Adalaj Vav (Stepwell) is a unique Hindu ‘water building’ in the village of Adalaj, close to Ahmedabad town in Gandhinagar district in the Indian state of Gujarat.
The stepwell was built in 1499 by Muslim king Mohammed Begda for Queen Rani Roopba, wife of Veer Singh, the Vaghela chieftain. The step well or ‘Vav’, as it is called in Gujarati, is intricately carved and is five stories in depth. Such step wells were once integral to the semi arid regions of Gujarat as they provided basic water needs for drinking, washing and bathing. These wells were also venues for colorful festivals and sacred rituals.
Stepwells, also called stepped ponds, built between the 5th and 19th centuries, are common in the west of India; over 120 such wells are reported in the semi-arid region of Gujarat alone, of which the well at Adalaj is most popular. While many such structures are utilitarian in construction, they sometimes include significant architectural embellishments, as in the Adlaj stepwell, which attracts a large number of tourists. In the past, these stepwells were frequented by travelers and caravans as stopovers along trade routes.
The history of the Adalaj step-well built in 1498 is established by an inscription in Sanskrit found on a marble slab positioned in a recess on the first floor, from the eastern entry to the well. Its construction was started by Rana Veer Singh of the Vaghela dynasty of Dandai Desh.
But he was killed in a war, where after the Muslim king Mahmud Begada of a neighbouring state built it in Indo-Islamic architectural style, in 1499.
As per legend the 15th century, Rana Veer Singh of the Vaghela dynasty, a Hindu ruler, reigned over this territory, then known as Dandai Desh. His kingdom was attacked by Mohammed Begda, the Muslim ruler of a neighboring kingdom. The Rana king was killed and his territory occupied by the invader. Rana Veer Singh’s widow, a beautiful lady known by the name Rani Roopba, though in deep grief at the death of her husband, agreed to a marriage proposal made by Mahmud Begada on the condition that he would first complete the building of the stepwell. The Muslim king who was deeply enamoured of the queen’s beauty agreed to the proposal and built the well in record time.
Once the well was completed, Begda reminded the queen of her promise to marry him. instead the queen who had achieved her objective of completing the stepwell started by her husband, decided to end her life, as mark of devotion to her husband. She circumambulated the stepwell with prayers and jumped into the well, ending the saga of building the well in tragedy. These events are depicted on the walls of the well. Begda however allowed the well to remain without any defacing.
One version which is narrated in the 200 years old scriptures of Lord Swaminarayan sect suggests that before she died, Rani Roopba religious saints to take bath into this stepwell so that the water of the stepwell gets the touch of purity of these saints, and she would get deliverance.
Another is linked to the tombs found near the well. The tombs of six masons who built the well are seen near the Vav. Begda asked the Masons if they could build another similar well. But when they agreed Begda put them to death instead. Begda was so impressed by the architectural excellence of the stepwell that he did not want a replica to be built.
Built in sand stone in Solanki architectural style, the Adlaj stepwell is five stories deep. It is octagonal (8-sided polygon) in plan at the top, built on intricately carved large number of pillars. Each floor is spacious enough to provide for people to congregate. It was dug deep to access ground water at that level, accounting for seasonal fluctuations in water level due to rainfall over the year. The air and light vents in the roofs at various floors and at the landing level are in the form of large openings.
Intricate carving in the well structure
The temperature inside the well is said to be about five degrees lower than the outside hot summer temperatures. This encouraged the women who came to fetch water to spend more time in the cool climes here. They stayed to worship the gods and goddesses and gossip.
( History : Internet)
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