I stayed for three weeks in Gujarat last summer. A place I wouldn’t have had the idea to go to if I hadn’t had my friend Shubhra living in Ahmedabad. She took me to a must-see: Adalaj Step-well.
Gujarat is the state of step-wells; they call them « Vav ». Basically, step-wells are water tanks which collect the rain. The water was used for anything in the village, from cooking to religious rituals. There are about 120 step-wells in Gujarat. They were meeting places where rich and poor, men and women, villagers and caravan travellers went to, to get water, to enjoy the coolness of the depth or to pray under the carvings of hindu gods.
The vav I saw in Adalaj was one of them. You have to imagine that construction as a kind of underground five-storey building ending in a sort of staircase which gets deeper en deerper and which is decorated with hindu and muslim carvings: flowers and geometrical symbols for Islam, gods, animals and people in their daily lives for Hinduism and Jainism. The more you walk down, the darker and cooler it is. The water is still, mysterious, silverlike, and glittering with lucky coins at the bottom.
Shubhra told me the interesting legend of its construction and this legend itself epitomizes the usual Hindu-Islamic mixture you often find in Indian architecture:
In the late 15th century, a king called Rana Veer Singh decided to have a well built for his people who suffered from drought. The construction started but unfortunately, muslim Mahmud Begada, attacked Rana’s army and killed him. The muslim conqueror had taken Rana’s land but he also wanted to take his widow Rani. She didn’t refuse the proposal but she asked Mahmud to finish the step-well before the wedding. Once Mahmud had granted her wish, she knew her people was safe and to remain faithful to her dead husband, she ran to the step-well and threw herself from the top.
Now, even if the presence of the tourists inside the well deprives you of enjoying the freshness and the silence of olden days, the park surrounding the monument is the perfect place to have a nap under a frangipani tree or to have a picnic on the lawn. However, don’t think you could flirt with your sweetheart between the twisted arms of the large banyan because we saw on our way back, a group a policemen, sticks in hands, going to chase the shameless lovers!
A few pictures: