The unique underground architectural marvels called the Rani’s Step- wells have been the hot spots of Gujarat since forever.
This underground construction peculiar to the Gujarat region (except for southern Gujarat) was the outcome of the hot, arid climate and the paucity of water available for people in the region. These Step-wells celebrate water and take the architecture of the region to great heights (quite literally)
Step-wells can be found in towns like Patan, Jhinjuwada, Viramgam, Sarsa, Dhadhalpur, Chobri, Anandpur and all the way up to the coast in Somnath.
There are hundreds of these ‘water shrines’ in Gujarat, but the step-wells of Adalaj (near Ahmedabad) and the Ranki ki vav of Patan (the old Solanki capital in the north of Gujarat) are the supreme examples of this subterranean architecture.
These step-wells or rather “stepped wells” (as such a step-well was accessible through steps), known as “vav” in Gujarati, were always built on the caravan trade routes. These great subterranean water structures provided the travelers and their animals with rest, water and other supplies for their journey on the trade routes. But these vavs were also religious places apart from being resting and meeting places, and in times of wars and insurrections, they also became hiding places! Even today some communities perform certain crucial rites like marriage at the Adalaj step-well.
Adalaj ni vav
As we get down from the car, confusion fills me about the atmosphere around the so called monument, I mean, where is the monument? I know it’s subterranean, still.
There was no hassle, no build up, and no exaggeration was given to the place. As we entered the compound, there was a rather simple, and small peach temple which would have been a very recent addition to the site, I thought. And people were flowing in and out of that temple. And beside it was the vav, Adalaj. Appears to be flat on top with a small portion of the walls rising till one’s ankle, maybe?
As I inched towards the steps that led us to the first level, I saw a lot of people proceeding to the other side, and not entering the well, but I chose to go in. The first octagonal space was completely open to sunlight and hence was brightly lit; it had a very wide range of stairs on the opposite side that took us back upstairs. The place was so enchanting, that I forgot to take any snaps at the first two levels. The well at the end of the five levels, was calling out to me, and without uttering a word, I made my way downstairs. As I reached the third level, I saw people moving around me at great speed, but to me, everything was as slow as a fairy tale. The intensity of light had reduced, and the diffused light hit the stone and its intricate carving, highlighting the beauty, leaving some in its shadow. The patterns of light and shade were so mesmerizing, that I decided it was worth a ‘shot’. Get it? *Wink*
As I started taking pictures, from the carvings on my left, I moved towards the colonnades that further emphasized the perspective of vision and guided me towards the centre, where my eyes landed on the moss coated brick end of the well. The wall had 6 openings, adding a royal appearance to it, with its pointed arches.
The green waters and its reflection of the light from above added a depth to the place, which intrigued me and further pulled me down, to the bottom most step of the well.
Aah, that grandeur!
The view of the top from down under, with each story of the well adding an octagonal frame to the sky, was the most beautiful frame I had witnessed. And my hands immediately went on to shoot that moment.
The step-well of Adalaj, built on the main caravan route of Ahmedabad and Patan (the then capital of Gujarat), was commissioned in 1499 AD by Rudabai, the widow of a Rajput noble Vikramsinh Vaghela.
Ruled by the Muslim sultans then, the style of architecture known as the Hindu-Muslim style had come into being in Gujarat. The Adalaj step-well is a magnificent example of this fusion of Hindu craftsmanship and the floral, geometric patterns of Islamic architecture.
All the five floors of the Adalaj structure use cross beams all along their lengths. This step-well, as described in the classical manuals of Hindu architecture, is a mesmerizing procession of arabesque designs, decorated columns, ornamental balconies with exquisite carvings, carved walls and niches with shrines of Hindu gods and goddesses, elephants, flowers, birds and Chhatris all through its five floors of length and breadth underground! The octagonal spaces unfold in front of the eyes while the steps take one to the circular well.
Rani ki Vav
The Ranki Vav, or the Ranki step-well, located within two kilometers north-west of today’s Patan in north of Gujarat is an incomparable example of step-well architecture which is why it is also known as the Queen of Step-wells. It was commissioned by the Solanki King Bhimdev’s (1022-1063 AD) wife Udaymati in 1063 AD. This colossal 64-meter long, 20 meter wide and 27 meter deep step-well has a touch of the divine in its architecture, which is why it is an ornament of the world architectural heritage. There are literally forests of ornamented columns here, and gardens of sculptures of Gods and Goddesses, balconies and carved entrances, that seem to lead to the heavens. This step-well also gives a glimpse of the classical Hindu architecture of the previous centuries and the mastery of the technique and materials that the artists and architects had achieved in their craft.
We stepped into Rani Ki vav at one of the sunniest hours, at 10 am. The sun lit up the entire well, and from on top, the entire structure appeared as one of of our architectural models, only that no one could achieve such perfection in terms of detail and structure. Rani ki Vav more than enchanting was a very stupendous and massive structure that floored me with its scale. As we climbed down, what, a million stairs, the sheer volume of the space expanded profusely.
The walls of the step well were filled with intricate carvings of many Hindu deities, and sacred animals. One by one, towards the vanishing point, row by row and column by column, we admired the sculptures as we descended the stairway. Much to our disappointment and dismay, we weren’t allowed to proceed any further after having descended three levels. We even tried to sneak into the place only to be caught by the security guard, who later told us about how the earthquake in Gujarat had caused a lot of damage to that part of the well, and how fatally dangerous it is to be crossing the barriers. After having listened to that, our curiosity was at its peak, and so we went up to the top of the well and to the other side to look at the bottom of the well from there.
The depths that added mystery, the carvings that added beauty, overall, the circular water-well were a visual treat. But then, there was the heat which made us make a move after taking a couple of shots. We left the place with a half-heart and abundant curiosity to find more about the history of Rani Ki Vav.
Adalaj: 8.30 am | No entry fee
Rani ki Vav opens by 9:00, so be there by 9 to avoid excessive heat (In summers) | Entry fee: Rs. 15