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Upcoming exhibition tells Pune's story through its waterbodies

The walks and exhibits, organised by Living Waters Museum, aims to get citizens involved in conserving Pune's rivers, lakes and waterbodies

Captured waters of baravs, ancient stepped ponds, have provided a space for social bonding.
Captured waters of baravs, ancient stepped ponds, have provided a space for social bonding. (Manas Marathe)

What can rivers, bridges and water pipelines tell us about a city? They can provide a picture of the city’s past, its evolution and its present. That’s the focus of an upcoming exhibition Punyache Paani (water bodies of Pune), stories of Pune’s water, which will held in Pune from 27 March to 2 April.

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The virtual exhibition, organised by the Living Waters Museum (LWM) and the Centre for Water Research, IISER Pune, will nudge people to look at the history, heritage and the cultural aspects of the city’s water bodies from an inter-disciplinary perspective.

“As a visitor, it is likely that you would relate more to the hills in Pune and not as much to its water bodies. However, the city has five rivers - Mula, Mutha, Pawana, Ram and Dev - flowing through it, and has many dams,” says Chhavi Mathur, programme manager at Living Waters Museum, and co-curator of the exhibition.

The ‘Podhis to Pipes – Transforming waters of Pune’ exhibit, for instance, traces the city’s water timeline across the traditional and modern water systems including the Peshwa aqueducts. Podhis are rock-cut cisterns excavated to collect rainwater and groundwater in the Buddhist and Jain monasteries around Pune, explains Mathur. She worked on this exhibit along with Saili Palande-Datar, an independent ecologist, and Manas Marathe, faculty at PVP College of Architecture. Other contributors to the exhibition include architects, academicians, and people working on water issues. 

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“We traced Pune’s water over time. You can divide access to Pune’s water into three kinds - captured water, flowing water, piped water. Over time, you will see that access to water has evolved across these three. They don’t exist mutually exclusively and the prominence of each changes over time. The other stories are strands within this premise,” says Mathur.

She points out an exhibit done by an IISER PhD student on hydrophilanthropy - pyaus (water fountains) and paanpoi (earthen pots filled with water) in Camp (Pune Cantonment) area. The student compared the use of pyaus (fountains) in the British era to provide drinking water in public spaces, and the current use of paanpois. Other exhibits look at the interaction of micro communities with water bodies, and ecology around river confluences and lakes.

The ritual of Pardi Sodane by the Koli community. 
The ritual of Pardi Sodane by the Koli community.  (Minal Sagare)

The online exhibition is complemented by offline events starting with walks at the Mutha river and Pashan lake by the NGO Jeevitnadi and Centre of Environment Education on the first day. Panel discussions on the city’s water heritage and cultural and livelihood practices, a movie screening and performing arts on the theme of water will also be held. Mathur says she hopes people will view the exhibition and then look at these water bodies as an anchor point to the city’s history, its present and its future.

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The exhibition comes at an interesting time when environmentalists in the city are protesting Pune Municipal Corporation's recently approved Mula-Mutha Riverfront Development Project. They fear it will impact the biodiversity around the rivers. Mathur believes that the exhibition will help citizens understand the city’s water bodies and how development is impacting them. “Through the stories, the exhibition tries to encourage people to view rivers not just from a utilitarian but from an inter-disciplinary point of view, so that their actions are driven by a more complete understanding of the river,” she says.

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