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Step wells of India

Printed From: History Community ~ All Empires
Category: Regional History or Period History
Forum Name: History of the South Asian subcontinent
Forum Discription: The Indian sub-continent and South Central Asia
Printed Date: 09-Jul-2020 at 13:55
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 9.56a -

Topic: Step wells of India
Posted By: Jinit
Subject: Step wells of India
Date Posted: 17-Mar-2013 at 17:25
Step wells of India also known as water sancturies, underground palaces, water shrines, vav or baori are one of the most extraordinary and most unique yet very little known part of Indian architecture, especially the beautifully carved step wells of western India.
The western India has hot and semi arid climate and  depands mostly on the the two months of monsoon for the water supply. also in case of Rajputana they were in constant conflict with the delhi sultanate and as such it became necessary to store the enough quantity of water to withstood the probable seige. And as a result many step wells were built into the western India during medieval time period primarily for the storage of water and also as a resting place for the travellers in some cases. also as it was deep, the base of the well also provided relief from the scorching heat of the summer. Most of the step wells have deep verticle shaft which is sometimes patially or fully covered and the stairs to reach down the base of the water. The sides of the stairway are beautifully decorated mostly with mythological figures.
below are Some of the best known examples of step wells of India.
PS: this is my first post on this forum. So please excuse me and point me out if I break any rules of the forum.

Posted By: Jinit
Date Posted: 17-Mar-2013 at 17:26
Step well of Adalaj
The step well of Adalaj is situated just outside the Ahmedabad city. (and very close to my home Big smile ). It is one of the best preserved step well from medieval time period which perfectly blends the Indian style of architecture with the Islamic one. The well is also unique from the others as it has entrance from 3 sides.
According to the legend the work on the step well was started during the 15th century by Rana veer singh -the last king of Vaghela dyansty that previously ruled the Gujarat. The area came under the attack of the Muslim ruler of Champaner - Muhhamed begda. HE defeated and killed the king. However Begda was deeply mesmerized by the beauty of the young queen of the Veer singh and fell in love. He made proposal for marriage. However queen put the condition before the begda that she will marry him only if he completes the work on the step well started by the late king. The Muhhamed begda completed the work of the step well within short period of time. The queen demanded to visit the step well. The sultan agreed to her wish. However after inspecting the step well she jumped into the well and ended her life. according another legend she escaped through the underground chamber and freed herself.
Planning of the step well
Some photographs of the well taken from the net.
Carvings around the central well
Shelters are provided on each floor so that travellers can rest there. Also there are no direct stairs for the purpose of the safety.
Some beautiful carvings on the wall.

Posted By: Jinit
Date Posted: 17-Mar-2013 at 18:52
Rani ki vav, Patan
Rani ki vav (literaly meaning Step well of the queen) was built by the queen Udaymati in the meory of the late king Bhimdev I of the Solanki dyansty during the 11th century which is benerally considered as the Golden age for the Gujarat. It is situated in the Patan (known as Anhilwar) which was the traditional capital of Gujarat  before the conquest of Gujarat by the Delhi sultanate. The step well is one of the most richly decorated step well in India. Althaugh it fell into the state of ruins after the sack of Anhilwar. recent earthquake also damaged its foundation. However fortunately most of the carvings are still intact and haven't been defaced.
The step well is dominated by the female scuptures known as Apsara (beautiful woman), most probably because it was built by the queen. There are also sculpters of various mythological figures particularly differant incarnations of Lord Vishnu.
Some photographs taken from net
The sculpture in the middle most probably depicts the incarnation of Lord Vishnu in the form of the Boar. While the sculpture of the lady on the left side depicts the defination of the ideal woman. The woman can think properly even in the time of the troubles like the owl can see even at night, she is as beautifual as peacock and as sensitive as fish however she is also as dengerous as Cobra. (Owl is shown above her head, peacock behind the leg ,Fish in the hand and cobra wraped around her body)
Sculpture in the middle is most probably goddess Durga. On the Right side a sculpture showing the woman applying the make up. There are various sculpture depicting the 16 differant styles of make upto loo beautiful known as Solha sringhar.
I am not sure but this is most probably Sculpture of the Sun god.
This design is stlll common in the "Patola saree" made in Patan.

Posted By: Nick1986
Date Posted: 17-Mar-2013 at 19:48
What is the purpose of all the intricate engravings? Was this well originally part of a temple?

Me Grimlock not nice Dino! Me bash brains!

Posted By: Jinit
Date Posted: 17-Mar-2013 at 21:02
Originally posted by Nick1986

What is the purpose of all the intricate engravings? Was this well originally part of a temple?
As I said earlier  they are the symbolic representations of various mythological stories and the differant aspects of life. and  are mostly for the aesthetic purpose. However the carvings also suggest that the place might have been used for rituals, ceremonial and social purposes.  Besides Its good to have divine presance near the source of water especially when the water is scarce in the area. Althaugh these are just assumptions from my side. I am not sure about the exact purpose.
It was originally built as step well. It wasn't the part fo any temple.

Posted By: TheAlaniDragonRising
Date Posted: 17-Mar-2013 at 22:31
I'm getting the sense of deities, fertility, and power from the intricate stone work, Jinit. Do you have any stories for these lovely architectural masterpieces? 

What a handsome figure of a dragon. No wonder I fall madly in love with the Alani Dragon now, the avatar, it's a gorgeous dragon picture.

Posted By: Jinit
Date Posted: 18-Mar-2013 at 00:27
Originally posted by TheAlaniDragonRising

I'm getting the sense of deities, fertility, and power from the intricate stone work, Jinit. Do you have any stories for these lovely architectural masterpieces? 
Indeed you are getting the right impression.  :)
Those beautiful women are known as "Apsara" which are sometimes associated with the spirits of the clouds and waters. They are also the dancers in the court of the Indra. (Indra - Zeus of Hinduism) -
They might be "Yogini" also who are the female sages or have attained the spiritual mastery of Yoga. They are associated with the cult of Tantrism and some of the followers of tantrism used to practice fertility rituals and some other dark magic. -
The lady with multiple hands in the 9th photograph is the Goddess Durga killing the Mahishasur. According to the story the Mahishasur was Asura who has ability to change from human to water buffalo at  his will. He was invincible to all the men. He defeated the Indra and conquered the heaven. The Devas then transefred all their powers to create a beautiful goddess named Durga with Tiger as her mount. She killed the Mshishasur after the fierce fight for the ten days.  The victory is celebrated as the Festival of Navratri in western state of Gujarat and As Durga pooja in Eastern states which lasts for 10 days. - -
The male dieties are major gods of Hindu pantheon like Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Sun, Kuber, Indra and so on.  Many of the photographs that I posted depicts the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. For eg the sculpture with the Boar head (8th photograph in the above post) is the third incarnation of Vishnu known as "Varaha avatar". Every incarnation has a mythological story attached to it. The last photograph in the 2nd post also depicts the differant incarnations of the Lord Vishnu. The left one is most probably Lord Ram. Btw The first incarnation of the Lord Vishnu was the Fish and the story is similar to that of the great flood of abrhamic religions. -
Hope this will be helpful. Smile
Btw Recently some scottish experts made the 3d version of Rani ki vav. Here is the video. -

Posted By: TITAN_
Date Posted: 18-Mar-2013 at 04:32
Impressive art! So, that is 1000 years old, right?

αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν
Een aristevin
“Ever to Excel“
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Motto of the University of St Andrews (founded 1410), the Edinburgh Academy (founded 1824) and others.

Posted By: Jinit
Date Posted: 18-Mar-2013 at 11:26
Originally posted by TITAN_

Impressive art! So, that is 1000 years old, right?
Indeed. one of the most beautiful monuments that I have seen in India.
The first one was built in the 15th century while the second one was built in the 11th century. So second one is 1000 years old. Fortunately after the fall of the City of Patan it remained burried under the earth for the most of the time period untill 1950 when Archeological survey of India restored it. Thats why its preserved so well and haven't been defaced by the Islamic invaders.
Even the insides of the well are very well preserved.

Posted By: Jinit
Date Posted: 18-Mar-2013 at 12:00
Some anothe mythological stories and Hindu dieties carved in the Rock
The first idol from the left side is most probably Lord Rama or Lord Krishna, the central one is Lord Buddha and the one on the Right side is Kalki.
In Hindusim Buddha is considered as one of the incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
Kalki is the last incarnation of Lord vishnu which is yet to come. According to story he will come on the white horse carrying a sword in his hand to remove the darkness and ignorance from the earth and will start the new era and new cycle. -
Vaman avatar - or incarnation as Dwarf - which is the fifth incarnation of the Lord Vishnu. According to the story Asura king Mahabali conquered the 3 worlds - Heaven , earth and the underworld. Lord Vishnu appered infront of him as an ugly dwarf carrying an unbrella and asked for the 3 paces of the land in the alms. The bali granted his wish. After that Vamana grew into immense size and covered the entire heaven in the first step, Earth and the underworld in the second step thus covered the everything conquered by Bali. to fulfill his promise the Bali offered his head to put the 3rd step. Impressed by his honesty lord Vishnu granted him immortality. -
One interesting fact is that in Hindu mythology Deva or the Sura are the protagonist which fights against the Asura or evil. While in persian or Zoroastrian mythology Asuras are shown as protecting the truth against the evil suras!!! Smile
Bhiarava - a fierce form of  Lord Shiva
According to legend once the Lord Brahma boasted against the Lord Vishnu and Shiva that he is superior to the two of them as he was the one who created the universe so the two should worship him. This made the lord Shiva angry and he incarnated in the form of fierce Bhairava to punish the Lord Brahma. He cut one of the heads of Lord Brahma as shown in his hands. After that Brahma is depicted only with the four heads. -
Lord Vishnu in his original Chaturbhuj ( iefour hands) form carrying Lotus , Conch shell, mace and Chakra in his four hands.
Kubera - worshipped as lord of wealth and usually depicted as ugly dwarf carrying a money bag in his hand and mongoose to fight the Nagas or snakes who usually gurads the treasure. -

Posted By: Centrix Vigilis
Date Posted: 18-Mar-2013 at 12:28
Very impressive. Good synopsis. Excellent pics.

"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"

S. T. Friedman

Pilger's law: 'If it's been officially denied, then it's probably true'

Posted By: Jinit
Date Posted: 18-Mar-2013 at 14:16
Thanks Centrix Vigilis. Smile
Back on the topic.
Step wells of Bundi
The small town of Bundi in Rajsthan is famous for the step wells. There are as many as 50 step wells in the town. In the past they used to be the sole supply of water of the town. However after the arrival of tube wells they fallen out of use. Most of them are currently in bismal condition.
An artifical lack (Nawal sagar lake)  is created in the middle of the city to elevate the water level and to provide the water to these step wells. A shrine dedicated to the "Varuna" ( God of water) can also be seen in the lake which is half submerged in the water.
The biggest and the most famous ste well of Bundi is Rani ji ki Baori (step well of the Queen) which was built by Queen Nathawat during 17th century.
From above
Main entrance
Side entrance
Also notice the shrines built in the walls of both the sides

Posted By: Jinit
Date Posted: 18-Mar-2013 at 14:56
some other step wells from Bundi
Step well of Dhabhai
Twin step wells of Nagar Sagar

Posted By: Jinit
Date Posted: 18-Mar-2013 at 17:40
Step wells of Delhi
Step wells of delhi aren't as much impressive and magnificent as that of Gujarat but none the less they are the reminders of the glorious past of the Delhi. Before the colonial rule there were many baolis in the Delhi which were not only the source of drinking water but also the important place for the social gatherings in the scorching heat of Delhi.  Most of the Baoils disappear with the time and currently according to ASI there are only 15 baolis that are proper condition.
Rajon ki Baoli (Step well of stone masons ?)
It is situated in the Mehrulli archelogical park. and isn't that much impressive in comparision to the other monuments of the park like Qutub minar. It was built by Daulat khan during the reign of Sikandar lodhi during the early 16th century.
Baoli of the Red fort
The step well inside the red fort is older than the red fort itself. The step well was most probably built in 14th century while the red fort was built in 17th century. During the British era the cellars of the step well were used as a prison for the soldiers of the Indian national army.
 Gandhak ki baoli
Gandhak means Sulphar. The step well was known as the Gandhak ki baoli due to the Sulphar its in water and as such the step well had medicianl significance. It was also known as diving step well as it was used for the recreational purpose. The step well was built during the reign of the Emperor Iltutmish who was the first rulers of the slave dynasty - one of the five dynasties that ruled the Delhi before the arrival of Mughals.
From the last two photographs it seems that ASI has recently renovated the step well.

Posted By: Jinit
Date Posted: 18-Mar-2013 at 18:42
Ugrasen ki Baoli (stepwell of Ugrasen)
The step well of agrasen is located in the very centre of city with the high rise buildings of the Cannaught place in the background. It directly joins the 21st century with the 14th century.

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