Rani ki Vav – an ornate step well or stepwell that a queen had built in the memory of her husband, is the 2014 UNESCO world heritage site entry from India. There are many step wells in this area, one right behind this big step well. But all of them put together cannot match the grandeur of Rani Ki Vav. It is not only magnificent in terms of size. But also the decorations that make it as much a work of art as a place of utility value. The whole structure is below the ground level. So when we were approaching it after buying the tickets, what we could see was green manicured lawns with pathways leading to a kind of hole in the ground.
Rani Ki Vav – Ornate Stepwell
Even when you reach the hole, which is the top end of the step well, you see giant steps and structures built on those steps and some carvings on the sidewalls. As you keep going down on the triangular steps joining the big steps, it is then that the beauty of step well starts revealing itself step by step. The further you go, the more ornate and enchanting it becomes. It was probably as ornate at all levels. But the lower levels have survived well. And at lower levels, you are also kind of encompassed in the step well – cut off from the rest of the world. That is when you best admire the stories written in stone.
The most prominent sculptures primarily on the side walls are those of Dashavataras or the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Followed by the Solah Shringar figurines or the lady figures showing the 16 elements of body decorations. There are some sculptures of Nagakanyas or snake women. The platforms linking the two walls at each level are pillared corridors that allow you to stand in the middle and admire the step well symmetrically. The pillars have the typical formation with a Kalash or pot encased in stone that we saw at many places across Gujarat. A lot of geometric patterns can also be seen on some panels between the sculpted ones.
The deep well at the end of the structure can be viewed from the top by going around the structure. Well too has sculptures carved on all its walls. It apparently had a direct staircase to go down. All that you can see from above now are some brackets that would have jetted out or held a superstructure over them. An image of lying Vishnu on Shesh Shaiyya or snake bed can be seen at the base of the well from the lowermost part of the step well.
Rani ki Vav is located in Patan, about 140 km’s NW of Ahmedabad. It was the ancient capital of Solanki dynasty. That ruled this region around the turn of the first millennium. Queen Udayamati – consort of King Bhimadeva I, built this step well in late 11th CE. The primary purpose of the building step well was, of course, water management as this region gets scanty rainfall. The secondary purpose would be to earn ‘Punya’ or merit that you get by giving water to people who need it. As I stood there, I also felt that all the religious icons carved all over the step well may have been to keep it clean and pure.
After visiting Rani Ki Vav at Patan, you would come back admiring the two-fold approach to life that our ancestors had more than 1000 years back. They could not only rein in all the water that little rainfall offered in the region. But also make it a place that people would enjoy visiting. A primer on the beliefs and culture of the times for the future generations.
Recommend you to read following Places to visit in Gujarat.