Chand Baori at Abhaneri Village in Rajasthan is the most photogenic step well of India. When you stand next to this 13 story deep step well with symmetric triangular steps leading to the water at the bottom, you cannot but be mesmerized. You, of course, understand that in the desert of Rajasthan, it is a practical water management solution. It also serves as a natural cooler in summer months. But, what inspired the people of those days to build it so beautifully. Were all the public spaces so beautiful in 9th CE? I wonder how India would have looked then.
Chand Baori at Abhaneri, Jaipur
History of Chand Baori – Abhaneri
Chand Baori is the oldest surviving step well in Rajasthan and probably India. It was built by the King named Chanda or Chandra of the Nikhumbha dynasty. The time of the stepwell is 8-9th CE making it 1200-1300 years old. Yes, it is older than Taj Mahal, Khajuraho Temples, and Chola Temples but younger than Ajanta and Ellora Caves.
It is named after the King who built it. The city was then called Abha Nagri.
Baori is a general name for step well – other names being – Bawdi, Vav, and Pushkarni.
Anyway, let me show you the Chand Baori as I saw it in the second decade of 21st CE.
Visiting Chand Baori – Abhaneri
Having seen so many wonderful images of Chand Baori – I had goosebumps as I entered the premises of the Baori through a raised pavilion. I first saw a group of women worshipping the Shivalinga. A few steps and the step well appeared in all its glory.
Architecture of Chand Baori
On three sides of this 19.5 meters deep step well are geometric steps. Steep triangular steps ensure that you get down or up sideways and not straight. I wonder if this was done just for aesthetics or there was a practical purpose as well. I could only think that going sideways maybe a little safe. It also allows multiple people to sit close to the water.
The fourth side has pillared corridors at multiple levels. Two balconies project towards the stepwell. They are adorned with the idols of Mahisasurmardini and Ganesha. A step well also has an image of Sheshasayee Vishnu or the sleeping Vishnu. At Chand Baori, I was told there is an image at one of the lower corridors. Since visitors are not allowed to enter the step well, it is not visible. Idea is that the stepwell or any water body is supposed to be an embodiment of Ksheersagar – the ocean of milk where Vishnu lives.
If you look closely you would see a shaft to pull water up from the stepwell. It is so well concealed in the structure that you more often than not miss it.
35,000 Steps at Chand Baori
In all, there are 35,000 steps on 13 levels at Chand Baori. The Baori gets narrow as it goes down.
I walked around to admire the Baori from all angles. The water at the bottom was of bright green color – it added its own vibrancy to the ambiance. I could only imagine how it would be to sit in those corridors in the summer heat of Rajasthan. To be surrounded by the beautifully carved images all around would have been quite an experience. How I wish, we can re-create some of these experiences for our and our next generations to come.
From my camera lens, I could zoom in and see some lovely carved doorjambs. The staircases follow the same pattern as other three sides but on a larger scale. The arches, of course, tell you that they were later added as during the 8-9th CE India had no concept of arches like these.
Once I and my camera had a fill of step well, I looked around. Chand Baori is enclosed with a high wall and a corridor runs parallel to this. An ASI board informed me that the walled enclosure and the entrance are later additions and were not part of the original plan.
As of now, the corridors are full of excavated artifacts. There are stone sculptures of all kinds. I walked around trying to decipher a few, and here what I could find:
- Shiva Head in Red Sandstone, Shiva meditating, Shiva with Parvati
- Vishnu as Kalki Avatar, as Parashurama
- Mahishasurmardini – a very finely carved one
- Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh Panel
- Harshat or Harsiddhi Mata Temple
- Jain Images
- Yaksha Statues
- Some exquisitely carved pillars
An annual 3-day Abhaneri festival happens at the beginning of Sharad Navratras. So, it would fall 10 days before Dussehra or 30 days before Diwali each year. My guide told me that for these 3 days, the step well is open to the public. In fact, a kind of diving competition happens amongst the young men in the village.
It is not surprising since Navratras celebrate the Shakti and there is Harshat Mata temple next to the Baori.
Chand Baori gets a lot of tourists. It is one of those places in India that gets more foreign visitors than Indians.
Harshat Mata Temple
About 100 meters to the west of Chand Baori stands a solitary temple with a dome roof. It is dedicated to Harshat Mata who is also referred as Harsiddhi Mata in many texts. She is supposed to be a goddess of happiness and Joy. Now, who would not like her blessings.
The Harshat Mata Temple is contemporary of Chand Baori, built by the same king at the same time. In fact, ancient step wells were always located next to a prominent temple. The only exception I have seen is Rani ki Vav in Patan. It is a small temple on a high platform that you need to approach through a flight of stairs.
I walked around the platform and saw the lovely depictions of Sunflower. Now, I had seen sunflower fields all the way on our drive to Abhaneri. It was lovely to see them on stone carved panels at this temple. They punctuate the other figurines all around the outer surface of the platform. It tells me that sunflowers have been around here at least since the time of this temple and step well. Finding sunflower in art is not common, across India and even Asia, it is the Lotus flower that dominates the art, followed by Hibiscus.
Harshat Mata Temple faces the east and it originally had a Nagar style shikhara also called Mahameru Shikhara. The remains of this can be seen in the form of broken Amlaka pieces around the temple. An Amlaka is the representation of Amla or Gooseberry fruits that sits on top of the temple Shikhara. Dome is obviously a medieval replacement. Within the Nagar Style, it is Panchratha style temple.
Notable sculptures at Harshat Mata temple are deities in the upper niches all around the temple. At the bottom level, you can see the Mangal Murtis of couples and Sur Sundaris. Parts of the original temple are profusely and finely carved.
There are board games engraved on the floor indicating that this was not just a place of worship but a community space as well.
The main idol inside the temple looks like a recent idol from its style. My guide opined that it was originally a Vishnu temple and not a Devi temple. I did not find a clue to that.
For me, it’s a small glimpse of the glorious past of this region.
Travel Tips for visiting Chand Baori at Abhaneri
- Abhaneri is in Dausa district of Rajasthan, about 90 km from Jaipur. It is best to do it as a day trip from Jaipur.
- On the way to Chand Baori, you can also visit Bhangarh Fort – the most haunted place in India.
- You need 30-60 minutes to see Abhaneri. I spent about 2 hours as I was exploring all possible sculptures.
- Guides are available at the site, but if you have read this post, you would not really need them.
Recommend you read following travel blog on Places to visit in Jaipur.