Art Street: A 150-year-old hidden architectural spectacle in Mumbai to soon make a comeback

A more than 150-year-old architectural spectacle of a ‘pyau’ (water fountain) in the form of two towers, each 20 feet in height, and a fountain in between, is likely to be opened for public this November after completion of the restoration work by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).

Almost 30% of the structure, which stands adjacent to Azad Maidan on a footpath opposite Metro Cinema, was buried following successive construction activities of road and footpath.

“This structure was built in the late nineteenth century. The location was at the border of Marine Lines. This was where the marines were stationed by the British and they had their tents at the ground which is now known as Azad Maidan. They were soldiers of the British Army and they used to be stationed in case of any uprising in the native town,” said Pankaj Joshi, Trustee, Urban Center Trust. Joshi is also a consultant of the restoration project.

The exact year of construction of this ‘pyau’ is said to be around 1860-70 and it was renovated around 1911. “In 1860-70, there was a fort wall and a clear area where they (marines) could fire guns and cannons. Marines continued to be deployed here till 1910 or so, that’s why the name Marine Lines,” he said.

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Along with marines, the area used to witness trade activities as several horse and cattle-drawn delivery wagons used to frequent the area. A trader, Madhavdas Laxmidas Kothari, built the ‘pyau’ for the animals as well as for humans. Two structures were done in a ‘Shikhara’ style and a temple-like structure and in the middle there was the pond. The pond used to be filled with water so that the animals could drink from it. In the centre, there was a spout for drinking water.

As per the restoration plan, not only the water fountain, but also the ‘Shikhar’ (tower)-like structure will be restored. A small series of steps to lead oneself to the fountain will also be added.

The restoration work started around February this year. For more than 100 years the structure remained in a dilapidated condition. “When we started the restoration work, we thought we would only excavate and restore but when we went below and found the entire trove three feet beneath the ground. We found pieces in full or broken so we did not have to speculate anything while restoring,” Joshi informed.

“BMC‘s heritage cell has been taking painstaking efforts over the past four-five years to restore the glory of the old heritage structures dotting the city‘s streets like the water fountains, milestones or street furniture which were otherwise lost to the fast pace of the city,” said Ashwini Bhide, Additional Municipal Commissioner of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), who handles heritage-related works of the civic body.

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She said BMC wants to revive the heritage structures to make people more aware and sensitised of our rich cultural and historical heritage which is the foundation of today’s shining and modern metropolis.

As per the restoration plan, not only the water fountain, but also the ‘Shikhar’ (tower)-like structure will be restored. A small series of steps to lead oneself to the fountain will also be added.

The restoration work involves a technique called dentistry repair where repairing and restoring of stone pieces is done just like dental transplant by doing stone transplant so the original material is replaced with equivalent material.