Magazine 2012
Adalaj b Vavb  b  A Heritage  
Water Reservoir  
Ms. Kusum Vanjara  
Maniben Nanavati Womenb s College,Mumbai.  
The word b Vavb  in Gujarati and Marwari language or Bawdi or Baoli in Hindi language mean wells or step wells,  
in which the water can be reached by descending a set of steps. They may be covered and protected and are  
often of architectural significance. They can be multistoried with a water wheel known as b Rehantb  which a  
bullock turns to raise the water in the well to the first or second floor.  
All forms of the step wells may be considered to be peculiar examples of the many types of storage and  
irrigation tanks that were developed in India, mainly to cope with seasonal fluctuations in water availability. The  
basic difference between step wells and the other wells and tanks was that due to the steps people could reach  
the ground water to keep it clean  
The majority of surviving step wells were originally for leisure , and they were for water conservation too. This  
was because the base of the well provided relief from daytime heat, and more such relief could be obtained if  
the well was covered.  
Since the step wells were used for leisure ,they had ornamental features and hence they have been the heritage  
water reservoir is in artistic forms.  
History of Step Wells  
The construction of step wells can be traced back at least to 600 A.D. Most of the existing step wells are at least  
00 years old. According to source architects , and scholars they may be even older. A good number of  
scholars trace the origin of the step wells to Indus valley civilization. A good Number of step wells survive in  
Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Among these step wells of Gujarat is more famous.  
Over 120 such step wells were found in Gujarat region.  
The ruins of the city of Mohenjo b  daro has wells, which can be called predecessors of the step wells .As many  
as 700 such wells have been discovered in just one section of the city leading scholars to believe that  
cylindrical brick lined wellsb  were invented by the people of the Indus Valley Civilization. Between third and  
second millennium BC, at the b Great Bathb , at the site of Mohenjo-Daro of the Harappan civilization, filling of  
water was achieved from a large well located in one of the rooms in front of the open courtyard of the building  
The first rock cut step well in India is dated from 200A.D. to 400 A.D. Subsequently, the wells at Dhank (550 -  
25) and construction of stepped ponds at Bhinmal constructed between (850AD to 950AD)  
While early step wells were made of the stone, later step wells made of mortar, stucco, rubble and laminar  
stones. The well cylinder was the basic form used to deepen the wells. It can be said that due to builders sound  
knowledge of the soil conditions and the earthquake proneness of the region resulted in the strong construction  
of the step wells in Gujarat which sustained the quakes and stand strong even present times.  
The well size recommended based on considerations of stability, was of four to thirteen hasta (b hasta a Sanskrit  
word, which means b forearmb  of size varying from 12 -24 inches (300 b  610 mm)), A size of eight hasta was  
considered ideal and a 13 hasta well was considered dangerous. However, the well thickness from top to  
bottom remained generally uniform. By the 11 century, the step well planning and design acquired architectural  
excellence and the Hindu Step wells were standardized .  
Davies, Philip. The Penguin guide to the monuments of India, Vol. II. London: VI King 1989, P. 101  
Generally we find four types of step wells in Gujarat first type is MahaGurjar style constructed prior to solanki  
rule.(c.8 -c.10 ) The second type constructed during solanki rulers (942A.Dto1244 A.D)known as b Maru Gurjarb   
style. Third type of step wells are Vaghela periodb s b Vavb  (1243A.D-1304A.D)and fourth style was constructed  
during Muslim period(1391A.D-1583A.D) of the History of Gujarat.  
Vavb  of Dhank in Gujarat Saurashtra is constructed prior to solanki period and known as b MahaGurjarb  style of  
Vavb . While b Ranib Vavb b  in Patan is very much famous step well of the solanki period. It was one of the largest and  
the most magnificent structures and excellent example of solanki style of architecture. Other examples of  
solanki style of step wells are, step well at Virpur, Minal Devi b Vavb , Khanusa Kotadi b Vavb , Kaleshwari b Vavb , Vayad  
Vavb , Ganga b Vavb  etc. During Vaghela period step wells like Madhab Vavb , Hani b Vavb  etc. were constructed in  
Gujarat. During Muslim period we can see number ,a of step wells like Dadahari b Vavb , Ashapuri b Vavb , Rajbai  
Vavb , Hampar b Vavb , Adalaj b Vavb  etc. were built.  
The heritage of Adalaj b Vavb  is the best example of water storage and harvesting. I feel this kind of heritage must  
be preserved and used as blue prints for solving water problems at present times.  
Adalaj b Vavb   
Out of 120 b b Vavb sb  found in state of Gujarat Rani b Vavb  or Queenb s b Vavb  is the oldest one . But the b Vavb  at Adalaj  
a small village in Gujarat , which is 18 kilometers north to Ahmedabad city and 5 kilometers from Gandhinagar  
City the Capital of Gujarat is the most popular one. The Adalaj b Vavb  is in fact a b na b Vavb b , literally meaning an  
upside down architecture of a step well.  
The history of the Adalaj step b  well built in 1499 is established by an inscription in Sanskrit found on a marble  
slab positioned in a recess on the first floor, from the eastern entry to the well . Its construction was started by  
Rana Veer Singh of the Vaghela dynasty of Danadi Desh. But he was killed in a war, where after the Muslim king  
Mohammed Begda of a neighboring state built it in Indo b  Islamic architectural style in 1499.  
There is an interesting legend associated with the construction of this step well. In the 15 Century Rana Veer  
Singh of the Vaghela dynasty, a Hindu ruler, was the ruler of Dandai Desh in Gujarat. His kingdom was attacked  
by Mohammed Begda, the Muslim ruler of the neighboring kingdom. The battle resulted in the death of Rana  
veersingh. Consequently his territory was occupied by the invader. Rana Veer Singhb s widow, was a beautiful  
lady known by the name Rani Roopba, though in deep grief at the death of her husband, agreed to a marriage  
proposal made by Mohammed Begda on the condition that he would first complete the building of step well.  
The Muslim king who was deeply enamoured of the queenb s beauty agreed to the proposal and then built the  
well in quick time, and with great interest. Once the well was completed, Begda reminded the queen of her  
promise to marry him. But the queen who had achieved her ambition of completing the step well started by her  
husband, decided to end her life, as mark of devotion to her husband. She jumped from one of the balconies  
in the well. It is said that she took Jal samadhi in order to save her honor and to please the Jal Devi to maintain  
constant flow of water in the well .  
The chronology of events that resulted in building of the step well is also depicted on the walls of the well. There  
was no remorseful reaction by Begda as he allowed the well to remain without any defacing.  
. Rajani Vyas, Swagatam Gujarat, Akshara Prakashan, Ahemdabad, 2006 P. 83  
. Tadgell, Christopher, The History of Architecture in India, Phiado Press, London  
Architecture of the Adalaj b Vavb   
Another legend narrated is linked to the tombs found near the well. The tombs of six masons who built the well  
are seen near the b Vavb . It is said that the Begda asked the Masons if they could built another similar well. But  
a positive answer from them resulted in further tragedy as Begda put them to death. Begda was so enamored  
of the architectural excellence of the step well that he did not want its replica to be built.  
The Adalaj stepwell is five stories deep and built in sand stone in Indo Islamic architectural style. It is octagonal  
8 b  sided polygon) in plan at the top, built on intricately carved large number of pillars. Each floor is spacious  
enough to provide for people to congregate. It was dug deep to access ground water at that level, accounting  
for seasonal fluctuations in water level due to rainfall over the year.  
Opening in the ceilings above the landing enable light and air to enter the well. However, direct sunlight never  
reaches the flight of steps or landing except for a brief period at noon as the inner ceilings are arranged to  
receive the sunlight through these openings. According to a research, there was a total difference of six degrees  
between the outside and inside of the well, thus making it a veritable air b  conditioner. And this prevented the  
water froms evaporating during the day .  
From the first story level, three staircases lead to the bottom water level of the well, which is considered a  
unique feature. Built along a North South axis, entrance is from the south, the three staircases are from the  
South, West and East directions leading to the landing, which is on the northern side of well. Four small rooms  
with oriel windows decorated with minutely carved brackets are provided at the landing level, at the four  
corners. The structural system is typically Indian style with elaborate and heavily ornamented temple b  like  
finish. It has traditional horizontal beams and lintels.  
At the bottom of the well is a square stepped floor in the shape of a funnel extending to the lowest plane. This  
is chiseled into a circular well. Above the square floor, columns, beams, wall and arched openings spiral  
around; a feature that continues to the top. The top part of the well, however is a vertical shape open to the sky.  
The four corners of the square are strengthened with stone beams, set at 45 degrees angle. The motifs of flowers  
and graphic of Islamic architecture blend very well with the symbols of Hindu and Jain gods carved at various  
levels of the well. The dominant carvings on the upper floors are of elephants each of different design. The  
Islamic architectural style could be attributed to the Muslim King Begda who built it. The walls are carved with  
women performing daily chores such as churning of butter milk, adorning themselves, scenes of performance of  
dancers and musicians, and the king overlooking all these activities, apart from abstract representations of  
various Hindu Gods and Goddesses can also be seen.  
Innumerable strong and exquisitely carved pillars support each storey of the b Vavb  and each available stone  
surface is covered with carvings. Each landing has wide space suggesting that people, especially travelers  
rested there while on journey. The main attraction of this step well is the pool of water at the lowest level.  
Besides this, an interesting depiction carved from a single block of stone is of the Ami Khumbor or a pot that  
contains the water of life and the Kalp Vriksha or a tree of life.  
This rich architecture and sculptures show amalgamation of two district arts of Hindu and Islam. As mentioned  
earlier the intricate floral patterns, which are part of the Islamic style, can be seen in harmony with Hindu  
symbolism, which includes depiction of animals and human forms. The profusely carved pillars on different  
levels of this step well show strong Hindu and Jain influences, while the ornamentation at a number of places in  
this monument are influenced by mosques and mausoleum halls of the 15 b  16 Century Gujarat Sultans. This  
structure reflect that it is not just a dead monument but a blend of utility and beauty together.  
Religious importance of b Vavb   
A little religious importance is attached to this b Vavb . There is a depiction of b Navgrahab  or nine planet sculpture  
in the b Vavb . These and other such depictions are said to attract villagers for worship during marriage and other  
ritualistic ceremonies.  
It has been implied that the temperature inside the well is about five degrees lower than the outside hot summer  
temperatures. It is one of the reasons for the ladies who come to fetch water from the well spending considerable  
time in the cool climes here. They not only collect water but also worship the gods and goddesses depicted at  
various levels and while away time in good chatter. The monitoring of temperature shows the highly developed  
skill and knowledge of architect.This shows that this intricately carved monuments served religious and utilitarian  
Fate of the b Vavb   
The wells fell into disuse with the invasion of the Mughal rulers but even they did not interfere in the rituals  
connected with these step wells, infact, they encouraged the building of many step wells.  
With the advent of Britishers the fate of b Vavb s went down. They were extremely unhappy with the quality of  
hygiene that existed in these wells .They installed pipes and pumps and finally forced a complete closure of  
these places including Adalaj b Vavb . With it also ended the social religious aspects of the step wells and their  
importance in an individualb s life.  
Importance of the b Vavb   
The Adalaj b Vavb  has its own importance as it was used for irrigation purpose in early days. It was a best solution  
for water problems of Adalaj village and surrounding areas. It was one of the sources for water conservation The  
multi storey building provided relief to the travellers and merchants from daytime heat. Its multi storey building  
was constructed in such way that it provide enough space to the traveller to rest use water of well and move  
Tourist importance  
Huge heritage structure of Adalaj b Vavb  is a distinct water reservoir which attracts number of Indian and foreign  
tourist towards it. Its architecture gives boost to tourism industry of Gujarat, Gujarat government has taken right  
steps for its conservation and preservation. But they can also do something to purify the water of the b Vavb , so  
that it solves water problem of these area. These heritage water reservoir b Vavb s are best example of water  
conservation, so to solve current water problems more such b Vavb s should be constructed in Gujarat and India.  
. Davies, Philip. The Penguin guide to the monuments of India, Vol. II. London: VI King 1989  
. Tadgell, Christopher, The History of Architecture in India. London: Phiadon Press, 1990  
. Cousen Henry, Architectural antiquities of Western India, London, 1926.  
. Ratnamani Rao b  An outline of Ahemdabad Architecture, Ahemdabad, Navneet Press, 1929.  
. Jote Ratnamanirav, Gujarat no Sanskritik Itihas, Vol. 1,2,3,4, Ahemdabad, Navneet Publishers,  
954 b  1959.  
6. Digant Oza, Guarav Bhumi Gujarat. Ahemdabad, Navbaharat Sahitya Mandir, 2003  
7. Rajani Vyas, Swagatam Gujarat, Ahemdabad, Akshara Prakashan, 2006  
8. Dr. Minaxi Thakkar, Pravasbhumi Gujarat, Ahemdabad, Navbharat Sahitya Mandir, 2006.  
9. Mahadevshastri Joshi, Gujarat Sanskritik Parichay, Ahemadabad, Navbharat Sahitya Mandir, 1996.  
10. Personal visit to Adalaj b Vavb .