Rani ki Vav: A queen’s tribute to her husband through a water temple

Queen Udayamati, the wife of King Bhima I of the Chalukya dynasty, built the Rani ki vav in Patan, Gujarat, in the 11th century. An inverted temple divided into seven levels of stairs, the stepwell stored and conserved water used by travellers and locals

Team 30 Stades
New Update
Rani ki vav at Patan, Gujarat. Pic: Kshitij Charania

Rani ki vav at Patan, Gujarat. Pic: Kshitij Charania

A stepwell built in the 11th century, then buried underground for 700 years, rediscovered in the 1940s, restored in the 1980s and announced a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014 – it is the Rani ki Vav in Patan town of Gujarat. Constructed by Queen Udayamati in the memory of her husband King Bhima I of Chalukya (also Solanki) dynasty, the vav or stepwell is an inverted temple divided into seven levels of stairs with intricately carved sculptural panels. 

Situated along the banks of the Saraswati River, Rani ki Vav is a remarkable stepwell mentioned in the Prabandha-Chintamani, authored by the Jain monk Merutunga in 1304. According to it, Udayamati, the daughter of Naravaraha Khengara, oversaw the construction of this innovative stepwell at Shripattana (Patan), surpassing the grandeur of the Sahasralinga Tank. 

King Bhima I, a learned man, ruled parts of present-day Gujarat and Rajasthan for over 40 years. Art and culture flourished during his reign. Back then, it was uncommon for women to commission grand structures.

The stepwell is a magnificent example of the Maru-Gurjara architectural style. Commissioned in 1063, it was completed two decades later. Spread over 12 acres, the stepwell is 210 feet long, 65 feet wide and 70 metres deep. 

Rani ki Vav is a magnificent example of the Maru-Gurjara architectural style. Pic: Flickr

Water storage and conservation

Situated along remote trade routes, this 'vav' provided shelter and water to travellers. The water from the stepwell was also used for irrigation. 

More importantly, the vav conserved and supplied scarce water in the arid region with sporadic rainfall. It also doubled as a temple and was hub for gatherings, rituals, and public celebrations.

An ornate corridor of steps takes one down to the well and aquifer. The intricate and magnificent sculptures and ornateness of the stepwell stand out, making it a one-of-its-kind water body in the country in terms of building skills and design.

Also Read: Bengaluru’s 43 lost lakes and what stands on them today

There are seven panels of stairs, seven stepped terraces, four pavilions, hundreds of carved panels, and more than 500 exquisite sculptures in this inverted temple to water. The sidewalls of the terraces carry detailed mythological and religious scenes and sculptures.

The well at Rani ki Vav. Pic: Flickr

The sculptures are similar to the Vimalavasahi temple in Mount Abu and the Sun temple at Modhera. Majority of the sculptures are devoted to Lord Vishnu and his 10 incarnations called the ‘dashavataras’. They are Matsya; Kurma; Varaha; Narasimha; Vamana; Parashurama; Rama; Krishna or Balarama; Buddha or Krishna; and Kalki.

The ‘kund’ or tank is in the fourth stage to store the excess water and to enable easy access. It was sealed with stone slabs to strengthen it.

Buried in time

The centuries-old engineering behind the stepwell was remarkable. Water flowed into the well through a carefully designed opening, whose level fluctuated with the seasons. In times of drought, one had to descend numerous steps to access the water, while during the monsoon season, when the water table surged, it could reach the uppermost steps effortlessly.

Standing at the monument's western edge, the well is 88 feet deep. Intricate carvings adorned its inner walls, depicting deities and geometric patterns with exquisite detail.

Parashurama, one of the dashavataras, is in the middle. Pic: Sneharashmi/Wikipedia

Sometime in the 13th century, flooding in the Saraswati River buried the stepwell under the layers of silt. It was a blessing in disguise. The silt safeguarded this marvel of water architecture, preserving it nearly intact, unlike many other vavs in the region that succumbed to the passage of time. 

Archaeologists Henry Cousens and James Burgess visited it in the 1890s when it was under silt, and only the shaft and a few pillars were visible. The monument remained obscured until its discovery in the 1940s. 

The excavations conducted under the Baroda State revealed the Rani ki Vav. Subsequently, excavation and restoration efforts led by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) commenced in the 1960s. It spanned around two decades. 

To this day, Rani ki Vav stands as a remarkable feat of water architecture, with its entire structure, water management system, and design emphasizing the sanctity of water. This distinction earned Rani ki Vav the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage site designation in 2014.

Also Read: Kalpana Ramesh: The architect leading restoration of Telangana’s historic stepwells

Look Up our YouTube channel