Written By Falak Sharma (Grade 10)
I am talking about a few years back when I had visited the state of Gujarat with my family. It so happened that I was taught about stepwells in the subject of history in my class in those days. I told my parents that a stepwell is a well in which water is reached by descending with a set of steps to the water level. These are made like inversed building structures with various levels. They were curious in knowing more about stepwells. And this is when I came to know about one of the most popular UNESCO World Heritage Site – Rani Ki Vav in Patan, Gujarat. Being hodophiles we were planning to have a tour, and we planned it to Gujarat this time. The history of this popular stepwell goes like this…..
Rani Ki Vav is a thousand-year-old stepwell located on the banks of Saraswati River. This novel stepwell was constructed by the Queen and Spouse of the 11th Century Chaulukya King Bhima I, also the daughter of Naravaraha Khengara of Saurashtra – Udayamati. Construction of the stepwell started in 1063 and was completed 20 years later. It is usually thought that this was built in the memory of King Bhima I by Udayamati and was completed by Udayamati and Karna [Indian king from the Chaulukya (Solanki) dynasty of Gujarat] after his death. But one thing which is still disputed is whether Udayamati was a widow when she was commissioned to build the stepwell.
Later the stepwell was flooded by the Saraswati River. For many years this exquisite architecture was immersed under silt until it was discovered by Henry Cousens and James Burgess, in the 1890s. When the well was visited by them it was only the well shaft and a few pillars which were visible. They described it as a massive pit, 87 metres (285 ft) long. It was in the 1940s when the stepwell was revealed in the excavations carried out by the Baroda State. After 26 years again a major excavation and restoration was done by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). While the excavation was going on an image of the Queen Udayamati was also recovered. The restoration was carried out for six years, i.e., from 1981 to 1987.
Rani Ki Vav: literally meaning the Queen’s Stepwell: is one out of the finest of architecture in terms of its sculptures and its size in Gujarat. It was built by highly skilled craftsmen, excellent in stepwell construction. The Maru-Gurjara Architecture Style of the stepwell reflects the mastery of this complex architecture, its mesmerising details and proportions. The general architecture and some of the sculptures are similar to the Vimalavasahi Temple on Mount Abu and Sun Temple at Modhera. It measures approximately 65 metres (213 ft) long, 20 metres (66 ft) wide and 28 metres (92 ft) deep, as tall as a nine-storeyed building if it was taken to be as its height. Just imagine looking down into the well from the top. This stepwell is divided into seven levels of stairs which then leads down to a deep circular well. The fourth level is the deepest with a depth of 23 metres. Stepped corridors are provided at regular intervals with pillared multi-storey pavilions. These must-have been provided as compartments for resting or as changing rooms. The whole of the stepwell; its walls, pillars, columns, brackets and beams; are beautifully ornamented with carvings and scrollwork. The niches in the side walls are ornamented with beautiful and delicate figures and sculptures. An interesting fact is that there are 212 pillars in the stepwell. More than 500 principal sculptures of Bhagwan Vishnu and over 1000 minor ones combine religious and legendary imagery. It is ornamented by the universe inhabited by gods and goddesses; celestial beings; men and women; monks, priests and laity; animals, fishes and birds including real and mythical ones; as well as plants and trees; which adds to the beauty of the stepwell.
There are a lot more things to know about this epitome of creativity. A tour to Patan, Gujarat will surely fetch you an amazing experience as my family and I had a few years ago. But in these hard times of Covid, a VR experience would also do the same; or maybe even a better on…….
Featured Image Courtesy – Mystery of India