The state of Gujarat is usually known for it’s venerable skill of entrepreneurship. The ‘White Revolution’ emanating from the Verghese Kurien led efforts at Anand, is known throughout the world. That made India the largest producer of Milk in world. The Fortune 500 listed, Reliance Group led by another Gujarati also highlights the scale to which a Gujarati entrepreneur can go. This spirit of profit making grand ventures at a huge scale is matched equally by the the spirit of charity and general welfare, exemplified inter-alia in various step wells built over Gujarat and called locally as Vav or Vavadi. These were built in whole of western India including present day Pakistan for providing and maintaining scarce water resources of the time. These step well built on the important roads of the time and near habitations were primarily for providing water for drinking and allied activities in this most western and semi arid state of India. The wells present a window to the traditional water storage systems prevalent in those days. They also underline the utilitarian concept of the architecture prevalent at that time in western India, compared to subsequent magnificent eye-popping grand structures of then contemporary India. It surely reflects the value added and people friendly architectural-cultural heritage of India.The vavs at some places were used as a part of irrigation system by adding sluice gate on the rim of the well and by lifting water from the well through rahat type structures and then pushing the lifted water to the field nearby for irrigation.
I happened to visit one of these most beautiful five storied step well of India, situated in village Adalaj, at 18 km from Ahmedabad. It was built in Solanki style by Rani Ruda, wife of Vaghela chief Veer Singh in 1498( year of Vasco De Gama’s discovery of India). This is one of the most prominent step well of the region and is known by its utility blended with some marvelous architectural work Some stories associate it with Muslim King, Mohmood Begda and his support to the project and subsequent impact of Islamic structure. The stepwell is five storyed and made of sand stone. Its shape is octagonal and entrance is from south. The entrance leads down to three floors which have rooms at each floor and and had space for congregations. These floors are supported by intricately carved pillars. The various patterns and carvings carved on various floors and pillars are one of the finest examples of 15th century architecture.
The three pair of staircases finally lead to the square shaped stepwell at water level. In between there are adequate provisions of air and sunshine at each level. The motifs of flowers and Jain and Hindu Gods gel well with the Islamic architecture too. A panel showing 9 Navgrahas is shown at the door on eastern side of second storey. The walls are adorned with carvings of woman attending daily chores of life, like churning milk and decorating themselves. These wells seem to have been the congregation places for women performing various religious and social functions. Interestingly, the wells are still the sacred and integral part of marriages in India. Few mandatory rituals are still performed at wells, in all most all parts of India. Though with depleting wells, these are now performed at different water sources including ubiquitous hand pump now a days!.
Going down to the well and coming back up, you can feel a difference in temperatures inside the well and outside. In the third week afternon of November I could very clearly notice the temperature difference of 4 to 5 degrees between in and out. It would have been a really soothing place in this semi arid land of Gujarat and with the clean water to quench the thirst for travelers, traders and habitats nearby. Being there, one can not but feel even after 516 years, the contribution of Rani Ruda and his people oriented architects, to the society in right earnest.