If you are in Ahmedabad or Gandhinagar with a few hours to spare – then this is one place you should not miss. Adalaj Ni Vaav is an intriguiging place – a masterpiece of architecture which gives a great insight in the cultural belief of the vibrant history of India. Adalaj Ni Vaav is just about 17 kms from Ahmedabad Airport and the roads to reach here are just fine.
Just near Ahmedabad / Gandhinagar, is an architectural masterpiece that has served as a resting place for hundreds of years for many a pilgrims and caravans along their trade routes. Better known as ‘Adalaj Ni Vaav‘ in Gujarati – it is a step well which is intricately carved and is five stories deep. The carvings on the walls of this octagonal walls are a spectacular delight to watch.
The local folklore tells us that Villagers in the Adalaj village, would come everyday in the morning to fill water, offer prayers to the deities carved into the walls and interact with each other in the cool shade of the vav.
As per legend the 15th century, Rana Veer Singh of the Vaghela dynasty, a Hindu ruler, reigned over this territory, then known as Dandai Desh. His kingdom was attacked by Mohammed Begda, the Muslim ruler of a neighboring kingdom. The Rana king was killed and his territory occupied by the invader. Rana Veer Singh’s widow, a beautiful lady known by the name Rani Roopba, though in deep grief at the death of her husband, agreed to a marriage proposal made by Mahmud Begada on the condition that he would first complete the building of the stepwell. The Muslim king who was deeply enamoured of the queen’s beauty agreed to the proposal and built the well in record time.
Built in sandstone in the Solanki architectural style, the Adalaj stepwell is five stories deep. It is octagonal in plan at the top, built on intricately carved large number of pillars. Each floor is spacious enough to provide for people to congregate. The air and light vents in the roofs at various floors and at the landing level are in the form of large openings. From the first story level, three staircases lead to the bottom water level of the well, which is considered a unique feature. Built along a North-South axis, entrance is from the South, the three staircases are from the South, West and East directions leading to the landing, which is on the northern side of the well.
Four small rooms with oriel windows decorated with minutely carved brackets are provided at the landing level, at the four corners. The structural system is typically Indian style with traditional horizontal beams and lintels. At the bottom of the well is a square stepped floor in the shape of a funnel extending to the lowest plane. This is chiselled into a circular well. Above the square floor, columns, beams, wall and arched openings spiral around; a feature that continues to the top. The top part of the well, however, is a vertical space open to the sky. The four corners of the square are strengthened with stone beams, set at 45 degrees angle.
The motifs of flowers and graphics of Islamic architecture blend very well with the symbols of Hindu and Jain gods carved at various levels of the well. The dominant carvings on the upper floors are of elephants (3 inches (76 mm) in size, each of different design). The Islamic architectural style could be attributed to the Muslim king Begda who built it.
The walls are carved with women performing daily chores such as churning of buttermilk, adorning themselves, scenes of performance of dancers and musicians, and the King overlooking all these activities.
There is an opening in the ceilings above the landing which allows the light and air to enter the octagonal well. However, direct sunlight does not touch the flight of steps or landings except for a brief period at noon. Hence some researchers say that the atmosphere inside the well is six degrees cooler than the outside. Another remarkable feature of this stepwell is that out of the many step wells in Gujarat, it is the only one with three entrance stairs. All three stairs meet at the first storey, underground in a huge square platform, which has an octagonal opening on top.
The vav is a spectacular example of Indo-Islamic architecture and design. The harmonious play of intricate Islamic floral patterns seamlessly fusing into Hindu and Jain symbolism embody the culture and ethos of those times. All the walls carved by ornamentation, mythological scenes along with everyday scenes of women churning buttermilk, dancers accompanied by musicians, women adorning themselves and a king sitting on a stool.
Fascinating to many visitors is the Ami Khumbor (a pot that contains the water of life) and the Kalp Vriksha (a tree of life) carved out of a single slab of stone. There is a belief that the small frieze of Navagraha (nine-planets) towards the edge of the well protects the monument from evil spirits.