Set in the quaint little village of Adalaj, the Adalaj-ni-vav-stepwell has been a popular destination amongst travelers for centuries. This magnificent structure was constructed by King Veer Singh, the Vaghela Chief and his wife Rudabai in 1499. The rules of Vaghela had firm control over Gujarat but only for a short time. They were the last Hindu monarchs to rule the region before the Muslim invasion. Medieval pieces of literature describe Vaghela kings as Agnivanshi Rajputs.
The Adalaj-ni-vav-stepwell was not just a utilitarian or cultural space but was also believed to be a spiritual refuge. The villagers would visit the stepwell every day not just to fill water but also to offer prayers to the deities carved on the walls. They also interacted with other locals sitting under the cool shade of the vav.
Adalaj-ni-vav-stepwell – An Extraordinary Structure
This beautiful structure descends five stories deep. There is an opening which allows light and air to enter the octagonal well. The sunlight does not touch the steps or the landing except for a brief period during noon. As per a few researchers, the temperature inside is six degrees cooler than its surroundings. This is one of the few step-wells in Gujarat having three entrance stairs.
The Adalaj stepwell is a spectacular example of Indo-Islamic design and architecture. The intricate floral patterns seam flawlessly into Jain and Hindu symbolism. This embodies ethos and culture prevalent during the period. The fifth floor is absolutely stunning. It offers the views of turquoise waters of the well that seems to flow with the inner light. The astonishing beauty surrounding the well is truly mesmerizing.
As you descend down, you will find the air growing cooler. The stepwell doesn’t allow harsh sunlight inside. The architecture was also meant to provide refuge to travelers and pilgrim. It has enough space to accommodate people on each level. The town of Adalaj was a trade route and this stepwell undoubtedly benefitted the travelers passing by.
The entire structure has been designed from sandstone. It is octagonal in shape if you look at the design from the top. It has been built on numerous pillars that have been intricately carved. It was dug deeper to access groundwater even despite fluctuations in water level in the region. The light and air vents are in the form of large openings across all levels. There are three staircases from the first level that lead visitors to the bottom.
The entrance to this structure is from the South. The staircases that provide entry into this stepwell are from east, west and south directions. There are four small rooms in the structure that have been decorated with intricately carved brackets. These are present at the four corners. At the bottom, you can notice a stepped floor square in shape. It funnels down to the lowest plane allowing the visitors access to water. The four corners are strengthened with stone beams and each beam has been set at forty-five degrees angle.
The carvings are simply captivating. On the upper floors, you can notice the dominant carvings of elephants. You can notice other carvings of women performing chores, adorning themselves. There are also carvings of performance of musicians and dancers. There is also a carving of a king overlooking these activities. The interesting depiction of carvings is the structure carved out of a single bock. It features Ami Khumbor which is considered to be pot that consists of water of life. You can also find carvings of Kalp Vriksha, which is believed to be tree of life.
The Tragic Tale of Adalaj-ni-vav-stepwell
It is not just the architecture of this well that is truly enchanting. The tale of its creation is equally enthralling. It is full of war, love, devotion, and betrayal. The Adalaj-ni-vav-stepwell was started by Rana Veer Singh and his wife to offer relief to the people of the arid region. Before the construction of this stepwell completed, he had to defend his region against Muslim ruler King Mehmud Begada. Veer Singh was killed in the battle. The invading ruler Mehmud fell in love with the widow of Veer Singh, Rudabai. The queen agreed to marry the Muslim ruler only on the condition that he finished the work of stepwell started by her deceased husband.
King Mehmud Begada accepted her request and completed the pending work on the stepwell. This is the reason why the structure features Solanki style of architecture which has a blend of both Hindu and Islamic styles. The tragic tale didn’t end there. Queen Rudabai threw herself into the well and killed herself. She never had the intention of marrying King Mehmud. She just wanted the work on stepwell completed.
King Mehmud was disheartened after Rudabai’s death but did not destroy the structure in angst. It still remains intact 500 years later. You can see scenes from everyday life carved on the walls such as women churning butter and a king sitting on the throne. You can also see Nava Graha (nine planets) carvings on the structure. It is believed that still protects the stepwell from evil eyes. The depiction of nine planets is believed to attract villagers for worship during any ritualistic ceremonies and also marriage. The nine planets hold special significance in Hindu scriptures. There are still temples dedicated to the nine planets all over the Indian subcontinent.
As per recordings in old scriptures, Rani Rudabai requested the saints to take bath in the stepwell to purify it and relieve her of her sins before jumping into the well. There is yet another record of presence of six tombs near the well. These tombs belonged to the masons who built this structure. Mahmud Begada asked the masons if they could build a similar structure. He sentenced them to death after they agreed. He was smitten with architectural excellence and did not want anybody to replicate it.
Adalaj-ni-vav-stepwell – Info for visitors
Adalaj Ni Vav is situated in Adalaj village near Gandhinagar which is the capital of Gujarat State in India. You need to travel 10 kilometers from the state capital to reach this stepwell. You can either take a taxi or public transport to reach this well which is open from 6 am to 6 pm for visitors. There is no entry ticket needed from entering this mesmerizing structure. You can also reach this site while exploring the buzzling city of Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat. It is situated 18 km from Ahmedabad.