1. Introduction

Traditional groundwater storage structures such as cisterns, stepwells, tanks, and wells in India performed an array of functions – cultural, religious, social, and utilitarian. They have served as sites to access groundwater, meeting places for women fetching their daily water, sacred precincts for holy bathing and the performance of religious rituals, and also community places for interaction and celebration (Hegewald 2002:1; Jain-Neubauer 2016: 9–11). At the same time, these spaces display the creative imagination, architectural skills and hydrological knowledge of the artisans. Their construction was realised through the collective efforts of the community, with the financial support and patronage of the rulers and elite (Agarwal et al. 2001: 6; Chakravarty 2006: xxi–xxiv; Jacob 2013: 3–4). These structures once dotted the landscape of many ancient Indian settlements. However, with changed urban realities, pressures of urban growth and technological advances, few of them survive today.

As explained by Hegewald (2002: 214), new technological advances made water provision possible to individual houses directly through faucets, pipes, pumps, and other means. Instead of carrying and bringing water from the traditional water structures, it was convenient for people to utilize water offered by taps in their houses. Thus, many of the traditional water structures went into disuse. Moreover, with the decline in the powers of local rulers and other wealthy people, the patronage and financial support essential for their construction on a public level did not exist anymore. Consequently, there was a discontinuity in the construction of any new traditional groundwater structures at the community level and simultaneously gradual neglect of the already existing ones (ibid).

Today, despite being small in number, historic wells, cisterns and other groundwater storage structures continue to fulfil the water requirements of many people in small towns and villages of India (Agarwal and Narain 1997; Pyati 2007). Their hydraulic technology, subterranean architecture and ornamentation have long been the subjects of study for architects, art historians and engineers. For instance, Jain-Neubauer (1981) has done excellent documentation of about sixty stepwells found in Gujarāta state and discussed their general architecture, structural features, sculptures and ornamentation. Mishra (1993, 1995) has done a detailed study of the traditional rainwater and groundwater storage structures of Rājasthāna. (Mate, 1998, 2006) has studied the history of water management and hydraulic technology in ancient India, wherein he has discussed the salient features and technical details of groundwater storage structures such as of kūpas (wells), vāpīs (stepwells) and kuṇḍas (stepped ponds).

Hegewald (2002) has taken a socio-cultural approach to understand how ideas, beliefs and concepts about water prevalent in India, have manifested themselves through water structures such as kuṇḍa, ornamental pools, tanks, and water palaces of South Asia, and especially India. Recently, Gupta (2016) and Pandey (2016) have presented the salient features of subterranean water structures such as bāvadīs or bāolīs (stepwells) and kuṇḍa found in western India in the states of Gujarāta and Rājasthāna. Similarly, Pāṭhaka (2017) has documented the history and evolution of several groundwater structures found in Mahārāṣṭra. Marathe (2019) has specifically studied the groundwater storage structures found in Puṇe district. He highlights their architectural features and their ecological as well as cultural significance.

Apart from the key studies mentioned above, there is limited research that aims to explore the architecture of traditional groundwater structures in India. Further research in this direction is essential for two main reasons. Firstly, as pointed out by the National Institute of Hydrology (2018), traditional groundwater structures display the knowledge about groundwater management and hydrology that was prevalent in ancient India. This knowledge, when unearthed and explored further, could assist in deriving time-tested tools and techniques for sustainable groundwater management.

Secondly, as argued by Nawre (2018: 54), some of these water structures are as old as human settlements. They have been developed, refined over several years and have served as critical regional infrastructure. Despite their heritage value and potential in functioning as vibrant public places at the community level, their conservation and adaptive reuse have received little attention. Therefore, exploring the possibility of repairing, conserving and reusing traditional groundwater structures within the settlement is necessary.

With these considerations in mind, this paper explores the architecture of bāravas, which are stepped ponds, built for storing groundwater. The name bārava is commonly used in the state of Mahārāṣṭra for big kuṇḍa having one or more intermediate landings in between the flight of steps (Pāṭhaka 2017: 54). Therefore, specifically in this paper, bāravas denote kuṇḍas that are elaborate, with one or more intermediate landings or platforms. Keeping this salient feature in mind, this paper presents two examples of bāravas and attempts to answer the following questions– What are the architectural and hydrogeological features of bāravas? What was their socio-cultural and religious significance? What learnings can one draw from them in the present context?

The study of bāravas discussed in this paper was conducted during November-December 2018, in the two peri-urban areas of Puṇe district of Mahārāṣṭra, as shown in Figure 1. It is difficult to estimate the total number of bāravas existing in Puṇe at present. However, Pāṭhaka (2017) has listed 14 bāravas found in different parts of Puṇe, out of which this paper studies two of them built during the 14th century at Mañcara and Loṇī Bhāpkara.

Figure 1 

Map of Puṇe district showing the location of the two sites selected for research.

Source: Author. Adapted from DCO, 2014 and MSBTPCR, 2011.

For this paper, data was collected primarily through field research, direct observation and documented through field notes, sketches, photographs, maps, and measured drawings of structures. The descriptive information and drawings presented in this paper are based on the observations made during field research, unless and otherwise referenced specifically. Settlement plans showing the location of bāravas have been prepared with the aid of Google Earth Pro software. Actual measurements of bāravas taken during field research were useful for preparing their architectural drawings. Data obtained through secondary sources of literature such as journal articles and books in English as well as Marāthī,1 District Gazetteers2 and English translations of Saṃskrut texts3 were useful to crosscheck and supplement the observations made on the field.

Before discussing the two case examples, the next section first introduces the reader to the bārava in general with respect to its overall form, construction features, and socio-religious significance.

2. Bāravas: An Introduction

Bāravas are elaborate versions of kuṇḍas, which are stepped ponds resembling a funnel, with their size decreasing from top to bottom (Jain-Neubauer 1981: 1), as shown in Figure 2. They may be square, oblong or sometimes octagonal, with depth varying considerably depending on the level of groundwater (ibid). They can be distinguished from tanks based on their surface area, step formation and overall depth.

Figure 2 

Sketch showing a typical kuṇḍa and a bārava.

Source: Author.

Bāravas are in many ways different from tanks, which are large, shallow water reservoirs with an extensive catchment area. As tanks usually store rainwater, they do not penetrate deep inside the ground and are lined by shallow flights of parallel steps (Hegewald 2002: 2). Owing to their large surface area, the rate of evaporation of water stored inside them can be quite high. On the contrary, bāravas have a small surface area. They penetrate deep into the ground to access groundwater. Their sides are lined with a steep flight of steps. Due to limited surface area at the bottom of bāravas and considerable depth below ground, the rate of evaporation of water from them is low. Nonetheless, there do exist certain hybrid types, and identifying them as tanks or bāravas may not be possible always (ibid).

Bāravas have one or more intermediate landings or platforms for standing and fetching water. Pāṭhaka (2017: 38) believes that the name bārava may have originated from its unit of measuring length called ‘bāva’. One bāva is equivalent to 1.5 m; bārā i.e. twelve such bāvas make one bārava. Therefore, many bāravas have square-shaped plans, with their sides measuring approximately 18 m (12 × 1.5 = 18 m). However, there seems to be flexibility in this rule. Depending on the local conditions, several bāravas may have their sides a little shorter or longer than 18 m (ibid). The name bārava is popularly used in Mahārāṣṭra for denoting elaborate versions of kuṇḍas. Additionally, bāravas are also referred to as bāva, jalamānḍavī, puṣakarnī and vāpī in Gujarāt (Kulkarṇī 2018: 20).

2.1. Construction Features of Bāravas

Selection of a suitable site containing good quantity and quality of groundwater was an essential prerequisite before commencing the construction of bāravas (Mate 1998: 18–19). Since ancient times, people seem to have developed their traditional knowledge about suitable site selection for constructing bāravas through systematic observation of the terrain over a period. An ancient text named Bṛuhat-saṃhitā, written by Varāhamihira (500 AD), has a chapter on the exploration of aquifers and springs. It mentions certain guidelines for finding appropriate sites for constructing groundwater structures after observing the colour, texture, smell, and touch of the soil and the type of vegetation growing in the soil. Two of these guidelines are mentioned below:

There is usually sweet water at places that have a cover of Munja grass, reeds, and where the earth is black or red, mixed with pebbles. Copper-coloured earth mixed with gravel will yield water of an astringent taste; red-brown earth, brackish water; a pale white ground produces saltwater; and blue earth, sweet water. (Sastri and Bhat 1946: 478–479)

Based on such guidelines, the finalisation of site happened before beginning with the actual construction. In the construction of bāravas, there was a need to take special care of the forces acting on their sides – the soils pressure from the external sides, hydraulic pressure from the internal sides and the self-weight of the steps (Pāṭhaka 2017: 33). Often, the sides of bāravas had a slope greater than the natural land-gradient outside. Consequently, they needed a large mass of steps to buttress the inward thrust of the soil on the walls. In some cases, additional stones were set within the steps to provide additional anchorage and prevent them from sliding away. These stones served as extensions of steps and functioned as seating platforms for people (ibid). Adjacent steps were joined either using a tongue and groove joint or by pouring molten lead in between their grooves to hold them together, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3 

Sketches showing step profile and joinery.

Source: Author. Based on field observations.

Some bāravas have a well shaft in the centre of their basin (Hegewald, 2002: 122). Groundwater, shallow aquifers or springs feed the well shaft, which opens up into a funnel in the shape of a stepped inverted pyramid structure. The topmost landing of bāravas sometimes has a small outlet for draining out the water and maintaining the level of water inside. Most of them have a half-metre or more thick and one to three-metre-high parapet wall around their perimeter as a protective edge.

2.2. The Socio-Religious Significance of Bāravas

Bāravas were not mere utilitarian structures. They were places for social gatherings, resting places for travellers and even pleasure structures for people to enjoy the water (Mahārāṣṭra State Gazetteer 1968: 138). A shade-giving tree with seating around it and a water structure next to it used to be a common sight in most of the medieval villages of Mahārāṣṭra and Puṇe (ibid). While some bāravas were located within the settlement, some were located at the entry or the boundary of the village (Pāṭhaka 2017: 17). Many of them served as resting places for travellers, who would pause at them for some time and quench their thirst by drinking the cool water of the bāravas. Sometimes, the name of the village itself was ‘Bārava’. During field research, one such village was found in the Junnar district of Puṇe, named Bārava after the old bārava that once existed there. Such examples show how water structures were an inseparable part of many villages.

Certain bāravas had one or more pillared pavilions known as maṇḍapas along their sides. Sometimes, these pavilions protruded into the bārava and had certain mechanical devices such as a pulley or a wheel for lifting water (Hegewald 2002: 130). Some pavilions have a seating arrangement. Rich carvings, motifs and figures of different deities decorated the sides of the pavilion. It was a pleasurable experience for people to sit in such pavilions. Bāravas were public structures whose water could be shared by all the people of a village.

The motivation behind the construction of bāravas was often religious. The concept of attaining spiritual merit by performing acts of charity has a special significance in the Hindū religion (Kane 1974: 890). The ancient religious texts mention various acts of charity such as donation of money, land, cows, and so on to the needy. In these charitable acts, religious texts give gifting of water structures the highest value amongst all the other types of donations and are believed to give the highest spiritual reward to the donor (ibid). While donating a water structure, the donor had to follow two rules. The first one was that the donor must completely give up his ownership of the water structure. The second one was that the water structure should be in the common interest of society and should not benefit a few individuals alone (Kane 1974: 892–893).

After performing certain rituals of offering flowers and rice to the water and surrounding landscape, people imagined bāravas to be holy and fit for use (Kane 1974: 891). Often, the performances of these rituals took place on days of special cosmic events such as solar eclipses, lunar eclipses and summer and winter solstices (ibid). The concept of donation and attaining spiritual merit encouraged several rulers, traders, guilds of artisans and elite to construct bāravas for the common good of the society (Mate, 2006). Certain bāravas have stone inscriptions mentioning the names of donors who constructed and donated them to the community (Mate, 2006). The bārava at Mañcara discussed later, is one such example.

Many bāravas were located within temple precincts where they functioned as bathing structures for devotees to whom purifying themselves by taking a bath before entering a temple was one of the religious rituals. As explained by Hegewald (2002: 25), ritualistic bathing prepares a person internally for crossing a border. Immersion of the body into water is symbolic of death and reappearing from water is symbolic of gaining rebirth. Here, death symbolises the dissolution of one’s sins and pollution, while rebirth symbolises that one is pure and in the right state of mind for entering the sacred terrain of the divine. Thus, bāravas also acted as thresholds marking boundaries between the sacred and the profane (ibid). Their parapet wall separated the terrain of land from the terrain of water. The external sides of the parapet walls are plain, while their internal sides often have rows of beautifully carved niches. These niches once housed idols of different deities (Dandawate et al. 2006: 4), who were believed to ward off evil powers from the water (Hegewald 2002: 128). One may safely assume that placing idols of deities within the niches could have also been a way to remind people about the sacredness of water structures and thereby discourage them from polluting their water.

The various features of bāravas mentioned above have been further elaborated and illustrated through two case examples – the bāravas at Mañcara and Loṇī Bhāpkara, both dateable to the 14th century.

3. The Bārava at Mañcara

Mañcara is a small town in the northern part of Puṇe district. The bārava is located to the west of the present town near a stream known as Kharḍī Nālā as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4 

Plan showing the settlement of Mañcara and location of bārava.

Source: Author. Data of field research carried on 29-11-2018 superimposed on Google Earth Pro Mañcar.

The Gazetteer of Bombay Presidency Vol. XVIII Part III (1885) has a mention of the bārava here, which says,

To the west of the town, beyond a watercourse, is a fine (….) reservoir about twenty-five yards square with two flights of steps leading to the water. Except the west wall which has a niche (3’ × 2’6”) with carved side posts and sculpted foliage, the walls of the reservoir are plain. Within the niche is a much worn (…) inscription difficult to read. (GBP-XVIII Part-III 1885: 259)

The stone inscription mentioned in the Gazetteer dates back to 1344 A.D., whose language is Saṃskrut and script is Devnāgarī (Mandake, 2003: 52–54). It states that the village head of Maṇīcar (original name of present Mañcara village) found a suitable spot having ample groundwater and constructed this bārava for the villagers to overcome their difficulty of finding adequate water during years of drought. It further states that the village head dedicates this bārava for the common good of the villagers (ibid). Thus, the stone inscription reveals that the bārava is more than 650 years old structure, built to provide water during the occurrence of droughts in Mañcar.

The description of the bārava in the Gazetteer supports the observations made during field research. Accordingly, the bārava is nearly a square with two flights of steps and three-level drops. At the topmost entry level, its side is about 22 m; at the intermediate landing level, its side is 19 m; and at the bottommost basin level, its side is about 11 m. The depth of the bārava is about 10.7 m from the level of water to the topmost portion. It is difficult to estimate the exact depth of the bārava due to the silt deposited at the bottom of the bārava.

The bārava has a 2.7 m high parapet wall around it. There are two entrances to the bārava – one along the southern side and another along the eastern side, each having a single flight of eleven steps, leading to the intermediate landing, which is 2.6 m below the ground level (see Figure 5). A half-metre wide and equally high seating platform is present at the intermediate landing. A peculiar feature of this bārava is the presence of a small drainage channel at the eastern corner of the intermediate landing for draining the water. As a result, water cannot rise above the level of the intermediate landing, thereby maintaining the water level inside the bārava.

Figure 5 

Plan and section of bārava at Mañcar.

Source: Author. Field research carried on 29-11-2018.

Another striking feature of this bārava is the design of its steps. The steps are 0.25 m wide and 0.17 m high. At every level, protruding stone blocks, placed at regular intervals in between two adjacent steps, provide anchorage to the steps and prevent their sliding due to the thrust of the soil from behind. In addition to their functional requirement, these protruding stone blocks form nice seating platforms for people. They also create an interesting rhythmic pattern and cast beautiful shadows during the daytime, highlighting the aesthetic side of structural elements.

In short, the stone inscription, the drainage channel at the intermediate landing level and the rhythmic pattern of steps standout as prominent features of this bārava as shown in Figure 6. However, this bārava is a standalone structure, i.e. it is not part of any larger public or religious building complex. On the contrary, the bārava at Loṇī Bhāpkara is part of a temple precinct, wherein the idea of sacredness has shaped its architecture as seen in the next section.

Figure 6 

Photographs showing the features of the bārava at Mañcar.

Source: Author. Field research carried on 29-11-2018.

4. The Bārava at Loṇī Bhāpkara

Loṇī Bhāpkara is a village in the southern part of Puṇe district. The bārava here dates back to the 14th century (Mate 1998: 106). It lies about 500 m away, towards the north-west of the village settlement as shown in Figure 7. The bārava is part of a temple precinct that originally housed a temple dedicated to Viṣṇū and a temple dedicated to S̍iva4 (ibid).

Figure 7 

Map showing the settlement of Loṇī Bhāpkara and location of bārava.

Source: Author. Data of field research carried on 21-11-2018 superimposed on Google Earth Pro Loṇī Bhāpkara.

Within the sacred precinct, the bārava forms a focal point for both the temples as shown in Figure 8. The bārava is nearly a square with its side measuring 21 m at its topmost part. It has two intermediate landings and its side reduces to 14 m at the bottommost part. According to the locals, a shaft is present within the bottommost part of the bārava. However, due to the accumulation of silt and dirt, it was difficult to confirm the existence of the shaft during field research. The depth of the bārava is 6.8 m. The entrance to the bārava is from the centre of the southern side. One can reach the level of the first landing by descending seven steps from the ground level.

Figure 8 

Plan and section of the temple precinct at Loṇī Bhāpkara.

Source: Author. Field Research carried on 21-11-2018.

A two-metre-high parapet wall runs along the edge of the first landing. The external sides of the wall are plain, while the internal sides have beautifully carved niches. The northern and western sides have seven niches each. The eastern side has four niches and the southern side has six niches. Thus, the four sides have 24 niches in total. According to Dandawate et al. (2006: 4), there is a possibility that these niches once contained 24 idols of different incarnations of Viṣṇu. Besides, there are two more niches on the sidewalls of the entrance. As mentioned before, the idols were believed to ward off evil forces from the bārava and encouraged people to keep the water structure and its surroundings clean and free from pollution. Such details highlight the water management practices of health and hygiene.

A special architectural feature of this bārava is the existence of a protruding maṇḍapa on its western side in front of the Viṣṇū temple as shown in Figure 9. In plan, the maṇḍapa is a square, with its side measuring 5 m. Four circular columns present at four corners of the maṇḍapa, support the stone roof on to their brackets and capitals. In between the four columns, there is a stone seating, with the 1.5 m high wall of maṇḍapa itself acting as the backrest. The walls of the maṇḍapa have column motifs carved on its external side. The panels in between these column motifs contain figures of different deities in elegant postures. The pavilion is believed to once contain a big sculpture of Varāha – an incarnation of Viṣṇū having the face of a wild boar and the body of a human being (Pāṭhaka 2017: 103). Currently, the sculpture lies within the temple precinct in a damaged condition. The maṇḍapa served as a seating place for the devotees. Moreover, because of its protraction, people could utilise it for drawing water from the bārava by lowering a vessel tied to a rope.

Figure 9 

Plan and section of the bārava within the temple precinct of Loṇī Bhāpkara.

Source: Author. Field Research carried on 21-11-2018.

The steps of this bārava are simple. Their width is 0.27 m while their height is 0.25 m. The height of steps is more than the usual height of steps, i.e. 0.15–0.18 m. Probably, it was essential to have such high steps to achieve the overall depth of bārava within a limited space, thereby putting a restriction on the lateral spread. Due to their height, the steps are slightly uncomfortable for ascending and descending but are quite comfortable for sitting. Thus, the bārava at Loṇī Bhāpkara occupies a focal position within the entire layout of temple precinct; its artistic maṇḍapa and beautiful niches on the internal side of the parapet wall stand out as prominent architectural features as shown in Figure 10. Here, the bārava becomes a part of the temple geometry and attains sanctity.

Figure 10 

Architectural features of the bārava at Loṇī Bhāpkara.

Source: Author. Field research carried on 21-11-2018.

5. Observations about Bāravas

The two case examples discussed so far illustrate the various architectural features of bāravas. Although they are located at different places, showing variation in their forms, certain characteristics and architectural principles followed while constructing them are common to all, as explained below.

5.1. Locational and Hydrogeological Sensitivity

A strong connection with the local conditions of site is a common feature of most traditional water structures in India (Jacob 2013: 3), including bāravas. From the two case examples of bāravas, we observe that the prevailing local conditions such as nature of terrain and depth of groundwater have influenced their size, overall form and architectural detailing. They vary subtly from one another. For instance, the bāravas at Mañcara and Loṇī Bhāpkara are both squares in plan with approximately the same size (21 × 21 m); however, their overall depths vary due to the difference in the depths of aquifers at both the places.

Simultaneously, we observe that the topography and subsurface conditions determine the shape of bāravas and the profile of their steps. For instance, the sides of the bārava at Mañcara are set at a steep angle, greater than the natural slope of the ground. Therefore, to prevent the sliding of the sidewalls due to soil pressure, placing of additional stone blocks in between the steps is essential to buttress and counteract the inward thrust of the soil. Such an arrangement of stone blocks is not required in case of the bārava at Loṇī Bhāpkara, as its sides are not set at an angle steeper than the natural slope of the ground. These instances show that within a broad set of architectural principles in place, there was inherent flexibility in achieving the ultimate form of bāravas based on the structural requirements and specificities of the site.

Water structures such as bāravas also exhibit the hydrogeological knowledge of the artisans who constructed them several centuries ago (National Institute of Hydrology 2018: 99–100). Most of the bāravas found in Puṇe and Mahārāṣṭra, including the two examples discussed here, have been carved out from hard basalt rock, which constitutes a substantial portion of the terrain. The layers of basalt have little porosity and are largely devoid of water (CGDB 2013: 7–8). Only those layers that have cracks and openings in between them due to weathering and rupturing, serve as potential spaces for storage and movement of groundwater. Generally, such spaces occur up to a depth of 20 m below the ground surface and they form the shallow aquifers that recharge easily with rainwater. Those occurring at greater depths of 40 m or more are normally confined aquifers, which take time to recharge (ibid).

The artisans seemed to have considered these hydrogeological facts while constructing bāravas in Puṇe and Mahārāṣṭra, which are usually 7–10 m deep (Pāṭhaka 2018), similar to the ones discussed in this paper. Because of their restricted depths, they tap water from shallow aquifers that recharge easily due to rainwater during monsoon and do not damage the deeper confined aquifers that are difficult to recharge (ibid).

During field research, it was observed that both the bāravas contained a reasonable quantity of water. While lack of periodic cleaning and accumulation of water hyacinth had polluted the water of the bārava at Loṇī Bhāpkara, regular maintenance and cleaning had kept the water of the bārava at Mañcara clean and fit for domestic usage. Since majority of the households at the two places have access to tap water, people do not use the water from bāravas for drinking but do use it for bathing, washing clothes and cleaning utensils, as observed during the field research. Additionally, they tend to use more water from the bāravas during the summer months, when water supply from taps is irregular. Thus, it is significant to note that even after so many centuries; bāravas have managed to keep their value intact, especially in times of water scarcity.

In short, location-specific design and sensitiveness towards the hydrogeological conditions of the site stand out as prominent architectural features of bāravas. Both these features have made them durable as well as sustainable.

5.2. Bāravas as Social Spaces Making Invisible Groundwater Visible

The case examples of bāravas show that they are not mere utilitarian structures that store groundwater. They are interesting spaces for people to appreciate the presence of water within settlements. Although people’s lifestyle and religious values may have changed, they still use bāravas as community spaces, as observed during the field research. Many people use the bārava at Mañcara for swimming and bathing and the bārava at Loṇī Bhāpkara as a place for gathering and meeting each other. The villagers after working in their farms enjoy the shade and quietness provided by the bāravas to have their mid-day meal and take some rest during the hot afternoon hours. Occasionally, even students utilise the quiet space for studying. Thus, bāravas transcend their utilitarian function by incorporating aesthetic merit and become social spaces for community interaction.

Apart from being the much necessary social spaces within the settlement, another significant characteristic of traditional water structures such as bāravas is that they make the invisible groundwater visible to the people (Rudolph-Cleff and Shankar in press). Their funnel-shaped form and arrangement of steps give people the pleasure of experiencing the seasonal fluctuation of the stored water. Along with the changing water level inside bāravas, their appearance also changes. During monsoon, their steps are invisible as the water level inside is highest. With the end of monsoon, the steps start becoming visible slowly, one by one, as the water level inside begins to fall gradually. While in summer, the entire arrangement of steps becomes visible as the water level inside is lowest. This phenomenon is not only pleasurable but also useful to the people for comprehending the quantity of water stored inside bāravas by counting the number of steps exposed above the surface of the water. Thus, visibility of water plays a dual role – it enables people to appreciate its changing aesthetics and simultaneously recognise its value.

5.3. Conclusion

From the discussion so far, one may safely conclude that bāravas are excellent examples of traditional architecture that has flourished in Puṇe and elsewhere in India for many centuries. This architecture is location-specific, respects the hydrogeological conditions of the site and makes the invisible groundwater visible to the people. Due to these architectural features, bāravas transcend their utilitarian function of storing groundwater and serve as interactive community spaces with socio-cultural and socio-technical identity.

Despite their architectural value, many bāravas and other similar groundwater structures exist today in a neglected state. Many of them remain hidden from the eyes of people as trees and bushes have grown from their walls. Over the period, their usefulness as water storage structures has declined with people gaining easy access to tap water. Consequently, people have turned many of them into places for dumping construction waste and household garbage, which has polluted their water and damaged their structure. Before people damage them any further, it is essential to take immediate steps for their protection, documentation and conservation.

Bāravas, when conserved, would not only function as utilitarian structures but could serve as shared community spaces for people to come together, interact and enjoy the presence of water within the settlement. Despite a change in people’s lifestyle and religious practices, they still visit temples frequently. Therefore, even if bāravas within temple precincts may not be useful for bathing or performing religious rituals, they could still be repaired and maintained and used as designed sit-outs for people.

Today, modern water infrastructure is separated from the realm of settlement design and architecture and fails to generate interesting spaces that invite people to enjoy, admire and value groundwater. As pointed out by Perysinaki (2010: 2), modern water infrastructure lacks the potential to shape settlement form and disallows people to see, hear, touch and experience the presence of groundwater. Therefore, taking a lesson from bāravas, we need to work on alternate designs and technologies that do not keep groundwater extraction process hidden but instead make it visible to the people.

Ultimately, we must acknowledge the traditional hydrogeological wisdom embedded in the architecture of bāravas. Wherever possible and appropriate, we should attempt to conserve such groundwater storage structures that have withstood the test of time and have heritage value. Possibly, structures such as these would encourage people to share, respect and value groundwater, when it once again becomes a visible part of the settlement fabric.