Green activists in Delhi mobilise support to breathe fresh life into Hauz-e-Shamsi that has been part of Mehrauli’s heritage

Writing for this column last week, I had wrongly identified an organisation as the initiator for the citizen’s intervention in defence of the Neela Hauz, near Kishangarh. In fact the public interest group before the Delhi High Court was moved by the Neela Hauz Citizen’s Group. I have come to learn that the Citizen’s Group had approached the court once again to draw attention to the slow pace of work in the restoration of the hauz and the court has now fixed a deadline of February 2013 for returning the hauz to its original state.

All concerned, including The Citizen’s Group, the Delhi Development Authority and the Delhi Jal Board, meet once a month to monitor the progress. The water hyacinth cover spread over the lake’s surface is likely to be removed towards June-end. There is hope that the Neela Hauz will be saved and if that happens, it will be a rare victory for the forum and all conservationists in the city.

The mistake that I made last week has come as a boon for me, because interaction with the Neela Hauz Citizen’s Group made me think of another initiative at the Hauz-e-Shamsi (next on the forum’s list). Though not as organised as the Neela Hauz Citizen’s Group but certainly as well-meaning and as creatively imagined and executed as the Neela Hauz initiative.

Abhinandita Mathur, a photographer by profession, and her husband Vishal Rawlley, an artist, live next to the Hauz-e-Shamsi and have over the last three years been running around, contacting various agencies and also trying on their own to prevent their neighbours from throwing their trash in the hauz. They have managed to get the Municipal Corporation of Delhi to build a drain that now carries domestic waste from the surrounding apartments away from the hauz. One of the projects that the couple developed struck a chord with everyone who has heard the story of how the hauz came into being. A recounting of the tale will help in appreciating the project better.

The Hauz-e-Shamsi was built on the orders of Shams-ud-Din Iltutmish or Altamash (1211-1236). It is said that one day, he asked his nobles to accompany him to a site. Once there, he pointed to a stone and informed his nobles that the night before, Prophet Mohammad had appeared in his dream; He was astride his horse and the horse’s hoof rested on that stone. Altamash claimed that the Prophet then instructed him to build a hauz on that site in order to improve availability of water for the residents of Mehrauli.

It is believed that the lake was then excavated with that very rock as the centre-point. A few rain-fed streams and perhaps now extinct tributaries to the Yamuna were diverted to fill the lake that at one time covered an area of more than five acres. Overflow from the lake was passed through a channel, called the Jharna, to a stream known as the Nau Lakha Nala. The Nala deposited the excess to the Yamuna.

During the 16 century, a pavilion was erected above the rock and a pleasure palace known as the Jahaz Mahal was built on the eastern bank of the hauz. Mohammad Bin Tughlaq carried out repairs on the hauz, while additional buildings like a pavilion and a baradari were added near the Jharna by Ghazi-ud-din Ahmad, a commander of Aurangzeb and by Akbar Shah II, the father of Bahadur Shah Zafar. The Jharna and the Hauz are the sites around which the annual Phool Walon Ki Sair is organised.

The locals treat the water as sacred and there is a tradition among both the Hindus and Muslims to release live fish in the hauz as thanksgiving for wish fulfilment.

Drawing upon all these factors and the tale of the Prophet’s horse, Abhinandita and Vishal floated a talking horse in the hauz. The horse could be called on a mobile number and you could leave your messages about the lake, about pollution and about environment with the horse; the number was circulated through leaflets and the talking horse became a big hit with the youth of this part of Mehrauli, leading to many youngsters becoming protectors of the hauz.

The Neela Hauz Citizen’s Group that can be reached at plans to mobilise opinion and support to save and revive the Hauz-e-Shamsi; in the meanwhile, the young couple that lives next to the hauz would certainly be a part of this campaign.