Adalaj ni Vav (stepwell) – symbolizes ancient way of rain-harvesting in an arid region of Gujarat

Commonly found  across large swaths of arid or semiarid regions of Gujarat and part of Rajasthan in western India are the eye-catching and awe-inspiring nicely ornamental Stepwells (also known as vavs or baoli). They  are wells or ponds carefully constructed  with a long corridors of  geometrically designed descending steps to reach the underground water. For centuries natives of this region saved little amount of rainfall by using traditional harvesting techniques to negate the effects of harsh sun.  Known for their  subterranean architecture  with many tiers or stories their origin goes as far back as the  Indus Valley Civilization. But preponderance of them  came up between 5th to 7th centuries in the 5th century.  In order to have a regular supply of water year round  stepwells or baolis were  dug deep into the earth at selected areas approachable by the communities.  Cascading steps were meticulously built later. Subsequently  in many places multistoried structures were built and  water can be brought to the first or second floor through a Persian  wheel which is pulled by a bull. In some cases people can descend and collect water comfortably. Though utilitarian for drinking and irrigation  purposes, what is unique about them is their amazing design style and matching embellishments. Here,  man's innovation in stone work runs riot in a region where the fluctuating temperature reaches the extremes  and water resources are saved as much as can be.  Simply,  baolis are  reservoirs built into the earth. 

Adalaj-ni-vav-stepwell, Gujarat

Differing from common wells and ponds, in the deeper part of the  stepwells evaporation is farless and it is easy for the people to reach the groundwater, maintain it and take brief rest in the cool pavilions built far below the surface. Centuries ago the natives developed the stepwells with a view to coping with seasonal availability of potable water and to maintain proper storage facility for regular use  including agriculture. Besides being a source of water, many of the stepwells also provided an ample spiritual and cultural space for the people, particularly women to share their experiences and to offer prayers to deities carved on the walls in the closed pavilions below. But today countless stepwells across the country are not functional and are very much affected by rapid urbanization in places close to the big cities further complicated by groundwater depletion as the rate of discharge is less than rate of withdrawal. This is true of baolis close to Delhi. 



Adalaj-ni-vav-stepwell, Gujarat

Adalaj ni Vav – Stepwell in Ahmedabad:

Adalaj, Gujarat,

It is said that there are over 120 such wells  reported in the semi-arid region of Gujarat alone;  some other semiarid regions of india too have many stepwells to collect seasonal rain water.  Among the stepwells of Gujarat, the Adalaj-ni-vav-stepwell has been in the forefront  and is a famous destination for travelers who look for something unique, innovative and old-fashioned not seen before.  Constructed by King Veer Singh, the Vaghela Chief and his wife Rudabai in 1499, this stepwell has been popular for centuries.  Vaghela kings - Agnivanshi Rajputs were the first to introduce this concept of decorative stepwell to serve the communities to meet their water needs regardless of seasonal changes.  In the 16th century, the region came under the control of the Muslim rulers. 

 Adalaj-ni-vav-stepwell is  a fine example of creativity in the area of   delicate rock relief art and sculpture, subterranean architecture and foundation engineering. The talented artisans of past area  achieved this great feat using simple tools to bring out  their imagination in stone carving despite the absence of modern technology and tools. Symbolic of Hindu  and Jain religious tradition, the decoration embodies  ethos and culture  of the past era. Located in a remote village of Adalaj, Gujarat  the Adalaj-ni-vav-stepwell has been a popular destination  for the travelers for centuries. Descending five stories deep, it is  is a rare stepwell  in Gujarat with  three entrance access the water at the bottom.

Collection of water apart, at stepwells villagers would  every day interact with other communities and also offer prayers to the Hindu gods and goddesses carved on the walls. This social gathering takes place in a cool ambiance of the vav

The deeper portion of the Baoli is fairly lit as the main opening at the surface allows  enough light and air to enter the octagonal well. Even at noon, but for a short time  time the sunlight does not fall on  the steps or the landing consequently, according to researchers the temperature inside the well is  six degrees cooler than its surroundings.

Adalaj-ni-vav-stepwell, Gujarat

Adalaj-ni-vav-stepwell Gujarat


Above images: Adalaj-ni-vav-stepwell in Gujarat, ornate pillars with brackets supporting the stone beams......................

An amazing  multi-story octagonal structure - vav made of sandstone, with adequate  light and air vents in the form of large openings across all levels   Each tier is carefully designed and as you descend deeper into the well,  the prevailing air becomes  cooler and and the impact of harsh sunlight is far less here.  Each tier han spacious pavilions to accommodate lots of people. They also served as a resting place for the travelers in the desert area from one village to another village. It is said  the village Adalji was on the trade route in the past. 

There are rooms in the in the pavilions that are supported by ornate pillars. In some places the  decorated and intricately carved brackets support the protruding roof. There are many carefully chiseled fascinating  carvings of animals, musicians and dancers, deities, etc. There are carvings like  Ami Khumbor - pot of water of life Kalp Vriksha - tree of life.