Thursday, 11 February 2016

Adalaj, Ornamental step well and queen Roopha

Stepwells are used to collect rain water during the monsoons. Adalaj step well,
Adalaj step well, Gujarat,
Adalaj step well, Gujarat,
In Western India in semi-arid regions there are numerous ''Step Wells,'' also called stepped ponds, built between the 5th and 9th centuries. In the state of Gujarat alone there are as many as 120 step wells to cater to the needs of village folks for their potable water needs. Normally step well are big water buildings up to 3 to 5 stories down from the ground level, many of which are artistically designed  with exquisite workmanship. These step wells collect water during  seasonal monsoon rain falls and in the deeper part of the ground with shadows around, such water bodies undergo slow evaporation process. Normally at bottom the temperature will be 5 degrees less than prevailing temperature at ground level. Step wells are a sort of joint or shared community spaces where the people bathe, relax and collect water for their needs. they are also common spaces  for the village folks to discuss their civil or domestic problems;  Hence, the various levels in the stone-decorated wells, there is a large space for congregation of people in the comforts of cool temperatures and where the impact of scotching  sun's effect on the people  in such dry places is less. Further, such step wells located between villages serve as stopovers or resting spaces for travelers  and caravans along the trade routes   cool places to relax and take rest in the semi-arid desert areas where th sun's heat will be menacing. 
Adalaj Ni -step well, Gujarat
Just like Gujarat,  there are numerous  stone carved water buildings - step wells in the state of Rajasthan, where part of the geography is desert with  moving sand dunes. The oldest step wells, it is reported, date  back to 200 AD to 400 AD. The existence of step wells numbering 700 is reported in the earliest civilization at Mohanjo-daro, now in Pakistan.

Adalaj step well, Gujarat,
Adalaj step-well, near Ahmedabad, Gujarat,
Among the step wells of Gujarat, the one that attracts a large number of tourists  for its Solanki style of architecture is the one in the village of Adalaj  which is about 5 kms or 3.1 miles from the state capital of Gandhi Nagar, near Ahmadabad. It is such an architectural marvel that masks behind a poignant story of a Hindu queen. This 15th century historical and architecturally fascinating step well is shrouded in beauty, failed romance and tragedy all blended  into one. It is a 5 story deep  ornamental under ground building  structure  with each floor spacious enough to accommodate a large gathering of people  for relaxation, celebration of rituals, etc. These floors are supported by ornate  stone pillars, columns and beams.  The wells were dug deep enough depending on the change of  seasonal water levels. The carved images depict a concoction of Islamic, Hindu and Jain style of decorative works. There are large  decorative openings  in the roofs at various levels for  air vent and  light. From the top to bottom level, there are three stairways  for access.  At the landing level in the four corners, there are  small rooms with bay windows and nicely carved brackets. Octagonal in shape  at the bottom of the  well is a square shaped floor descending like a funnel and then shaped into a circular well. Above the square floor are the, columns, beams, wall and arched openings that spiral around; a feature that is observed up to the top.  Stone beams, set at 45 degrees angle give necessary strength to  four corners of the square. At upper levels are  captivating small beautifully carved images of elephants.
Ornate stone  pillars supporting the gallery below the ground. Adalaj step well, Gujarat,

Intricate carving in the well structure- symbolic pot of
One can see Islamic designs such as graphics and flowers  along  with of Hindu and Jain features like images  of Hindu and Jain gods at various floor levels. Of particular interest are small  stone-carved images of women doing domestic chores such as making butter by churning buttermilk along with scenes of dancers and musicians. Among the stone ornamentations are the Ami Khumbor - symbolic pot of the water of life and  Kalp (or Kalpaga) Vriksha - tree of life. The depictions such as Navagraha (nine planets) in fresco attract lots of people here for their family functions and rituals as they believe in the influence of planets on humans. In short, after your visit to  this historical site, a unique structure that connects the humans with open space above and space far below the ground, Adalaj  step well is a good example of architectural embellishments.
looking up the well.  Adalaj step well, Gujarat,

Adalaj step well was built in 1498  by a Muslim ruler one Mohahamed Bagada for Queen Rani Roopha, wife of Rana Veer Singh of Vaghela dynasty, a local ruler who was killed in a battle by the Muslim ruler. Attracted by the ravishing beauty of the Hindu queen, he made a marriage proposal to her. At last the bewitchin queen agreed on condition that he must  complete the unfinished  step well project undertaken by her slain husband.  Accordingly ruler  Bagada proceeded and finished the work. Upon completion of the step well, the smart, honorable queen ceremoniously went round the well three times (a custom followed by the Hindus) and jumped into  the well, ending  her youthful life. Literally taken aback,  Bagada did not demolish the decorative well and kept it in memory of Rani (queen) Roopha.