Patan, known for Rani ki Vav and Patola Saris, is two and a half hour drive from Ahmedabad. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Rani ki Vav is an ancient step-well or baodi or vav in Gujarati.
Stepwells are water tanks that are reached by descending steps. These were built by digging deep trenches to reach the underground water and the walls are lined with stones with steps to reach the water. Step-wells were not only a source of water but also became the place for social and religious gatherings. The architectural features of subterranean pavilions, passageways and chambers at different levels in the step-wells also provided relief during hot days. The walls of stones were mostly heavily adorned with sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses.
RANI KI VAV:
Rani ki vav was built in early 11th century(1050 AD) by the widowed queen in memory of her husband, Raja Bhimdev I of Solanki Dynasty of Gujrat. The step-well built near the ancient Rigvedic River Saraswati, was buried in the debris and silt after the floods in the river. It was only in 1960 when Archaeological Survey of India dug up the site to expose this magnificent architectural marvel.
The step well, oriented in east-west directions, has been constructed as an inverted temple to emphasize the religious importance of water. The well is in seven levels of stairs decorated with more than 500 elaborate ornate sculptures depicting many mythological and religious stories. The fourth level leads to the water tank and well which is at a depth of 23 meters. There also was a gate at the lowest level which had a tunnel supposedly an escape route during an attack. The tunnel is closed due to rubble, however.
We reached the step-well at around 12:30 in the afternoon navigating through narrow village streets and almost missing a turn or two. The approach road passes through the village and is confusing as there are no proper direction sign-boards to the step-well. The lawns around the step-well are well maintained and the boards describing the history of the well are put up for the tourist convenience. There is a proper parking area as well.
The tourists are not allowed to descend down all the levels to prevent any accidents. The wall of the well is also covered with many sculptures but it was from only a distance that we could see a few statues which were visible from the fourth level pavilion.
The central theme of all the sculptures was the Hindu god Lord Vishnu and his ten incarnations surrounded by statues of celestial nymphs, the apsaras and yoginis. The step-well was one of the best work of art and architecture of Solanki Kings.
I was definitely very happy that we made this trip as my fascination towards historic monuments was fulfilled. It is yet another example of the exquisite craftsmanship of Indian artisans and definitely worth visiting.