Stepwells are unique structures that were built during the bygone era, primarily to store water. These structures were built in the semi-arid regions, and acted as primary source of water to the villagers residing nearby. Some of these stepwells also used to act as shelters to travellers, who used to escape the scotching heat of the mid-day sun. There are many stepwells in India, starting from New Delhi (Agrasen Ki Baoli), to Rajasthan (Chand Baori), to Gujarat (Adalaj Stepwell), to Telangana, to Karnataka (Hampi). It is believed that there are about 200 stepwells at different places, just in Gujarat! Of all the stepwells, the one at Adalaj stands out from the rest. It is both due to its amazing architecture, and thrilling stories and legends associated with it!
Architecture of Adalaj Stepwell
Adalaj Stepwell is an excellent example to Indo-Islamic Architecture. It is a five floor structure, where each floor is uniquely designed with intricate carvings on the walls and pillars. The well itself is octogonal shaped, and has steps leading to it. Three different set of stairs start from three different directions, and converge at one floor below the ground. Beyond that place, it is a single set of stairs that leads you to the bottom of the well. Each floor of the stepwell has place to rest. Every floor of the stepwell is designed such that no direct sunlight falls on the floor! As you reach the bottom of the well, you can see the orthogonal opening at the top! Yes, the well can be viewed directly from the top as well!
Apart from the incredible design of the stepwell, it also has some intricate carvings on each floor. Towards the bottom of the well, you can see the carvings of several Hindu dieties. You can also observe some carvings based on the simple daily lives of people in that era. Some carvings show about dancers, and musicians, while others show king sitting on a throne!
Towards the top of the stepwell, you can see the Islamic floral designs that blend well with the other sculptures on the lower floors. Many floral designs are intricately carved out which can stun you with its beauty. Few dome shaped doors, windows, and a projected seating area are of prime attractions to all visitors.
History of Adalaj Stepwell
The history of Adalaj Stepwell has several emotions attached to it. It may look like the one coming straight out of one of the movies: it has love, dedication, respect and betrayal! The story starts with a people loving king Rana Veer Singh, who had a small kingdom called Dandai Desh in this region. The king, along with his beautiful wife, Rani Roopba (also called Roodabai), happily used to serve people in this kingdom. Adalaj was a trade route in those times, and people in the region often complained to the king about the scotching heat under the mid-day sun, and the lack of water in this dry and barren region. The king wanting to help the travellers/traders decided to construct the stepwell (a common structure during those times to store water). He also decided to design the stepwell to aid traders in taking shelter during the day. The construction of the stepwell began during 1498-1499 timeframe.
While the construction was going on, the king of neighbouring kingdom, Mohammed Begda attacked Dandai Desh. During this battle, the king Rana Veer Singh was killed, and the kingdom was taken over by Mohammed Begda. On hearing the tragic death of the king, Rani Roodabai wanted to perform Sati (a tradition of joining the husband afterlife by giving away her own life!). Mohammed Begda, who was swayed away by the beauty of the queen, prevented her from taking her own life, and also proposed to marry her! The queen surprisingly agreed to the proposal, but under one condition. She said she would marry Begda only if he completed the construction of the stepwell, which was the dream of King Rana Veer Singh to help the people in his kingdom. Begda agreed to this condition and allowed the construction to continue!
On successful completion of the stepwell, Mohammed Begda reminded Rani Roodabai of her promise to marry her. Rani Roodabai, on the pretext of checking if it is successfully completed, visited the stepwell. On observing that the dream of King Rana Veer Singh is now a reality, and her purpose of being alive (to see that the stepwell was built) was fulfilled , she decided to give her life away instead of getting married to King Mohammed Begda! She ended her life by jumping into this very stepwell!
On hearing the suicide of Rani Roodabai, King Mohammed Begda initially decided to destroy the stepwell in anger. Later, he decided against it as it was her last wish, and perhaps she was alive just to see the well get constructed! It is believed that the king later called all the six masons, and asked them if they could construct another stepwell similar to this one. When they said yes, instead of instructing them to construct one, he killed all of them!! The king was so impressed by the architectural beauty of the stepwell that he did not want the masons to construct another one of such immense beauty! The tombs where these masons were buried can be found next to the stepwell!
Usage of the stepwell
In spite of the tragic stories associated with the stepwell, it did serve its original purpose. The large open areas of each floor used to act as shelters for all the travellers. The villagers observed that the temperature inside the well was lower than the outside temperature. It also reduced as you get to the bottom of the well. The women who used to come to this well to collect water used to stay during the day. They also used to offer prayers carved out Gods and Goddesses during their visit, and later used to sit and gossip before heading back to their houses at the end of the day!
How to plan a visit?
Adalaj is located on the outskirts of the state capital of Gujarat, Gandhinagar. From Ahmedabad, it is just 18 km, and takes about 40 minutes to reach the place. There are several transport options to reach Adalaj, including the state run bus service. You can also hire an auto privately, or share an auto from Ahmedabad.
The stepwell today is maintained by the local authorities. There is no entrance ticket to the visitors. Being located in the close proximity to Ahmedabad, the place is often frequented by the locals, especially on Sundays and holidays. The stepwell opens to public at 8 AM, and remains open till 5 PM. If you are planning to visit Adalaj, it is advised to visit it early in the morning. That way, you will get enough time to appreciate the amazing architectural structures and its intricate carvings before the crowd starts settling in.
If you plan to hire a car for a full day, you can also combine this with a visit to the district of Patan. The Modhera Sun Temple, Rani Ki Vav (another magnificent stepwell), and Sahasralinga Talav in Patan district are a perfect combination to take you back to the 15th Century!
Where to stay?
|From||Distance (in km)|