Jaipur Kala Chaupal

India’s Ancient Step Wells

Stumbling Upon A Fantastic Site

I visited Jodhpur for the Rajasthan International Folk Festival with friends couple of years back. And sans family, no place better to stay than the old city near Mehrangarh fort. Meandering along the narrow alleys of Jodhpur, we took a right turn and stumbled upon a large, seemingly upside-down structure with steps all around it and a pond with deep blue water in the middle.

Sets of seven steps go down – one set to the right and one to the left, descending to the next platform, and the next set of stairs starts to go down on each side. What stunning architecture was my first thought. No locks or gate or visitor fees for a monument like this, was my second thought. We went closer and found several local boys jumping in the pond with a loud yell and glee on their faces. That must be cooling!

What I had stumbled upon was Toor ji ki baoli, or what locals in Jodhpur refer to as Jhalra – my first sight of a significant stepwell. In all the years of living in Gurgaon, I hadn’t made the effort to visit Agrasen ki Baoli – another significant and beautiful step well right in the heart of Delhi.

Water Storage In Desert Regions

The Jodhpur trip got me interested to read up more about these sites – important for storing water and also marvellous works of architecture. Stepwells are most commonly found in arid parts of western India. They were built to cope with seasonal fluctuations in water availability. Builders dug deep trenches into the earth to reach year-round groundwater. They lined the walls of these trenches with blocks of stone, and created stairs leading down to the water.

In Hindi, a stepwell is called a ‘baori’ or ‘baoli’ and a ‘Vav’ in Gujarati. Some examples of intricately carved, beautiful step wells in India are Agrasen ki baoli in Delhi, Chand baori in Abhaneri near Jaipur, Rani ki vav at Patan, Adalaj ni vav near Ahmedabad, Toor ji ki baori in Jodhpur, Raniji ki baori in Bundi town.

Agrasen Ki Baoli In Delhi, is a 60-meter long and 15-meter wide historical step well on Hailey Road near Connaught Place in New Delhi. (Photo courtesy: Shweta Markandeya)


Not Just Storage Units For Water

Stepwells have social, cultural and religious significance. They served as a place for social gatherings and religious ceremonies. They also became places of prayer, sometimes placed near a temple.

The elaborate ornamentation of the columns, brackets and beams used are a prime example of how stepwells were used as a form of art.

Chand Baori In Abhaneri, is one of the most visually spectacular stepwells. It has over 13 stories deep with 3500 steps, making it one of the deepest and largest step wells in the country. It is located in the village of Abhaneri, around 90 kilometers from Jaipur. It was built by King Chanda of the Nikumbha Dynasty, between 800 and 900 AD. (Photo courtesy: Shweta Markandeya)


Shweta Singhal is a passionate traveller, and is interested in art, books and theatre besides travel.
She blogs at Zest In A Tote

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