FACTS & FIGURES
Built In 1499
Built By Rani Roopba
AN ARCHITECTURAL MARVEL
The five-storied, step-well located in the sleepy village of Adlaj is a marvel of architecture. This unique water work is an excellent blend of Hindu and Islamic styles. The intricately carved monument served religious and utilitarian purposes of the people around though its origin is marred by tragedy.
The Indo-Islamic style of architecture, which developed in India in the early centuries of the medieval period, is neither a local variant of Islamic art, nor a modification of Hindu art, but it is an assimilation of both the styles, though not always to an equal degree. It is so because each region in India has its own form of Indo-Islamic architecture, which
varies from place to place and there is no standardization. On the other hand, Islamic art itself was a composite style, which had various Muslims influences-Turkish, Persian, and Arabic.
Rulers from different parts of the Muslim world, who came to India and settle here, brought with them the artistic traditions of their regions. The intermingling of such traditions with local Indian practices resulted in various examples of Indo-Islamic art.
Though both the Indian and Islamic styles have their own distinctive features, there are some common characteristics, which made fusion and adaptation easy. Both the styles favor ornamentation and buildings of both styles are marked by the presence of an open court encompassed by chambers or colonnades.
The Adlaj Vav (step-well) is a classic example of the Indo-Islamic style of architecture and has features of both the styles. The intricate floral patterns, which are a part of the Islamic style, can be seen in harmony with Hindu symbolism, which includes depiction of animal and human forms. The profusely carved pillars on different levels of this step-well show strong Hindu and Jain influences, while the ornamentation at a number of places in this monument are influenced by mosques and mausoleum halls of the 15th-16th century Gujarat Sultans.
There are about 120 vavs or step-wells spread across the Indian state of Gujarat. The oldest vav is the Rani vav or Queen's vav, which is located in Patan and dates back to the 11th century AD. However, the vav situated in the small village of Adlaj is the most popular one. The Adlaj vav is in fact a na vav, literally meaning an upside down architecture of a step-well.
Built entirely of sandstone, one can enter into this step-well from three sides, which consist of octagonal landings with huge carved colonnades and intricately carved niches. The architecture of this well also shows the influence of the earlier Solanki rulers of Gujarat. Carvings of leafy creepers-typical adornment of Islamic architecture-co-exist with Hindu symbolism. Among the other carvings on the panels are a king sitting on a stool with two bearers, a scene depicting women churning buttermilk, musicians accompanying dancing women apart from abstract representations of various Hindu Gods and Goddesses. One can also see a few Buddhist and Jain influences on some of the pillars and walls.
This stupendous structure with its elaborate and heavily ornamented temple-like finish and surrounding structures is a synthesis of various elements-earth, rock and water. On one story is a little Hindu shrine secretly hidden in an obscure corner. The step-well served both ritualistic as well as utilitarian needs. People from the nearby villages used to take water from the well and considered it holy. In the semi arid climate of Gujarat, the cool water from the vav provided a welcome break, particularly in the harsh summer months. Water from the vav was also used for irrigation.
Openings in the ceilings above the landing enable light and air to enter the well. However, direct sunlight never reaches the flight of steps or landings except for a brief period at noon as the inner ceilings are arranged to receive the sunlight through these openings. According to a research, there was a total difference of six degrees between the outside and inside of the well, thus making it a veritable air-conditioner.
Innumerable strong and exquisitely carved pillars support each story of the vav and each available stone surface is profusely covered with carvings. Each landing has wide space suggesting that people, especially travelers, rested there while on journey. The main attraction of this step-well is the pool of water at the lowest level. Besides this, there is a niche here that houses an ami khumb or a pot that contains the water of life and a kalpa vriksha or a tree of life made out of a single stone slab. These sites attract the villagers on religious and auspicious occasions like marriages, sacred thread ceremonies (a ritual performed by Hindus) etc.
In the vicinity of the well are graves of the six masons who were instrumental in erecting it. It is believed when Mohammed Begda asked them if another vav was possible, they replied in the affirmative. This proved to be their undoing and they were instantly put to death. Perhaps that is why the Adlaj step-well stands unrivalled till today.
LEGEND OF ADLAJ VAV
The legend behind the origin of this step-well is as interesting as its architecture and is shrouded in beauty, romance and tragedy. In AD 1499, the area around Adlaj was known as Dandai Desh and was ruled by Rana Veer Singh of the Vaghela dynasty. Around this time, Mohammed Begda, a Muslim ruler of a neighboring state attacked Dandai Desh and killed Rana Veer Singh. The beauty of the slain king's widow, Rani Roopba, enamored Mohammed Begda who sent her a proposal of marriage. The heartbroken but determined queen agreed to the proposal on the condition that he complete a five-storied step-well (vav) for her. The Muslim ruler, enticed by the charm of the queen, readily agreed.
The construction of this well had begun years ago under Rana Veer Singh but had to be stopped later. Begda resumed this project with great enthusiasm and got the well completed in record time. When this five-storied edifice was completed but for the dome, Begda renewed his proposal. The next day, Roopba took a round of the well and saying a final prayer, flung herself into the water and drowned.
Mohammed Begda immediately stopped further construction but did not get the monument demolished probably because Roopba had employed Muslim masons who had decorated it with Islamic motifs. The incidents, which led to the erection of this unique well, are detailed on the walls and pillars of the vav in Sanskrit and Pali (an ancient language).
HOW TO REACH
The small village of Adlaj is at a distance of 19 km from Ahmedabad and 5 km from Gandhinagar. It can be reached from either of the two cities by road. Travelers can take taxi or hire cars from these cities to reach Adlaj.