Monday

An underground palace in Ahmedabad - Adalaj step well







This site touched me emotionally- for its architecture, for its many stories of intrigue and drama, for the wonderful foresight that was available to the people centuries ago and so on.

Why have we forgotten the good old methods of conservation of water in modern times!! Today water is fast deplenishing, and no one seems bothered about saving this vital resource so long as your home and office taps spew and gush water. Ask those people who have seen water shortages, ask the people living in rain starved villages and you realize the importance or the lack of safe drinking water and its lack of availability

The Adalaj step is an architectural marvel steeped in history that I did not have the foggiest about. This is an intricately carved well that descends seven floors downwards into the earth (very different from the wells we have seen in our life time) Infact the lower you climb the temperature drops to surround you with cool air inside this giant well. Built entirely of sandstone, one can enter this step-well from three sides – the octagonal landings have carved colonnades and intricately carved niches. Openings in the ceilings above the landing have been provided to allow light and air to enter the well. Natural air conditioning! Each landing has wide space suggesting that people, especially travelers, rested here while on their journeys – to quench their thirst with the cool waters before resuming their journeys. Glorious yesteryears indeed! As we walked about exploring the architecture, marveling at the steps carved out of stone ( the steps are made of slabs of stones that inter lock into each other), discovering the various levels to this inner side of the well – the view captured by my camera got even more joyous. The many questions surrounding this beautiful discovery got answered on coming back home by my friends and their family elders who have lived in Ahmedabad for a very long time.

History has it that Rana Veer Singh ruled the area around Adalaj. He started the construction of the step-well, which he wanted to be the most beautiful one around. Unfortunately he was killed in battle by Mohammed Begda, who coveted the widowed queen, Rani Ruba. Mohammed Begda proposed marriage to the Rani. The Queen agreed on one condition; that he complete the 7-storeyed step–well at Adalaj first.

Complete it he did in 1499–and he came back to the queen with his proposal. The next day, Rani Ruba flung herself into the water and drowned.

One of the well kept secrets of some of the step wells was that it also had hidden doors and chambers that led royal people, specially the queens to escape from being captured. They would simply fall into the well and pretend to be drowned but in reality, they would open hidden chambers and escape elsewhere . Wonder if Rani Ruba survived the plunge and escaped to live?

I walked around the exquisitely carved chambers, slightly perturbed. What about the 3 graves that were found near the well? It is believed that when Mohammed Begda asked the artisans if it were possible to build another step-well like the one at Adalaj they replied in the affirmative. This proved to be their undoing and they were instantly put to death. Shah Jahan-esqe isn’t it? Perhaps that is why the Adalaj step-well stands unrivaled till today. Beauty, romance and tragedy – well, every well has a story to tell!

On a more logical note- I wish our Government or Private public partnerships could look at reinventing such models to capture water for multi-purposes, while being earth friendly and non intrusive to not cause any further imbalances in our climate.

I hope this post renews the zest in us, similar to what our ancestors felt, to ensure deliverance (water relief for the weary sun burnt traveler) without any wastage's ( collection and restorage points)

16 comments:

Aijaz Pitafi said...

Astounding. I needed to take help of other LINKS to comprehend its construction and orientation.
keep introducing the unseen and unheard marvels of our history.

Neelu said...

This was a marvellous eye-opener. I didn't know of Adalaj's existance. Your photographs are beautiful. I'll do a bit of search to get more info. A place I want to see..

Ajoy said...

Hi Meenakshi

Never knew of the existence/concept of Step Wells. Wonderful and informative write up - and great photographs.

Ajoy

Raj said...

Indian history is replete with how much we had , how much we gave the world and all that could gave been......

Nisha said...

For the first time I have heard of underground palace.
Your photos make me go there as soon as possible.

Is it known by the same name 'Adalaj step well'?

ashish said...

I visited the step well of Adalaj yesterday with a local person who is a friend of mine. I had never imagined such a wonderful monument being around! This was simply outstanding and I was highly impressed.

sanjiv said...

We visited a small town named 'Paatan'...little known in Gujurat , but archeologicaly rich !
This is about 2 hrs from Ahmedabad...
I was surprised by how people during that time understood the concept of air-conditioning. This place (though in ruins) is actually a "centralised air-condidtioned resort for Summers" for the royal family. The main source of water is a well, around which the rooms were built. each room has intricately carved window panels and doors, all set in the right direction to increase the flow of air and maintain temperature. Wow !!
The coolest rooms were to the royal family and the ones little farther , to their minsters...
The angle at which the mid-day (hottest) sun rays could penetrate the complex, was also known. If you ever get a chance to travel thr you must!

sheila said...

The Archelogical Survey of India definitely deserves praise to keep our monuments and history alive !I hope such wonderful examples will be brought to life and showcased to the world:)

Mike said...

The architectural expression of the interior is complex and sculptural. The carvings on the columns and entablatures are of flowers and geometrical patterns indicative of the Islamic influences. Carvings of animals and humans are from the Hindu and Jain influence. What a beautiful co existence and such wonderful adornment - I went thr by accident- driving enroute Ahmadabad from Bombay. Was lucky to see Adalaj.

Anonymous said...

Adalaj is a beautiful piece of Arcitecture... I remember seeing this in 1989 with some students from NID.
If you loved this... you will enjoy Leh, Ladak, Bhimbetka Pre historic cave paintings, near Bhopal, Rani Ahallyabhai Holkar's palace in Maheswar(near Indore)...

India has the most beatiful tiny wonders... I really miss these in USA.

Happy Travelling...

Rema

Anonymous said...

This is an extraordinary place. Supposedly the artisans who worked on this project were descendants of the workforce for the Taj Mahal, but then, they say that of nearly all monuments made in India since 1650.
Nice post Mee:)

Anonymous said...

Strange really. Who knows how many more great buildings and monuments India would have today had this not been so fashionable to its megalomaniac rulers?

Duke

Anonymous said...

As the looming threat of global warming persists, one of the most prominent effects has been the erratic nature of weather patterns with pronounced emphasis on weather extremes.

Some areas of the world are accustomed to such polarity. In Western India, for instance, three months of a healthy monsoon is followed by nine continuous months of arid weather. The polarization of weather should ideally promote renewed interest in ancient infrastructures that could mitigate these extremes through sustainable means. In the case of the dry weather in Western India, this could be addressed with stepwells.

Esha n John

Anonymous said...

Hope you had a great trip. We had a swell time and was fun meeting you after a very long time.

Send me the snaps.... Your piece on Adalaj is great - I wish someone in the authorities reads it.

Shvetal

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