The Captivating Ancient Indian Stepwells are in Desperate need for Care

The grand scale of these ancient Indian stepwells is awe inspiring which points to the fact they they were more than just a place to access water. The construction may be utilitarian, but they sometimes include significant architectural embellishments. Some of them have thousands of steps and a dozen stories. In some related types of structure (johara wells), ramps were built to allow cattle to reach the water. Further still some had arrangements to employ a bullock which may turn the water wheel (“rehat”) to raise the water in the well to the first or second floor.

Mahila Bag Jhalra, Jodhpur, Rajasthan
Mahila Bag Jhalra, Jodhpur, Rajasthan

The builders dug deep trenches into the earth for dependable, year-round groundwater. They lined the walls of these trenches with blocks of stone, without mortar, and created stairs leading down to the water. The majority of surviving stepwells originally also served a leisure purpose, as well as providing water.

The earliest stepwells date back to around 550 AD. During medieval times, over 3,000 were built in the northern states of India. Today, however, many these ancient relics have been largely forgotten, and now languish in a state of decay.

Helical Vav, Champaner, Gujarat
Chand Baori, Abhaneri, Rajasthan
Rudabai Vav, Adalaj, Gujarat
Agrasen Ki Baoli, Delhi


Madha Vav, Wadhwan, Gujarat
Panna Meena ka Kund, Jaipur, Rajasthan

The architecture of the wells varies by type and by location, and when they were built. Two common types are a step pond, with a large open top and graduated sides meeting at a relatively shallow depth. The stepwell type usually incorporates a narrow shaft, protected from direct sunlight by a full or partial roof, ending in a deeper, rounded well-end. Temples and resting areas with beautiful carvings are built into many of the wells. In their prime, many of them were painted in bright colors of lime-based paint, and now traces of ancient colors cling to dark corners.

The use and conditions of stepwells began to decline in the years of the British Raj, who were horrified by the unsanitary conditions of these drinking water bathing spots. They began to install pumps and pipes, and eventually outlawed the use of stepwells in some places.

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The remaining stepwells are in varying states of preservation, and some have gone dry. There is a lot of history, ancient architecture and cultural pride at stake but the government doesn’t seem to be doing enough. The pictures may have been beautifully taken but the stepwells are deteriorating and requires concerted efforts if it is to survive the next few generations.

Source: CNN.com | ignant.de

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