Written By Aarav Kumar (Grade 7)
Gujarat is not among the water-rich states of India. It is arid, and as a result of the water scarcity, water is treated as a sacred element. In the Middle Ages especially, this scarcity gave rise to the construction of step-wells to store water. These step wells soon started taking on a more ornamental form, becoming representations of the architecture and culture of their times. One of these is the Rani Ki Vav, at Patan near the now-dry Saraswati River, in Gujarat, a symbol of Maru-Gurjara architecture.
The Rani Ki Vav was commissioned in 1063 CE by Rani Udayamati of the Solanki Dynasty, which ruled over Gujarat and Rajasthan. Most probably, it was to be a memorial to her husband, Bhimsen I. The construction took more than 20 years, ending around 1085 CE. Within a few centuries, the step-well was buried underneath sand and silt. However, experts do not agree on the cause. Some believe that it was silted over as a result of massive floods in the Saraswati. Others believe it was silted over naturally over many years. Whatever the case, despite being buried for centuries, the structure is still in good shape. In the 1940s, excavations were carried out, revealing the magnificent step-well. Carefully choreographed restorations were carried out by the ASI after independence.
The step-well is a classic example of Maru-Gurjara architecture at its height, and is quite architecturally similar to the Vimalavasahi Temple at Mount Abu, a prominent Jain temple. This style of architecture consists of ornate sculptures carved into niches on the building exterior, and even more decorations adorning the interior. The step-well is 65 metres long, 20 metres wide and 28 metres deep. A grand staircase leads from the ground level to the basin. It is seven stories deep, of which five are still preserved. The staircase is intercepted at regular intervals by multi-storeyed pavilions. There is also a storage tank for excess water. The water here is believed to have medicinal properties, owing to the presence of many herbs along the well in the past. Near the well is also a gate opening into a tunnel leading to a nearby town called Sidhpur. It is believed that this tunnel was used as an escape route during invasions.
The step-well looks more like a temple than a place to store water, and this was done with a deep reason in mind. The well was constructed as an inverted temple, highlighting the sanctity of water. Most of the thousands of sculptures on the walls are of the Ten Avatars of Vishnu. Near the water level is a carving of Lord Vishnu reclining on the serpent Shesha. Till 2001, tourists could go right up to the water level, but ever since the Bhuj earthquake, it has been prohibited. This monument was marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014 and has also received the title of India’s Cleanest Iconic Place.
This step-well is not just a place for storing water; it is an architectural wonder. With its massive pavilions and ornate walls, all tourists are left starstruck. It also delivers a very important message, one relevant to us today; the sanctity of water. All these reasons and more probably contributed to its being represented on the new ₹100 note.
Featured Image Courtesy – Gujarat Tourism