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Reminiscing the Ruins | The Traditional Water System of Shikar Burj

Unfortunately, as rapid-paced haphazard urbanization takes its toll on our cities, these traditional water systems have been disappearing from the public domains. The Shikar Burj complex in Bundi, Rajasthan certifies an ignorant and apathetic attitude of both the people and regime.

Every year on 22nd March, the world observes and celebrates 'International Water Day' in a bid to focus global attention towards water scarcity and inaccessibility to safe water. India, being the second most populous country in the world, has an abysmal record in providing its citizens access to safe water. While 54% of India’s groundwater resources are depleting, more than 100 million Indians live in areas having little access to good quality water.

The poor water quality and depleting natural water resources in India have proved to be instrumental in a healthcare collapse affecting entire generations that mostly belong to marginalized communities.

India’s varying climate and agrarian dependence upon rainwater has time and again, rendered its rural communities vulnerable. Consequently, every region in the country has possessed its own traditional water systems. These water systems have been proved to be convenient and functional instruments to provide the required freshwater supply since ancient times.

The present times have witnessed huge disparities in the provision of freshwater supply for agriculture and other consumption needs.

Unfortunately, as rapid-paced haphazard urbanization takes its toll on our cities, these traditional water systems have been disappearing from the public domains. The Shikar Burj complex in Bundi, Rajasthan certifies an ignorant and apathetic attitude of both the people and regime.

Shikar Burj Complex, Bundi, Rajasthan

The Shikar Burj complex houses the resting place of Raja Umed Singh, who had given up the throne to meditate in the peaceful environs near the mountains of Aravalli and Vindhyanchal. The complex has the hunting lodge of the king, a temple of Hanuman, a garden, several ‘kunds’ and ‘baolis’. The hunting lodge had been constructed in the late 1700s. The building served as residence to the king after he left his city and palace to control his kingdom from Shikar Burj.

The complex lies next to a watershed created by the lesser Aravalli and Vindhyanchal ranges. The watershed is made up of a mixture of habitats that influence each other. These habitats include farmlands, lakes, forests, wetlands and even human settlements. The indigenous tribe of Bheel has found refuge in the watershed surrounded by the mountains, which they revere as deities, and call them ‘Dungar Singh’ or the Mountain-King. Wildlife has co-existed in the region, with a multitude of flora and fauna flourished in the watershed over the years. The watershed holds a preserved natural ecosystem having a rich variety of flora and fauna. The local community has named it Thandi Jheeri or ‘Cool Waterfall’. Thandi Jheeri accumulates large amounts of runoff water and it forms a ‘Talaab’ or a water reservoir, which further channelizes into the Shikar Burj complex.

Shikar Burj acts as the gateway to the water that is channelized into the Bundi city through various stepwells, canals, and lakes. The rainwater from the watershed enters the complex through channels that have ‘Johads’ or check-dams on them. The water flows from a higher altitude to the complex that is strategically constructed at a depression. It crosses Ban Ganga through Stepwells and lakes, which also act as community spaces for people, especially women, to gather up and meet. These step-wells and lakes are also used extensively by the locals to fetch water, bathe and have the water for their cattle as well.

The water channels eventually flow into the Jait-Sagar Lake, the largest lake in Bundi, and from there the water flows to the rivers, making the water table of the whole Hadoti region rise.

The hunting lodge stands witness to the lost glory of the Raja of Bundi. The analysis of the structure, its construction techniques, and traditional water system bears witness to the knowledge embedded in the culture of local communities of Bundi. Despite having a natural constraint an arid climate, the local people and their rulers have managed to beat the odds of water shortage with the help of various means of water conservation such as Baolis, Kunds, Jhalaras, Khadins. The various natural elements of water system such as the waters catchments that harvest the rainwater from mountains, the natural water-springs etc. have been identified and exploited by the local community for ages. However, due to imminent threats that have been posed to the complex, it lies in ruins now.

The threat to Shikar Burj is posed by various anti-social elements of the society, who often carry out illicit activities in the complex. The site, lying in an area that has an extremely low influx of people, has slowly become a place where bizarre traditional rituals are carried out, resulting in killings of animals. Clearly, the government authorities have turned a blind eye to the heritage of Raja of Bundi.

Shikar Burj lies in the jurisdiction of Archaeological Survey of India. Strangely, there have been no factual or architectural records maintained by the ASI. The complex, despite its rich cultural heritage, has not been able to witness any restoration work by the ASI. Due to constant lack of management, the water system of the site and its elements lie in a dilapidated condition.


Our obsession with ‘world-class development’ has not yielded any significant results for the most marginalized communities and their habitats. What will it take for us to realize the relevance of traditional knowledge systems in shaping our collective future? How far will our governments push the ‘world-class’ narrative, before getting the idea that indigenous knowledge systems are worthy of their attention?
How do we make our governments realize the importance of exploring a nature-based solution for the water crisis we face in our country?
Why does the ASI not document/acknowledge and preserve the traditional water system of Shikar Burj, or for that matter, numerous of structures in India that bear the brunt of ignorance and neglect?


Documentation Credits: LIK Trophy Team 2016, Jamia Millia Islamia

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