An Archaeological Surprise - Rani ki Vav, India
January 1, 1970
by Aarohi Abhishikt Chauhan
A monument of tribute from a Queen for her demised King
“Have you seen those intricate carvings on the temples in Thiruvananthapuram? They are so beautiful. I wish we had something like that in Gujarat.” I am recently married to a man who himself is an undeclared traveler with avid interest in the rich heritage and culture of the Indian sub-continent. It was a weekend and he enthusiastically expressed, “Let’s go. Let me surprise you with awe today.” I had no clue where he was planning to take me, but intuitively knew that I won’t be disappointed.
After driving for three hours, I realized we are moving towards Patan, which is a fortified ancient town in northern Gujarat. The town is internationally famous for patola sarees which are prominently made from silk, with double ikat woven pattern. Ikat is a pattern dyeing technique, originating from another Indian state, Orissa. As we entered a well constructed premise of an open garden, I read a board in the entrance which had a detailed history of ‘Rani ki vav’. In Gujarati, a stepwell is called a ‘vav’ and in North-India it is known as ‘baoli’. Vav significantly means a well or pond in which water can be reached walking down the detailed steps. With so many step-wells like Adalaj stepwell and least explored Dada hari ni vav in Gujarat, Rani ki vav has a distinctive archaeological significance to it.
As we walked through the garden, where families and group of friends sat with their picnic spirits, I wasn’t so impressed about visiting the garden, until, I walked further and stood facing a gigantic platform. My mouth had opened with awe and I just turned back at my husband running out of words to express the emotions. I saw numerous steps and more than that I saw the vav, with carved sculptures on every wall, pillar and step. The steps began at the ground level and led to the various pillared pavilions till the well.
Walking further, the ornamented walls kept on surprising us with designs and themes. Due to extreme heat, there were less visitors to the place and we had ample time to spend with the caretaker and security guard. The caretaker was Muslim and the second thought that struck me was about the commitment these men have towards preserving the archaeological wonders. The caretaker at Dada Hari ni Vav follows Islam too and often lets the visitors enter the mosque and tomb which were built in the same premise. There were local guides available at Rani ki vav, but we preferred to let the history speak for itself.
Most common in the Western India, stepwells are the historical examples of ancient storage and irrigation systems in India. They were built as utilitarian constructions to manage the season fluctuations in water availability. Stepwells also served as a places for social and religious ceremonies. The women were more associated with the stepwells because they offered prayers to the goddesses of the well to seek blessings for the entire kingdom. The stepwells had two sections. One part was a deep dug well which had underground water stored in it. The other part had the intricately designed pillars, steps and chambers which were open to leisure activities and surrounded the well.
Considered as the queen of all the stepwells in India, Rani ki vav has been listed as UNESCO’s world heritage site since 22nd June, 2014. It was built as a memorial to king Bhimdev, the founder of Solanki dynasty, by his widowed wife Udayamati. The vav depicts a very intricate Maru-Gurjara architecture. It has an inverted temple with seven layers of steps and more than 500 primary delicately-carved sculptures. It was known to have ayurvedic plants around and the water from the vav was considered to have healing properties. After the completion in 1304 AD, the vav was flooded and silted by river Saraswati. It was later excavated by the Archaeological Survey of India in late 1980s.
The sculptures depict the devotion to Lord Vishnu and his mythological reincarnations, including Budhha. The walls also have sculptures of celestial dancers adorning themselves to look beautiful. There are more than 800 stone carved sculptures, with over more than thousand others, on the ornate walls and each has a history of its own.
RANI KI VAV FESTIVAL
To celebrate the inclusion of the vav in the UNESCO list of world heritage sites, the festival is proposed in the month of December or January annually. The festival is a kaleidoscope of local culture, art & crafts, exquisite local cuisine and rich historical existence. A flea market is established for the visitors and the vav is decorated with special lighting.
HOW TO REACH THE VAV
The vav is open to visitors from 8 am to 6 pm. The vav is located approximately 125 kms away from Ahmedabad in Gujarat. It can be reached in 3.5 hours by road. The historic town is well connected by local transport, buses and trains from Ahmedabad and Mehsana. The nearest airport to the site is Ahmedabad, again.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The vav is at its picturesque best between March and October due to pleasant climate in the state.
The entry fee is Rs. 5 for Indian citizens and 2 USD for foreigners.
PLACES TO VISIT NEAR RANI KI VAV
Sun Temple in Modhera is just 30 kms away from Rani ki vav and is another archaeological grandeur. The prayers aren’t offered in the temple anymore, but it is significant with the fact that it was built by King Bhimdev, in whose memory Rani ki vav was built.
The Patan Museum is also located just 2 kms away from the vav. The entry fee is minimal. It has intricate sand and stone sculptures on display.
On the way to the vav there are huge gates and small remains of the fort near Kalka and Bhadra. Patan also has Trikam Barot ni vav nearby and lakes like Sahastralinga tank, Gundavi Talav and Khan Sarovar. There are many religious and archaeologically significant places, like Jasma Odan ni deri, which are worth a visit. If you want to watch the artisans weave the famous patola sarees and make traditional clay toys, the Salvivad is a must visit.
I am still amazed by the architecture and the extensive excavation which revealed such a beautiful monument to the world. Due to time constraints, I could only visit Rani ki vav and missed exploring all the other attractions in Patan. I wish to come back in monsoon.