Adalaj Stepwell History
What is a stepwell ?
Stepwells which are also called stepped ponds are common in Western parts of India. These are found in more arid regions of the Indian subcontinent which are majorly there to collect rain water during seasonal monsoons. The history of step wells takes them back to an era when these were built in the 5th and 19th centuries. Over 120 such wells are found in Gujarat alone, of which the Adalaj Stepwell is one of the most popular.
History of Adalaj Stepwell
Adalaj stepwell also known as Rudabai Stepwell and as Adlaj Vav (‘well’ in Gujarati), this step well was built in 1499 by Mahmud Begada for his queen Rudabai the wife of the Vaghela chieftain. Another history of the Adlaj Vav is that it was built in 1498, proof being an inscription in Sanskrit found on a marble slab positioned in a recess on the first floor, from the eastern entry to the well. It was firstly constructed by Rana Veer Singh of the Vaghela dynasty of Dandai Desh. But he was killed in a war, thereafter the Muslim king Mahmud Begada of a neighboring state built it in an Indo-Islamic architectural style, in 1499.
These wells were initially built by the Hindus and eventually festooned and blended with Islamic architecture during the Muslim rule. The step well houses beautiful galleries and platforms; the shafts of the well are adorned with floral and geometric motifs.
Structure of the Adalaj Stepwell
Traditionally, step wells served two main purposes; first, as a place to store water in an arid region such as Gujarat, and second, a place for travelers to stop by during their long journeys. Each of the levels at the vav is also quite big and can easily accommodate many people. This was also a part of a traditional trade route and hence their usefulness was quite high.
Built in Sandstone in the Solanki Architectural style, the Adalaj stepwell is five stories deep. It is octagonal in a plan at the top, built on an intricately carved large number of pillars. It was dug deep to access ground water at that level so that it can be used for seasonal fluctuations in water level due to scanty rainfall.
The top part of the well, however, is an open space to the sky. The four corners of the square are strengthened with stone beams, set at 45 degrees angle. The motifs of flowers and graphics of Islamic architecture blend very well with the symbols of Hindu and Jain gods carved at various levels of the well. The dominant carvings on the upper floors are of elephants.
Due to the design of the stepwell, very little sunlight actually enters the lower levels which keep them cool during the day time due to which the temperature inside the well is said to be about five degrees lower than the outside temperature.
Legend of Adalaj Stepwell
As per legend of the 15th century, Rana Veer Singh of the Vaghela dynasty, a Hindu ruler, reigned over this territory, then known as Dandai Desh. His kingdom was attacked by Mohammed Begda, the Muslim ruler of a neighboring kingdom. The Rana king was killed and his territory occupied by the Mughal invader. Rana Veer Singh’s widow, a lady known by the name Rani Rudabai, though in deep grief at the death of her husband, agreed to a marriage proposal made by Mahmud Begada on the condition that he would first complete the building of the stepwell.
The Muslim king was deeply enamored of the queen’s beauty. He agreed to the proposal and built the well in record time. Once the well was completed, Begda reminded the queen of her promise to marry him. Instead, the queen who had achieved her objective of completing the stepwell started by her husband decided to end her life, as a mark of devotion to her husband. She circumambulated the stepwell with prayers and jumped into the well, ending the saga of building the well in tragedy. These events are depicted on the walls of the well. Begda, however, allowed the well to remain without any defacing.
The Adlaj Vav or Stepwell is Ahmedabad’s Pride and one of the Must Visit Places in Ahmedabad!