Adalaj Stepwell – A Wonderful Architectural Ingenuity

Photo of Adalaj Stepwell – A Wonderful Architectural Ingenuity by Sheetal Vibhuti

A 500-year-old architectural masterpiece with a tragic tale of unrequited love sacrifice and loss . The tale of the creation of Adalaj Ni Vav is full of love , war, devotion, and betrayal.

This unique stepwell is located in Adalaj village in Gujarat, India, initiated by Raja Veer Singh in 1499 and completed by King Mohammed Begada for Rani Rudabai, wife of the Raja Veer Singh.

Photo of Adalaj Stepwell – A Wonderful Architectural Ingenuity 1/4 by Sheetal Vibhuti

Adalaj stepwell will always remain unique. By 1599 AD, the construction of Adalaj Vav was completed. Mohd Begada while showing Rani Rudabai the completed stepwell, Rani Rudabai committed suicide by drowning herself in the well. The heartbroken Sultan couldn't marry the Queen and preserved the stepwell to honour her. Even today, Adalaj Vav s described as Rudabai Vav, named after the queen who sacrificed her life instead of marrying a Sultan.

The tragic story associated with Adalaj Vav became a favourite theme of Gujarati folklore and poems. The people of Adalaj will forever cherish the memory of the Rani who was immortalized through sculptures and inscriptions describing her beauty, generosity, courage, and loyalty. Though the tales behind the stepwell are tragic, the legacy which was started by the Raja Veer Singh lives on as a symbol of loyalty and solidarity. The legend has been kept alive for centuries and is now being depicted in movies and literature. The magnificence of the stepwell can be experienced in every carving and pillar. There are many stone inscriptions singing praises to Raja and the Sultan as well as the Queen.

Photo of Adalaj Stepwell – A Wonderful Architectural Ingenuity 2/4 by Sheetal Vibhuti

There is an inscription comprising of lines in Sanskrit and Devanagiri script which states the origins of this stepwell. The inscription compares the waters of this stepwell to the holy waters of the Ganges River and Mount Kailash. The inscription is full of praises for Queen Rudabai and compares her to Sita, the heroine of the epic Ramayana.

A notable feature of the structure is the sculpture of Navagraha at the farthest corner of the well which is believed to protect the historic site from evil spirits. (Navagraha means "nine celestial bodies" in Sanskrit and are nine astronomical bodies as well as deities in Hindu)

Stepwells are basically deep trenches or rock, cut wells or pools of water reached by a set of stairs or steps and are known by a variety of regional names like ‘bawdi’, baoli’, ‘vav’, ‘vavdi’, ‘vai’, ‘kalyani’, or ‘pushkarni’. The Sanskrit Silpa-Shastras and ancient inscriptions refer to them as ‘Vapi’ or ‘Vapika’.

Photo of Adalaj Stepwell – A Wonderful Architectural Ingenuity 3/4 by Sheetal Vibhuti

The term Stepwell defined as “Well with Stairs” is a window to the ethnicity of forgotten civilizations. These wells were also venues for colourful festivals and sacred rituals, paving the way for a rich cultural legacy.

The cultural and architectural representations in the stepwell at various levels are a tribute to the history, built initially by Hindus and subsequently ornamented and blended with Islamic architecture.

Built in sand stone in Indo-Islamic architectural style, the Adalaj stepwell is five stories deep. It is octagonal (8-sided polygon) in plan at the top, built on intricately carved large number of pillars. Each floor is spacious enough to provide for people to congregate. From the first story level, three staircases lead to the bottom water level of the well, which is considered as an unique feature of the stepwell.

The square stepped platform is chiselled into a circular well. The top part of the well, however, is a vertical space open to the sky. The four corners of the square are strengthened with stone beams.

Photo of Adalaj Stepwell – A Wonderful Architectural Ingenuity 4/4 by Sheetal Vibhuti

India has witnessed many of these Stepwells being reclaimed mostly by women. They have been transformed into small shrines where they can worship local goddesses and female deities. Adalaj Stepwell has a similar shrine located adjacent to the outer wall which is being maintained by the local Brahmin women of the community. Women from the neighbouring communities come here to perform the rituals and pray for the blessings of the goddess.

The stepwell at Adalaj is been built along the main caravan route of Ahmedabad and Patan (the then capital of Gujarat) districts, about 13 km away of Ahmedabad

Visiting Hours: 06:00 am to 06:00 pm, Everyday

Location: Adalaj, 19 km from Ahmedabad Station

How to get to Adalaj:

By road: Ahmedabad is well connected with all major cities and towns by road. Prominent bus stops are located at Gitamandir near Kalupur Railway Station and Paldi. Regular bus services are available by Gujarat state transport buses and private operators to all the major destinations of the state.

By rail: The main railway station is located in Kalupur area. This station falls under the prominent national railway circuit and is connected to all major cities of India. If you are on the western side of the Sabarmati river, then you can go to the Gandhigram station near Ashram road to buy your railway tickets easily.

By air: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel airport at Ahmedabad is an international airport

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