Stepwells (also known as vavs or Baori) are wells or ponds with a long corridor of steps that descend to the water level. Stepwells played a significant role in defining subterranean architecture in western India from 7th to 19th century. Some stepwells are multistoried and can be accessed by a Persian wheel which is pulled by a bull to bring water to the first or second floor. They are most common in western India and are also found in the other more arid regions of the Indian subcontinent, extending into Pakistan. The construction of stepwells is mainly utilitarian, though they may include embellishments of architectural significance, and be temple tanks.
Stepwells are examples of the many types of storage and irrigation tanks that were developed in India, mainly to cope with seasonal fluctuations in water availability. A basic difference between stepwells on the one hand, and tanks and wells on the other, is that stepwells make it easier for people to reach the groundwater and to maintain and manage the well.
The stepwell may have originated during periods of drought to ensure enough access to the water. The earliest archaeological evidence of stepwells is found at Dholavira where the site also has water tanks or reservoirs with flights of steps.
Built during the reign of Sikandar Lodhi, this mediaeval edifice may be seen in Mehrauli. For history aficionados, this archaeological masterpiece's workmanship is a true treasure. It is notable for being a remnant of the Lodhis, the ultimate pre-Mughal monarchy. During the reign of Sikandar Lodhi, Daulat Khan constructed this Baoli. You can even explore wonderful verandahs at each step that descends to the stepwell's base. It's great to experience the cool ambience while stepping down.
This masterpiece of Amer flaunts its unique architectural style. It has been harvested during the rainy season and is constructed with the most symmetrical style of staircases. The stones in the depth of this stepwell are wonderfully constructed in an octagonal form. The eight-story staircase layout is absolutely a feast to the eyes! Furthermore, this spot is the most admired among tourists for its panoramic views of the Amer fort.
Ghaus Ali Shah fashioned this wonderful Baoli or stepwell in the guise of a Turkish Hammam. The water tank is flanked by a finely carved verandah, with relaxing chambers on the upper floor. It was designed to fulfil two key purposes: to act as an eternal water structure and to provide a vantage point for monitoring the surroundings. The aura of a Roman Amphitheatre can be experienced here.
This artistically carved stepwell in Jodhpur was constructed in prehistoric times using the city's signature rose-red sandstone. There are amazing sculptures of mediaeval lions and cows, lovely dancing elephants, and niches housing the deities worshipped at the time. This antique gem may be seen in the old city plaza next to the magnificent RAAS Mahal.
This enigmatic stepwell, also renowned as the spookiest spot in Delhi, is concealed among the streets of Connaught Place. Ugrasen ki Baodi is another name for this heritage structure, with its history spanning back to the 14th century when King Agrasen lived during the Mahabharata period. Another interesting characteristic of this stepwell is that it has three storeys and 108 steps leading down to the well. According to the tales, the dark water found at the bottom of this well is intended to hypnotise individuals and tempt them to commit suicide.
This 100 sq metre stepwell in Gujarat, placed right in front of the Sun Temple, is renowned for its pure water storage. Before entering the temple, devotees halted here to perform several ritual acts in light of purification. More than 108 temples mark the steps of this heavenly tank, whose entrance approaches from the west. This rectangular stepwell is notable for having a 'Torana,' which is an archway eventually leading to the Sun temple's majestic Sabha Mandap.
The largest and oldest stepwell in India, with 3500 flawlessly symmetrical steps, is known for its exquisite craftsmanship. The dance of lights descending on the steps and forming magnificent patterns is this architecture's most appealing feature and what truly makes it a masterpiece. This ancient marvel is often considered India's deepest well, where the depths are consistently 5–6 degrees colder than the surface. Another highlighting feature is the pavilion that is constructed on one side of the well and the massive resting chambers for all the royals.
Rani Ki Vav (lit. 'The Queen's Stepwell') is a stepwell situated in the town of Patan in Gujarat, India. It is located on the banks of the Saraswati River. Its construction is attributed to Udayamati, the spouse of the 11th-century Chaulukya king Bhima I. Silted over, it was rediscovered in the 1940s and restored in the 1980s by the Archaeological Survey of India. It has been listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India since 2014.
The finest and one of the largest examples of its kind, this stepwell is designed as an inverted temple highlighting the sanctity of water. It is divided into seven levels of stairs with sculptural panels. These panels have more than 500 principal sculptures and over a thousand minor ones that combine religious and symbolic imagery.
This remarkable stepwell has some excellent carvings on the pillars that hold the five-story towers that attract many tourists. This fantastic octagonal stepwell, established by Mahmud Begada in 1411, is believed to have three entrances, as well as Ami Khumbor, a pot that holds water of life, and Kalpa Vriksha, a tree of life both said to be chiselled out of a single stone. This stepwell never fails to enchant tourists with its enthralling craftsmanship and an eternal narrative of magnificence.
Hampi is a treat for history buffs. It brims with heritage and culture and exudes all shades of South Indian history in its glorious forms. There is a reason it is amongst the oldest and richest city listed under the UNESCO Heritage sites. Apart from the various ruins and temples, there is another unique architectural marvel called the Pushkaranis tank. Said to be constructed around 15th century by the Chalukya Dynasty, Pushkaranis was a sacred tank with symmetrical carvings and sculptors.
Ancient civilizations are shrouded in mysteries but one cannot deny the fact about how impeccable were their architectural and engineering skills. Without the technological advancement that we have today, people in those bygone eras had their own way with the world. Few of their contribution and ruminants are fortunately still present. The system of stepwells is one such architectural beauty that has been bestowed to us by our ancestors.