Saturday, January 9, 2010

Back to the Blog and a Step well

A trip through parts of North India, covering Shimla and Delhi followed by Pune, and then again to Ahmedabad over the last month, coupled with flaky internet connectivity in most of these places has meant a long break from blogging. In any case, I have blogged already about Shimla and the Indian Institute of Advanced Study and there was nothing about Delhi and Humayun's Tomb and Qutb Minar (as part of a guided tour of Delhi that I took some colleagues on) that I could say which had not already been said before. Many of these sites have now become World Heritage Sites which means they are far better preserved and presented than earlier when I was growing up in Delhi. A repeat visit to these sites, if you haven't seen then recently, is worth the time and effort.

This post is therefore about something that is unfamiliar to most Indians except those who have visited and toured Gujarat since it is unique to that part of the country. Temples, mosques, mausoleums, forts are a dime a dozen in India, of every possible variety and ethnicity. However Step Wells or Vav (Baoli in Hindi) are almost unique to Gujarat (very few exist elsewhere) and are an interesting concept.

Step wells are deep tanks that reach down upto the level of the water in the ground, with stairwells to allow people to descend to the bottom of the well. Unlike an ordinary tank, step wells can be of great architectural significance with very complex architectural structures and carvings in the walls leading down to the water table below. It's common is Western India (mainly in Gujarat) but apparently also exist in Pakistan and is typical of dry and arid environments. It allowed the local populace to come down to the level of the water table and complete their washing and bathing rather than exert themselves to lift the water all the way to the top from such great depths.

One of the grandest of the step wells (and which we saw this time) is Rani ki Vav in Patan in Gujarat. This was constructed by Udaymati, queen of Raja Bhimdeva (of the Solanki dynasty) in the 11th century C. E. This is a massive structure 64m by 20m and is 27m deep constructed in a pillared multi storeyed form. The walls are adorned with beautiful sculptures depicting figures from Indian mythology -- the various avatars of Vishnu and other gods, like Ganesha, Surya and Kuber and numerou females figurines in the pose of apsaras and yoginis. It's one of the largest step wells of its kind in India and preserved remarkably well for all its 1000 year history, with not a little help I suppose from the Archaeological Survey of India.

The Adalaj ni Vav at Adalaj near Ahmedabad is another beautiful step well we visited. While much smaller in size that the grand Rani ni Vav it is nonetheless noted for its structure and carvings which are very intricate.

16 comments:

Anant said...

Welcome back to the blogosphere (blogland? bloglandia? blogia?) OLO. In the days of Tata Photon, one cannot accept excuses of poor internet connectivity from technophiles such as yourself.

Thanks for the photos.

Yhs.

Rahul Basu said...

Alas I don't have the tata Photon (nor, for that matter, the Reliance electron or the BSNL proton)....

Anant said...

Or the Airtel neutralino?

RING said...

教育的目的,不在應該思考什麼,而是教吾人怎樣思考.........................

Meena said...

Beautiful photos!

And forgive the ignorance, but tell me nonetheless: if you can send mails with a signature line "This mail sent from my iPod", why can't you also update blogs from iPod?

Rahul Basu said...

Indeed I can -- but on a small screen with a virtual keyboard, it is difficult to hold forth at length on deep and significant topics :)

sunder and sonati said...

Lovely photos; and a very interesting subject, too. I think such structures and various other water related structures are also present in Rajasthan.
There is a great book by Anupam Mishra called Rajasthan ki Rajat Boonden which we have read in its English translation (The Radiant Raindrops of Rajasthan). It is a lyrical (one would almost say poetic) account of traditional water harvesting methods in Rajasthan.

Rahul Basu said...

If it's lyrical one should probably read it in Hindi which I presume you can. Radiant Raindrops is a somewhat artificial English phrase compared to Rajat Boonden.

It's like Qurratulain Hyder's Patjhar ki Awaaz translated as Sound of falling Leaves. Patjhar connotes so much more than the sound of falling leaves.

AmOK said...

OLO: Many thanks for the luvly pix & info. Keep it up.

gaddeswarup said...

Here is a comment from a friend of friend "I saw an interesting programme about water the other day. It showed
pictures of some remarkably beautiful stepwells somewhere in India,
no doubt a princely gift to the people. One of the program's
assertions was that the British were not all that clever about
water management in India, perhaps because they had too much of it
in these islands, and this failing was certainly a nail in the coffin
of the Raj. They thought stepwells were unhygienic, when in fact their
own canals were responsible for malaria. I suppose that quite a lot of research into the archives would be needed to make this charge stick."
Do you have any comments that I can pass on?

Rahul Basu said...

gaddeswarup: There is some evidence that the mixing of bathing and drinking water was unhygienic. The same is true of enclosed ponds or lakes in India where there is not sufficient water flow. There are no separate areas where the 'used' water could flow to in these step wells; therefore the possibility of disease was always significant, and also, because of the mingling of some forms of black water with drinking water, the prevalence of guinea worm.

In that sense the development of the concept of running water through taps was taken up by the British with other unfortunate consequences. Here is an article you might find informative.

gaddeswarup said...

Thanks. I passed on the link and a link to your post to Kalyan Mukherjea. Unfortunately he is blind and wo'nt be able to see the pictures

N. Sukumar said...

There are such step wells even in Delhi, e.g. the Agrasen ki Baoli (check it out on Wikipedia) and the ruins of another I've seen within Tuglaqabad fort, but not as beautiful carvings as you show here.

SEO said...

Really you visited at the nice place.....Good... Continue enjoy your life and post continue such nice articles.

Website Designs UK

Thanks

Celeste Goulding said...

Wonderful photographs, Rahul. I hope to visit this place one day :)

Manoj Kusshwaha said...

wonderful photography and nice clicks