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Ancient Stepwells in India

The Indus Valley Civilization and Harappan culture were the key highlights during the Bronze Age (3300-1300BCE) and today help us flip through the pages of History, highlighting mankind with its existence and survival during the formidable Bronze Age.

This period was indeed an era which unfolded the mysteries of India as a country blessed with diversities pertaining to region, culture and beliefs. Step well construction is known to have gone on from at least 600 AD in the south western region of Gujarat, India. The practical idea even spread north to the state of Rajasthan, along the western border of India where several thousands of these wells were built. Most of the currently existing step wells date back almost 800 years. There are suggestions that they may have originated much earlier, and precursors to them can be seen in the Indus Valley civilization.

Step wells are wells filled with water which can be reached by descending a flight of steps. In past these step wells were a great source of survival as they catered to the daily requirement of water which as it is a chief mode of survival for any being. They are most commonly found in western India, extending into Pakistan. They may be also found in the other more arid regions of South Asia.

A number of distinct names, sometimes in local dialect exist for these step wells. In Hindi-speaking regions, the common names are audi (including bawdi, bawri, baoli, bavadi, bavdi), whereas in Gujarati and Marwari language, they are usually called vav or vaav.

All forms of the step well are synonyms of the varied types of storage and irrigation tanks that were developed in India, mainly to cope up with seasonal fluctuations causing tumultuous availability of water. A basic difference between step wells on one hand, and tanks or wells on the other, was to make it easier for people to reach the ground water to maintain and manage the well. They usually consist of two parts: a vertical shaft from which water is drawn and the surrounding inclined subterranean passageways, chambers and steps which provide access to the well. The galleries and chambers surrounding these wells were often carved profusely with elaborate detail and became cool, quiet retreats during the hot summers.

Let's begin our sojourn through time and find out some of the famous step wells built in the past:

Agrasen Ki Baoli, New Delhi - The protected monument by the Archeological Survey of India, Agrasen Ki Baoli is a 60-meter long and 15-meter wide historical step well on Hailey Road near Connaught Place in New Delhi. Agrasen Ki Baoli is among a few of its kind in Delhi, consisting of 103 steps made of red stone.

Rajaon Ki Baoli, New Delhi - Rajaon Ki Baoli is a famous stepwell in India, located in Mehrauli Archaeological Park with 100 other historically significant monuments in close vicinity. Gandhak ki Baoli and Rajon Ki Baoli are two stepwells located in Mehrauli Delhi.

Chand Baori, Abhaneri, Rajasthan - Chand Baori stepwell is one of the most overlooked landmarks in the country, which consists of 3,500 narrow steps spread over 13 stories, thus making it one of the deepest and largest step wells in India. It is also one of the oldest and most attractive landmarks in Rajasthan and considered most spectacular step well in India owing to the visual delight that it offers.

Rani ki ji Baori, Bundi, Rajasthan - Rani ki ji Baori is one of the noted stepwell situated in Bundi town in Rajasthan. The multistoried structure with places of worship on each floor is a 46 m deep stepped well with some superb carvings on its pillars and a high arched gate.

Adalaj Vaav, Ahmedabad, Gujarat - Adalaj vaav is a unique Hindu water building situated in the village of Adalaj near to Ahmedabad. The Adalaj stepwell attracts a large number of tourists and were also venues for colorful festivals and sacred rituals.

Rani Ki Vaav, Patan, Gujarat - The Queen's Step well is situated in the town of Patan in Gujarat and included in the list of UNESCO's World Heritage Site. Rani ki vaav is a magnificent architecture east facing step well with multistoried pavilions is a unique feature and one of the largest and the most sumptuous structures of its type.

Surya Kund, Modhera, Gujarat - The Suryakunda, also known as Ramakunda, is a large rectangular stepped tank measuring 53.6 x 36.6 meters under the east face of sabhamandap used to store pure water. Devotees were required to perform ceremonial ablutions here before worshiping the Sun God. The Suryakund is considered as the finest example of geometry. 108 miniature shrines are carved in between the steps inside the tank. The number 108 is considered to be auspicious by Hindus as Hindu rosary has same number of beads.

And there are many more……the list is endless!!