parapet above. Each sluice gate comprises tiered terraces with inlets opening downstream. A windmill was installed within the dam for exploiting wind power (Yazdani, 1921). As a result, the reservoir was used in a controlled and rational way for storing water throughout the year and irrigating the hectares of agricultural land around the fortress. The loss of water can be mitigated by frequently flushing and cleaning the network, as well as monitoring and repairing the infrastructure, especially by maintaining its overall structural integrity. Despite the construction of a modern dam upstream, the Naldurg Dam remains in use (Figs. 14–17).
The style of the Naldurg Dam was clearly inspired by Iranian and Central Asian models. After all, these engineers designed and built the first arched dams, e.g., Kebar, today in Northern Iran, which can be dated to the fourteenth century (Goblot, 1965; Morrison, 2010). Technically, arched dams are more elaborate than gravity examples, requiring the builder to possess sound technical knowledge, including topographical implantation and water pressure management. This knowledge was expressed by the Iranians when building the arched dams. The solidity of the dam is determined by the use of certain important materials, namely, lime mortar. The introduction of lime mortar by Muslim engineers in southern India clearly improved water management within a region known for its basaltic terrain, while the construction of these works had a great impact on overall human development (Rotzer, 1989). The quality of the lime mortar coating is particularly important; it should be several centimeters thick in hydraulic structures to prevent deterioration and leakages. If water penetrates the sides or the foundation of the walls, the integrity of the entire monument will be at risk.
The Bijapur dams reveal that engineers not only adapted the structures to the natural topography (gravity dams) but also calculated the operating forces (gravity dams and hydraulic pressure) to determine the appropriate thickness and lime mortar needed for the structure, thereby producing understated oblique designs (Rotzer, 1984). The Shahpur Dam, constructed during the reign of ʿAli Adil Shahi I, resembles the Naldurg Dam in its thickness (the crest measures 20 m) (Rotzer, 1984).21 The dam water is controlled by flood gates and then conducted through pipes into the city. A zone for relaxation also was created, encompassing three levels of water for bathing and air cooling. Unlike Naldurg, the Thatte Nahar Dam, discovered during the construction of a new dam, was a diversion conducting river water to an alternate destination through an elevated channel. Malik Ambar (956–1035/1549–1626), former enslaved-cum-prime minister of Nizam Shah and considered an ingenious innovator of administration, commissioned this water supply system at Daulatabad called Khareji or Nahar-i-Ambari and also had been associated with many water monitoring and supply systems (Garge, 2013). Looking east of the site are two smaller low-lying reservoirs downstream from the impressive Naldurg Dam, all appearing in a single row.
7 Water Planning
The older irrigation systems still visible in Naldurg allude to the origins of their builders. The tank was dug into the fissured rock at the base of a slope and the lowest lying area on the internal surface of the fort. The irrigation system was built with bricks on one side, forming a closure, while the corbels above support a well system (Figs. 18–19).
Four water towers are extant on the site, both inside and outside the fortress walls. The main water tower built within was directly linked to the dam, ensuring that water arriving at the foot of the tower was pumped to higher levels. The water subsequently was distributed across the plateau, and perhaps filled the tank during dry seasons via a canal. A water drawing mechanism known as an irattinam, inspired by the ancient shaduf (Hill, 2000),22 with two pails attached to both ends of a rope on a pulley, was installed above the tower at the lake (Philon, 2010). A raised portion of land behind the tower helped animals haul water along the slope. There are openings in the reservoir at vertical intervals allowing for the rigorous distribution and diversion of water to distant places, supporting agriculture (Figs. 20–1).
The towers also serve as sedimentation tanks and are placed between water conveyance systems helping reduce the pressure of water inside the pipes and regulating its speed. The reservoirs of these towers are coated with lime and clay mortar.
This type of water tower is common in Bijapur (Rotzer, 1984), the Adil Shahi capital, and within the sultanate more generally. They are composed of brick or stone with clay pipes nested one inside the other through lime mortar joints (also connected by underground channels). These towers are 2 m long on each side, 4 m high, dip about 50 cm in the upper section, and have circular openings of 10 cm with vertical pipes. The hydraulic rendering of lime mortar and bricks cover the internal walls of the reservoir. Even though mechanical pumps have now replaced these water towers, they were installed inside the older water towers or beside them to function more efficiently. Farmers also benefit from the waters of the Tuljapur tashil irrigation canal, built in 1966, a continuation of the modern Manewadi Dam 3 km upstream.23
A canal, visible a dozen meters within the fortified walls, was made of brick and covered with bead-like moldings to ensure a watertight system. Essentially, an aqueduct is formed, transporting water along a gentle slope to the highest point on the site. The water is then linked to the pumping and elevation system of the reservoir and other parts of the site, including a few smaller distribution tanks with unknown functions. These mysterious tanks probably were linked to artisanal activity since wide canals had been regulated by a sluice gate, thereby controlling the heavy flow of water:
the canal is built on a slope calculated to bring an equilibrium of speed directing the flowing water. If the flow is too fast, erosion of the embankment will endanger the permanence of the canal (usually why embankments are stabilised with stones). If the flow is too slow, alluvial deposits in the canal can block small passages and finally the course of the canal itself. He quotes Farrington 1985, p. 291–93 who evokes the formula of Manning to calculate the force of a canal for a continuous flow of water.Davison-Jenkins, 1997
However, it is not certain that these canals were built contemporary to the pumping system of the reservoir (Fig. 22).
8 Evolution of Water Management in Forts (Eleventh/Seventeenth–Eighteenth Centuries)
Modern warfare and the increasing use of artillery influenced the creation of hilltop forts (Sohoni, 2015) requiring a rethinking of strategic water control therein. Access to water is more complicated and difficult on these steep peaks. Smaller tanks are located within these hilltop forts to conserve monsoon rainwater (Deloche, 2020; Wescoat, 2019; Ghanekar, 2006), with its consumption restricted to the garrison. In contrast to the larger dam with an abundant water supply at Naldurg Fort, water for agriculture and military purposes can be distinguished on hilltop forts due to its stagnant nature in these constructions (Ghanekar, 2006).
Water management, with its sacred and religious overtones, had been an essential political tool for the sultans of the Deccan since antiquity. However, approaches to water management changed during the fifteenth century with the arrival of Iranian specialists and the introduction of new technology. Eventually, the water became less charged with religious overtones and was increasingly appreciated for its functional aspects. Canals and reservoirs increased in the Deccan during the sixteenth century due to increasing population and the intensification and expansion of agricultural activities in these areas:
during a later period of major agricultural, political, and probably demographic expansion in the sixteenth century, the course of agricultural intensification appears to have been complex, consisting of both geographic expansion and intensification in complementary strategies of wet, wet-cum-dry, and possibly also dry agriculture. Reservoirs were a key component in that process of intensification, with the extension of wet-cum-dry cultivation, in particular, both expanding the area of cultivable land and allowing for more secure production in those areas.Morrison, 2010
Viewed as a luxury, the considerable use of water in gardens seem extravagant in the semi-arid climate of the Deccan (Kumatgi near Bijapur):
the hydraulic networks of the Muslims developed in Northern India, in Champaner (Gujarat) with its ornamental gardens, Tughlakabas (Delhi) under the rule of Ghiyas-ud-din ([720–5/]1320–1325) with catchments for rainwater and then by Muhamad-bin Tugluq ([725–52/]1325–51) with the Adilabad citadel and its fortified bridge, and also Fatehpur Sikri (Uttar Pradesh) under Akbar ([979–99/]1571–91). In the Deccan, Ahmad Bahmani I of Gulbarga developed a network of canals, pipelines and tanks for his gardens and reservoirs for the palatial part of Bidar in [833/]1430.Davison-Jenkins, 199724
Mastery over hydraulic engineering becomes a political tool for the sultans of the Deccan and will have resonance throughout India, e.g., in the court of Vijayanagara with the baths of the queen, and its Deccan-inspired architecture and use of plaster-covered brick during the sixteenth century (Davison-Jenkins, 1997). The Muslims, including the Pardesi Shiʾi, introduced remarkable improvements to the construction of dams, wells, and the imported qanat systems and water towers (Rotzer, 1984), while master artisans were capable of measuring levels at great distances. Dams symbolize control over water and by extension over land. Attached to the fort, it becomes a powerful political symbol (hence the inscription linking technical work and the water palace to the power of the sultan), and even today, it remains the symbol of powerful dynasties that once dominated Deccan culture.
The dam is directly protected by fortifications controlling the reservoir and the hydraulic resources. This arrangement was a new form of modern warfare because quantities of water could be stocked for the garrisons during sieges. Beyond a mere border fort, maintaining Naldurg meant controlling the water and agriculture of the Osmanabad territory. The Mughals, the Nizams, and then the British understood this power and established themselves in forts to control the economic development of the region through the nineteenth century. This architectural and technical heritage is little known, especially as it remains isolated in a rural space, eclipsed by a dense urban network with an increasing population. It also risks destruction due to new large-scale dam projects or by poor urban decisions to use channels and reservoirs as dumps and drains. However, water problems could be resolved, at least partially, by reusing the many underground galleries (sometimes called qanats) and reservoirs – still functional in the Deccan.
Several cities have extensive underground water supply networks comparable to Iranian qanats, e.g., the Nahar of Malik Ambar in Daulatabad developed in the sixteenth century (Wescoat, 2019), the laterite network of Naubad Qanat in Bidar comprising openings at regular intervals for drawing and maintenance, or more recently in the twelfth/eighteenth century, the network of Pune under the reign of Shrimant Peshwa Balajirao Bhat, more commonly known as Nana Saheb (r. 1153–74/1740–61). These subterranean networks are connected to reservoirs or natural water bodies. Indeed, it was the continuity of function that preserved these monuments, especially in the case of Naldurg. Taken by the Mughals and subsequently the British, the fort became a public asset to be maintained for the development of regional agriculture (Morrison, 2010).
The Deccan region relies heavily on basalt stone excavation, rock-cut architecture, and masonry construction. This study should be considered through a more global perspective on landform used in archeology, much like the example initiated by James Wescoat (Wescoat, 2019). In order to better understand the relationship between water and fortifications, especially the role of dams in reinforcing and maintaining the integrity of forts, it would be useful to establish several future archeological studies in other important fortified areas, including the fort of Dharur.
About the Author
Dr Nicolas Morelle, associated researcher at LA3M, CNRS, Aix-en-Provence, is an archeologist and geographical surveyor specializing in the military architecture of Europe and Persianate India.
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Deloche, J. (2020). Water harvesting in the hill forts of South India (14th–18th-centuries). In: Morelle, N., and Faucherre, N., eds. Forts of the Deccan, 1200–1800, Delhi: Aryan Publisher, pp. 3–10.
Ghanekar, P.K. (2006), Traditional systems in the Forts of Maharashtra. In: Chakravarty, K.K., Lal Badam, G., and Paranjpye, V., eds. Traditional water management systems of India. Delhi: Aryan Books International, pp. 14–18.
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Morelle, N. (2015). L’approvisionnement en eau dans les forts du Deccan en Inde: le cas de Naldurg (XIV–XVIIème siècle). In: Mouillebouche, H. and, Faucherre, N. eds. Châteaux et Mesures, Actes des 17es journées de castellologie de Bourgogne, Chagny: CECAB, pp. 3–17.
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( Morelle, N. ). 2015 L’approvisionnement en eau dans les forts du Deccan en Inde: le cas de Naldurg (XIV–XVIIème siècle). In: eds. Châteaux et Mesures, Actes des 17es journées de castellologie de Bourgogne, and, Mouillebouche, H. Faucherre, N. Chagny: CECAB, pp. 3– 17.
Morrison, K. (2010). Dharmic projects, Imperial Reservoirs, and new temples of India: An Historical Perspective on Dams in India. Conservation and Society 8 (3), pp. 182–195.
Prouteau, N. (2010). Mensuratores castrorum, les arpenteurs militaires au moyen age. Châteaux et Mesures, In: Mouillebouche, H., ed., Châteaux et Mesures, Actes des 17es journées de castellologie de Bourgogne, Chagny: CECAB, pp. 61–71.
Rotzer, K. (1989). Architectures de pierre dans le Dekkan et le Malwa avant l’époque moghole. Techniques et culture 14, Paris, pp. 51–78.
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arge wells or reservoirs surrounded by a platform and stairway for access. Dug into the basaltic soil of the Deccan deep enough to reach the water table; it’s also a religious symbol where water can be considered sacred. The reservoir may be for public or private use: in Bijapur, the sacred aspect is reiterated by the construction of an imposing arch linking it to roads and urban spaces (Dargah of Gezu Daraz (Gulbarga) and the Taj, Chand, and Masa Baolis (Bijapur).
|Bund (from the Sanskrit word Setubandha), Kere (Kannada)||
landscaping a reservoir or a catchment basin, may mean a dam.
|Nahar (Farsi) Kaluve (Kannada)||
canal (the Iranian word is sometimes used to denote the flow of water).
a tunnel for capturing a water source underground and channeling the water towards the exterior. A qanat is made of an ensemble of vertical wells (for access and aeration) linked to a slightly sloped drainage tunnel, leading water to the cisterns. The method of building qanats vastly differs from building dams and requires political organization, a simplified plan, and a reduced number of laborers. The type of investment required for the construction and maintenance of a qanat is more adapted to an environment of high plateaus.
I am very thankful for the English translation of this work by Sindhuja Veeraraghavan and Christian Leduc for help on the hydrological system.
Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation Pune, Chief Engineer (S.P) W.R.D. Pune, Integrated State Water Plan for Lower Bhima Sub-basin (K-6) of Krishna Basin (Osmanabad: Osmanabad Irrigation Circle, 2012), 3–5: total drainage area 251369 km² of Krishna basin.
Ibid.; details of latitude and longitude for the lower Bhima sub-basin: latitude 17º20′00 18 ″ º10′00″ N; longitude 75º55 76″ 00′ º35″ 00′ E.
The major meteorological attributes are evaporation, humidity, speed, sunshine hours, temperature, and wind direction.
Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation Pune, Chief Engineer (S.P) W.R.D. Pune, Integrated State Water Plan for Lower Bhima Sub-basin (K-6) of Krishna Basin (Osmanabad: Osmanabad Irrigation Circle, 2012), 146.
Ibid., 40; these rocks probably resulted from the fissure type during lava eruptions in the Cretaceous-Eocene period.
Maharashtra Government, Gazetteer of India, Osmanabad district (Bombay: Government Press, 1977), 201; crumbly black clay soil with limestone and sand particles, as well as organic matter (roots).
Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for more than 52% of the population in rural areas. The arrival of the monsoon and its distribution over the state of Maharashtra determines the production and productivity of food grains and other crops. Hence, the sustainability of agricultural production relies mainly on its timetable, which also governs the volume of water in irrigation reservoirs, limiting the area under irrigation in different cropping seasons.
The term is derived from the Arabic word for “spring,” used in the Indian subcontinent.
Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation Pune, Chief Engineer (S.P) W.R.D Pune, Integrated State Water Plan for Lower Bhima Sub-basin (K-6) of Krishna Basin (Osmanabad: Osmanabad Irrigation Circle, 2012), 3–56.
There are three rain gauge stations operated by WRD in the lower Bhima sub-basin and two meteorological stations for the Bori River maintained by the Hydrology Project, Nasik. The rainfall data for the period 1980 to 2013 is observed.
The study was completed in March 2013 – the result of a joint French-Indian archaeological research mission in cooperation with LA3M (MMSH), Aix-en-Provence and Malik Sandal Institute of Art and Architecture, Bijapur, under the direction of Nicolas Morelle, with Muhammad Yasir and Shahnawaz Haidar, on the advice of Klaus Rotzer, and with kind authorization from Dr Patil, Director of Archeology and Museums, St. Georges Fort, Mumbai. Morelle, Architecture militaire du Deccan, Une réponse défensive face à la guerre moderne (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2020), 428.
The fortified dam is part of the fortification of the Dharur Fort. Measuring more than 12 m high with a total length of 175 m, it’s probable, pending further archaeological analysis, that the dam is contemporary to the fort, built in 974/1567.
Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation Pune, Chief Engineer (S.P) W.R.D. Pune, Integrated State Water Plan for Lower Bhima Sub-basin (K-6) of Krishna Basin (Osmanabad: Osmanabad Irrigation Circle, 2012), 30.
An archeological excavation of the dry moat would make it possible to verify the original level because it has been partly filled after abandonment. The reservoir water can no longer reach the moat, which may have been originally equipped with a ground gutter.
Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation Pune, Chief Engineer (S.P) W.R.D Pune, Integrated State Water Plan for Lower Bhima Sub-basin (K-6) of Krishna Basin (Osmanabad: Osmanabad Irrigation Circle, 2012), 30.
See also, Maharashtra Government, Gazetteer of India, Osmanabad district (Bombay: Government Press, 1977), 62.
The heroic figure of Alexander the Great had been used in medieval and modern Islamic states.
This type of arched dam was common in the Iranian world and some examples also were built by the Romans in Glanum.
One can understand better the fineness of a dam that is 3 m thick by comparing it to an egg, where the ratio between the shell and the radius is 1:50.
Farishta reports that Sultan ʿAli Adil Shah founded the city of Shahpur to commemorate his ascent to power. He also founded Haud-i-Shahpur. The reservoir formed by the dam was intended to supply water for the new city. A brick dam is more efficient and faster to build than a dam made from basaltic soil.
A simple water lifting tool used in arid regions since antiquity to convey water to higher hydraulic networks.
There is also a large modern reservoir only 800 m north of the fort on a small arm of the Bori River.
Kummatgi is a leisure garden 16 kilometers from Bijapur with a set of pavilions and reservoirs on the edge of a lake. The main monument is a two-level water tower surrounded by a water ditch. The water arrives under pressure in a cistern contained in the dome of the building through a terracotta pipe connected to a tower on a higher level. The water flows gently into the building to cool the central room before falling back into the ditch in jets.