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Queen of wells

Fit for a queen: Rani Ki Vav showcases the brilliant architecture of step wells in ancient times. Photo: Harsh Kabra  

Imagine a well that is large enough to fit 15 badminton courts? Or a well that is as deep as a seven-storied building? Or a well that looks more like a temple full of beautiful sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses? Rani Ki Vav in Gujarat is a unique well that combines all this and more. Rani Ki Vav was recently named a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Place to chill out

The Saraswati, one of India’s seven sacred rivers, is believed to have flowed beside the vav. When the river changed its course, it flooded the vav and buried it. The vav was found by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) almost nine centuries later. ASI started excavating the site in 1958 and removed the silt and debris to recover the vav.

The restoration began in 1982 and was completed in 1988. Some people believe that the Solanki rulers poured earth into the vav to save it from invading armies. Whatever the case may be, the mud helped preserve the vav’s sandstone sculptures.

Like other stepwells, this too provided not just water, but also an escape from the hot weather and a meeting place for the community. The vav was partly roofed so that light could reach its deepest part. It served as an additional palace for the queen and her attendants.

The vav has a long stairway leading to the water. The air becomes cooler as you pass through several pavilions that rest on richly-carved stone pillars and beams. Only five of the original seven storeys remain today. No other stepwell is as richly decorated as Rani Ki Vav. It has over 400 major and more than 1,000 minor carvings based on religious, mythological and literary themes. The image of Vishnu reclining on the thousand-hooded serpent Shesha forms the focal point of the vav.

Other than deities, the vav has an impressive display of apsaras (dancers in the court of Indra), making it the only well to have so many apsaras. Udayamati's knowledge of Bharatanatyam is clearly visible in the gestures of the apsaras.

The vav highlights that water is a sacred blessing for life on earth. It turns the simple act of collecting water into a celebration of human creativity.

Fascinating facts

Built between 1063-1068 AD in the Maru-Gurjara architectural style.

Oriented east-west, the vav is 64 metres long, 20 metres wide, and 28 metres deep.

The well is located at the western end of the vav and consists of a shaft, 10 metres in diameter.

Some carvings in Rani Ki Vav resemble the mirrored textiles of the region.

The vav has graceful carved images of Vishnu (ten incarnations or avatars), Shiva, Ganesh, Laxmi, Parvati, Durga ( Mahishasur Mardini), Brahma, Kubera, Bhairava, Surya, Ashtadikpalas (guardians of the eight directions), and others accompanied by sadhus and various female figures such as apsaras (celestial dancers), nagkanyas (mythological serpent women), and yoginis (women who practice Yoga).

A small gate below the last step of the vav is said to have opened into a 30-kilometre tunnel built to help the King escape to the town of Sidhpur near Patan in an emergency.

Water in vav the said to have had medicinal qualities because of ayurvedic plants that grew around it.

Looking back

Located in Patan, a town earlier known as Anhilpur, it was the capital of Gujarat for over 600 years, Rani Ki Vav is a stepwell where you descend several steps to get to the water. It is one of the most magnificent stepwells in India. It was built by Queen Udayamati more than 950 years ago in memory of her husband King Bhimdev I (1022-63) of the Solanki dynasty. That is how the stepwell got its name. It means Queen’s step well in Gujarati.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2021 9:24:22 PM |

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