The forgotten step wells of Telangana

A step well at Ammapalli stands as an example of years of neglect.

A step well at Ammapalli stands as an example of years of neglect.

Imagine being in an arid, parched part of the youngest State of India. You badly want water, but all you see is miles of nothingness. And suddenly you find several flights of stairs leading to water.

No, its not a mirage! These are ‘step wells’ - wonderful structures that are now virtually forgotten. They are in a shambles and in a state of disuse. According to official records, there are just 41 of these in the State.

In contrast, a team of Hyderabad Design Forum (HDF), a guild of architects with an archaeological bent of mind, that undertook a three-week survey found 75 more of such step wells, across the State with the exception of the twin cities and Mahabubnagar district.

The HDF focussed on three of them for a closer analysis - Kolanpaka in Aler mandal, Rachakonda in Narayanpur mandal of Nalgonda district and Raigir in Bhongir mandal of Yadadri district. On the sidelines of the recently-concluded international seminar on archaeology titled ‘Rediscovering Telangana’, Yeshwant Ramamurthy of the forum said they were yet to complete the survey.

However, he drew attention to the point that after it was completed and the number of step wells established more accurately, they could go about their restoration.

Once restored, they could be integrated with the Telangana government’s Mission Kakatiya programme of restoring tanks and wells in the State to see that they could store water during monsoon. He hastened to add though, that it was too early to be talking of the extent of land they could irrigate.

The immediate benefits of such a drive would be that they would have water that could be used for drinking too, considering that on an average, each of them holds about 24 lakh litres.

“There is a scientific angle too. During Bathukamma, women play with floral decorations and they finally immerse them in the nearest water source - in this case, these wells. Natural beauty agents in these flowers dissolve in the water and purify it, giving them medicinal properties,” he said.

The HDF heard other interesting tales. There was a ‘dongala baavi’ (well of thieves) in Medak district where robbers would split the loot at night and a ‘Sringara baavi’ which the legendary Rani Rudrama Devi would visit at night for her beauty bath, disguised as a boy!

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2022 9:57:04 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/The-forgotten-step-wells-of-Telangana/article17056598.ece