Satpula: The Water Harvesting Dam of Jahanpanah [PHOTO STORY]

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Satpula is a Water Harvesting Dam built along the eastern wall of Jahanpanah by Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq in the year 727 AH (1326 AD).

Satpula the water harvesting dam of Jahanpanah
Satpula the water harvesting dam of Jahanpanah

It is located about 800 m east of Khirki Mosque.

Author Dr K Sharmila Reddy with her friend at Satpula
Author Dr K Sharmila Reddy with her friend at Satpula

Concept of “Satpula”

Satpula means Bridge of Seven Piers. [”Sath” means seven and “Pula” means bridge]

It is a unique structure with eleven arches. Out of eleven, seven arches are primary , whereas two at each end of the bridge are subsidiary in nature.

Thus, the primary seven arches give the bridge, its present name- “Sat-pula”.

the Seven arched “Sat-Pula”
The Seven arched “Sat-Pula”

Story of Satpula

In between 1334 and 1344, repeated droughts caused famines in Delhi. Along with it, Black Plague was also prevalent. There also existed the raids of Changhatai tribes.

Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq planned this seven arched weir “Satpula” as a solution for both. The dam tapped the water resources of the local stream which feeds the Yamuna River. It also brought large areas of flat land in the vicinity under irrigation alienating the famine conditions.

Seven arched weir “Satpula”
Seven arched weir “Satpula”

Not only irrigation, the dam also provided much needed defence along the eastern wall, protecting the southern part of newly built Jahanpanah city.

Satpula- as a Wall of defence
Satpula – as a Wall of defence

Architecture of Satpula

Satpula is a complex two-storeyed sluiced dam with flanking towers on either side. It is built in rubble masonry.

Site plan of Satpula [pic from The Tughluqs: Master builders of the Delhi Sultanate of Anthony Welch and Howard Crane]
Site plan of Satpula [pic from The Tughluqs: Master builders of the Delhi Sultanate of Anthony Welch and Howard Crane]
The water to this dam is provided by a rainwater fed local stream. The stream opens into the River Yamuna. To the northern side of the dam, an artificial lake exists. 

Artificial Lake to the north of Satpula Bridge
Artificial Lake to the north of Satpula Bridge- rain fills it

The total width of Satpula is 255 feet. The bund is 177 feet long and each of its two flanking towers are of 39 feet wide.

Satpula panoramic view
Satpula panoramic view
Lower Level:

The massive lower story of the weir wall contains 11 barrel-vaulted openings with sluices running across its entire depth in the north-south direction.

The arched openings are located at different levels, with seven principal spans (arched openings) at the lowest level. The balance two additional bays on each bank, are at a higher level on the east and the west.

The complete Picture of Satpula (file from Wikipedia)
The complete Picture of Satpula (file from Wikipedia)

Out of the eleven arches, the three central ones are 11 feet wide and the rest are 9 feet wide.

The true arches of Satpula
The true arches of Satpula

During the dry season, when the artificial lake to the south would be dry and the walls subject to possible attack. Therefore, the seven main arched gates originally held sliding wooden sluices to shut the tunnels. You can still see the grooves in the side walls of each gate where these would have fitted.

grooves in the side walls
Grooves in the side walls

These sliding gates, thus controlled the force of the stream flowing from the south.

When in use, the gate system was controlled through a rope and pulley arrangement, to regulate the flow of water.

The bridge with grooves for sliding gates
The bridge with grooves for sliding gates

Except for the sluice openings the lower story is completely solid. Today, much of the lower storey is damaged.

Damaged lower storey
Damaged lower storey
Upper Level:

The second level has seven sluice bays which form an arched corridor. On a level with the ground and on either sides of arched bund, there contain a narrow staircase leading to the top of the bridge and continuing up to the roof of the tower.

Upper storey
Upper storey
View of the top of upper storey
View of the top of upper storey
The sluices of the bridge
The sluices of the bridge
The sluices of the bridge
The sluices of the bridge
Towers- square bastions:

Satpula has a flanking tower facing north at each end. They have the appearance of Pathan gateways.

Tower with a Pathan style gateway
Tower with a Pathan style gateway
Right Side Tower with the stair case
Right Side Tower with the stair case
Left Side Tower with the stair case
Left Side Tower with the stair case

The tower’s archway leads into a vaulted vestibule-like space with a small arched niche on either side.

To the south of this vestibule an arched doorway leads into an inner room. Scholars have often described this room as octagonal and 5.97 meters (19.5 feet) in diameter.

Square shaped bastion
Square shaped bastion

But this room is actually a square. Each of its four corners led into small circular rooms. They are probably designed for the dam’s maintenance crew and for guards protecting the walls.

Square room serving as a bastion and also residential place for dam’s crew
Square room serving as a bastion and also residential place for dam’s crew

The walls of this square room has a number of tall narrow slit-like openings at various levels and directions. These openings are for the archers. Thus it functioned like a bastion.

openings for archers at various level of the square bastion
openings for archers at various level of the square bastion

Restoration:

The bridge was once damaged by the flood. Following the flood, a rubble wall is erected to its south. It serves as a band and protects from damage. [Reference: List of Muhammadan and Hindu Monuments– volume III- Mahrauli Zail- 1922]

The southern rubble wall serving as a band

Purpose of Satpula:

  • The dam regulated the impounded waters.
  • It provided irrigation to the fields and gardens located in the south of Jahanpanah city.
Author Dr K Sharmila Reddy with her friend on the tower
Author Dr K Sharmila Reddy with her friend on the tower
  • In its time, the towers of Satpula were occupied by a local maktab or school. Thus, it served as Madrasa.
  • Square shaped bastions (the towers) of Satpula provided defence security to the city against attacking armies.
staircase and side view of the square shaped bastion
staircase and side view of the square shaped bastion

Cultural significance of Satpula:

According to Maulvi Bashir-ud-din Ahmad, Sufi Saint Nasir-ud-din Mahmud Chirag Dehlavi (Roshan Chirag-i Dilli) once performed Wudu (the ritual ablutions prior to Namaz) in the waters of Satpula. Consequently, the waters are accredited with various healing propensities. From then, locals consider the water as sacred owing to its curative powers.                                             

[Reference- Waqeyaat-e-Daar-ul-Hukumat Delhi (Events in the capital city of Delhi)]

Nasir-ud-din Mahmud Chirag Dehlavi performed Wudu here at Satpula
Nasir-ud-din Mahmud Chirag Dehlavi performed Wudu here at Satpula

During Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s reign Tri- weekly fairs are held at Satpula in the month of October viz., on Sundays, Tuesdays and Saturdays till the celebration of the festival of Diwali. [Reference- The Archeology and Monumental Remains of Delhi by Carr Stephen 1876]

Satpula with the holy waters
Satpula with the holy waters

Lastly, another popular Sufi saint Sheikh Yusuf Qattal, who lived during the reigns of Sultan Ibrahim Lodi (1517-1526) and Badshah Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur (1526-1530) is believed to have performed religious devotions at this Satpula.

Tomb of Yusuf Qattal - died in the year 1527- near to Satpula
Tomb of Yusuf Qattal – died in the year 1527- near to Satpula

Let’s read about Yusuf Qattal in the consequent articles of this Classic India series.

Authors friends at Satpula
Authors friends at Satpula

Modern Day Significance of Satpula

Satpula is a fine example of Tughlaq engineering. It marked great improvements in local irrigation technology. To understand the history of water management in the Delhi region, Satpula must be absolutely studied.

Poorly maintained present day Satpula bridge
Poorly maintained present day Satpula bridge

Although, Satpula is a part of ASI list of “Protected Monuments”, it is under gross neglect today. To begin with, thorny weeds have grown all around the dam and in the reservoir. The main gate remains permanently locked. In short, a transverse slit in the gate provides us space to enter inside.

Weeds have grown all around the metal tablet of ASI. You need to remove the weeds that have  to see the text on the tablet.

Weeds all around the ASI tablet
Weeds all around the ASI tablet
After removing the weeds
After removing the weeds
Authors friends at the entrance
Authors friends at the entrance board

The insides of Satpula are littered with broken beer bottles, plastic cups and empty packs of salted snacks. Youth are spotted having liquor parties and hurting the sanctity of the monument.

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