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