14 Magnificent Stepwells in India That Are Frozen in TIme
Stepwells in India or commonly known as baoli, as the name suggests are wells with steps descending into it. Stepwells are a common phenomenon in India, especially in Western India and can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization. They were constructed not only merely as an addition to the structure, but for their practical value. These baolis were dug up by going deep into the Earth and acted as a constant source of water, all year long. Subsequently, steps were built, leading into the stepwell, to make the collection of water more comfortable and also served as a source of leisure and worship.
Even today, there are around 2000 surviving step wells in India. There are many, which retain water, although they are no longer in use, but have become treasured pieces of architecture from various eras.
Situated in a Rajasthan's Abhaneri village, Chand Baori is NorthWestern Indian's most popular stepwell. Many tourists for its beautiful architecture visit the stepwell. The stepwell dates back to the 9th century to the reign of King Chanda of Nikumbh dynasty. The stepwell consists of 3500 stairs that go as deep as 20 metres into the well, making it the deepest stepwell in the country. It is believed that Chand Baori is dedicated to the Goddess of Joy and Happiness and was built to serve as a source of water. The members of the royal family also used it as a place to socialise as the stepwell remained a lot cooler compared to its surroundings. The 13 floors of the stepwell Chand Baori are in perfect symmetry and look exquisite from a distance.
2. Agrasen Ki Baoli, New Delhi
One of the most popular stepwells in India, Agrasen ki Baoli is visited by many people, both young and old. Situated close to Connaught Place, the baoli consists of three levels and 108 steps descending into the well. Based on the architecture of the baoli, it is believed that it belongs to the reign of Tughlaq or the Lodi dynasty. As per the legend, this baoli was built by Maharaja Agrasen who himself has different origin stories; as per one, his mention is found in the Mahabharata. Today, Agrasen ki Baoli is a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Rani ki Vav is a World Heritage Site under UNESCO and is situated in Patan Gujarat. The stepwell is located close to the Saraswati river and can be traced back to the 11th century during the reign of Chalukya dynasty. Legend has it that it was constructed in the memory of Bhima I by his wife, Udayamati. Translating to Queen's Stepwell, the baoli reflects the Maru-Gurjara style of architecture. The walls of the structure contained carvings of Vishnu in his various avatars and were used as a place of worship. The stepwell consists of seven levels, and each level is adorned with multiple sculptures and religious imagery. The architecture and the artistic handiwork make this stepwell stand apart.
Pushkarinis in Hampi, Karnataka are step-wells that are situated next to temples. These stepwells in India can be traced back to the Vijayanagara Empire and were used as a place of worship by the people of Hampi. Even the annual boat festival was hosted in these water tanks. Today, most of the Stepwells stand in ruins but do not fail to attract visitors. The most revered stepwell is the one located in the Royal Enclosure, near the Hazara Rama Temple known as the Stepped Well.
5. Baoli Ghaus Ali Shah, Haryana
Located in Haryana's Farukhnagar town, a stepwell in India was constructed by Ghaus Ali Shah, a local chief under Farrukh Siyar of the Mughal dynasty in the 18th century. The baoli is octagonal with stone steps and a tank in the centre. It was used by the women of the empire to take baths and even has chambers where they could relax. Today, the baoli is protected by the ASI.
6. Mata Bhavani ni Vav, Gujarat
Located in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, Mata Bhavani ni Vav was among the first stepwells in India. It belongs to the period of Chalukya dynasty, 11th century. The stepwell has three levels and a shrine of goddess Bhavani, which was built much later. Although it doesn't come close to other stepwells regarding aesthetics, it is a significant stepwell.
7. Rajon ki Baoli, New Delhi
Rajon ki Baoli in Mehrauli Archaeological Park is a stepwell that dates back to the 16th century. Daulat Khan built this stepwell for the use of masons or rajmistries. Adjoining this stepwell is also a mosque which was used by Daulat Khan for his peace of mind. The rectangular stepwell has four levels and steps going down into the well. Today, the stepwell runs dry but is an essential structure of medieval Delhi.
This stepwell in India is situated in the premises of the famous Sun Temple in Gujarat. The temple is dedicated to the Sun God and was built during the reign of Bhima I of Chalukya dynasty in the 11th century. The stepwell is rectangular and has four terraces. It has steps which descend into the reservoir. It is quite extensive and has up to 180 miniatures shrines of Lord Ganesha, Vishnu and other local deities. It was used not only for storage of water but also for performing religious ceremonies. The stepwell is a visual treat, and the steps seem in absolute symmetry from afar in the premises of the famous Sun Temple in Gujarat. The temple is dedicated to the Sun God and during the reign of Bhima I of Chalukya dynasty in the 11th century. The stepwell is rectangular and has four terraces. It has steps which descend into the reservoir. It is quite extensive and has up to 180 miniatures shrines of Lord Ganesha, Vishnu and other local deities. It was used not only for storage of water but also for performing religious ceremonies. The stepwell is a visual treat, and the steps seem in absolute symmetry from afar.
Today, The Sun Temple is protected by the ASI and receives a flock of tourists every year by the ASI and receives a crowd of tourists every year.
9. Toor Ji ki Jhalra, Rajasthan
Toor Ji ki Jhalra is a recently restored stepwell and can be traced back to the 18th century. Situated in Jodhpur, this stepwell served as a source of water for the locals. The stepwell was built using red sandstone and had beautiful carvings of various animals and sculptures of deities. The stepwell is considered one of the finest in the country. It used to be full of debris but has been cleaned, and today, it is visited by many locals, especially kid who take a dip in the back to the 18th century. Situated in Jodhpur, this stepwell served as a source of water for the locals. The stepwell was built using red sandstone and had beautiful carvings of various animals and sculptures of deities. The stepwell is considered one of the finest in the country. It used to be full of debris but has, and today, it is visited by many locals, especially kid who take a dip in the baoli's waters as a relief from the scorching heat.
10. Jachcha ki Baori, Rajasthan
Jachcha ki Baori in the city of Hindaun in Rajasthan is the largest stepwell in India. It can be traced back to the 14th century and is believed to be built by Lakkhi Banjara. It has many legends associated with it; one is that the water of the baori is so pure that one doesn't require any soap, etc. to clean one's clothes.
The baori is an essential traditional water structure and measures have been taken by the government to restore it.
11. Adalaj ni Vav, Gandhinagar
Adalaj Stepwell is a magnificent structure built brilliantly to curb water crisis in and around Adalaj Village. The stepwell is located at a distance of 3 to 4 kilometres to the south-west of Gandhinagar, the capital city of Gujarat. The Adalaj Stepwell was built in 1498 and is one of the many step wells constructed in India to provide access to groundwater. The entire architecture is an excellent illustration of the intelligence of the engineers and architects India had even at that time. Walk-in, and you will witness a sudden yet soothing drop in temperature. Breathe in the tranquillity, absorb the beauty of the intricate carvings, make a silent wish and rest for a while before you proceed with your plan for the day.
12. Dada Harir Stepwell, Ahmedabad
Built by a woman of Sultan Begara's harem in 1499AD, these stepwells in India were made as a retreat during hot summers. Waiting to be filled with rainwater, no matter what the weather is, it is always cooler within the Step-wells.
This ancient structure depicts the architecture of the bygone era. At ground level, much might not be visible. But as one rises just a little (with the help of stairs), there is suddenly a deep cascade of steps plunging down several stories, intricate carvings reflecting in the sunlight.
13. Shahi Baoli, Lucknow
Built in the Indo-Islamic architectural designs, Shahi Baoli was created by the Mughals as the water reservoir. The baoli has five storeys and served cold water to the people in ancient times. Currently, it is only used as a tourist spot.
14. Raniji Ki Baoli, Rajasthan
Raniji Ki Baoli is an ancient stepwell in India near Kota in Bundi. It was built by the Rajputs and boasted of striking architecture. The baoli has a narrow gateway lined with four sturdy pillars and slender arched on the high roof. A flight of stairs descend into a part well, part temple and part palace with limited water reserves. Raniji Ki Baoli is an important heritage monument of the city.
Each of the stepwells in India that we have mentioned above is either a significant structure of its era or is revered for its magnificent architecture. Stepwells were complex structures which served the basic needs of the locals, and many of these were built during the medieval era. A lot of the stepwells stand neglected and have run dry, but they are essential structures which reveal a lot about their respective ages.