Rani-Ki-Vav, The Queen’s Stepwell, Patan, Gujarat

The Queen’s Step well (aka Rani-ki-Vav) at Patan, Gujarat received the distinction of being one of the 26 new inscriptions on the World Heritage Site List, at the end of June 2014 under UNESCO’s cultural collection of 1,007 properties. It is an outstanding landmark and visitors stand in awe at the skills of those who built such an architectural structure in India some 900 years ago. Ever since the 3rd millennium BC, step wells were constructed and played a major role in the lives of the people of India in terms of being a water resource and also for social gatherings. Over the years they developed from just being a ditch in sandy soil to being extravagant multi-storiedcreations with amazing art and architectural designs.The people used these spots for fetching water and also for taking a break to socialize and get away from the heat of the day. Additionally, they were significant in terms of the spiritual aspect and temples can also be found at some sites. For centuries the climate in Gujarat has been humid and dry. From time to time monsoons were experienced; however, the successive empires always found methods of sourcing water.They built step-wells; one of them being constructed between 1,022 -1,063 AD in the 11th century. These step-wells were designed brilliantly so that when it was very hot people could shelter by going on the inside and the cool air from the wells along with the high walls would shade and cool them down.The step-wells even accommodated travelers who were able to use them as resting places from their journeys. On each stage of the stairs there were many pillars which separated little sections for people to take a break in the nights and days.

On the banks of the Saraswati River there is Rani-ki-Vav which was originally constructed in the 11th century AD to memorialize a king.The artisans built it as high as their abilities allowed and it was done in a Maru-Gurjara style of architecture. This step-well is a remarkable display of the brilliance and skills of the artisans; impressively proportioned and intricately completed. It is created as an inverted temple,showcasing the sacredness of water and the seven stages of stairs boast panels that are beautifully sculpted. There are also over 500 main sculptures and more than one thousand smaller ones that are a combination of secular, religious, mythological and also images. Here you will also find sculptures of Vishnu and Lord Shiva laid back on the Sheshanag – the five-headed snake.Also sculptures of nymphs otherwise known as apsaras, along with those capturing people going about their daily lives and sculptures of a variety of patterns well known as patola. Many of these patterns can be found in our times in saris and other textiles.

The deepest stage of the stepwell is the fourth one, which directs into a tank the shape of a rectangle at a depth of 23m and measuring 9.5 m by 9.4 m.It is positioned on the western side of the area and has a channel some30 m deep and 10 m in width.There is a gate beneath the last step leading to a 30 kilometer long tunnel, which takes you into the town of Sidhpur close to Patan. This was a strategic opening constructed in the event that the royal family had to escape if they were defeated in times of war.

Historic and severe flooding in the 13th century caused the disappearance of the River Saraswati and after that the step-wells were no longer operated as a source of water. More significantly, the area was totally covered with silt for close to seven centuries. However, this same silt was responsible for the amazing protection of Rani-ki-Vav. It was only rediscovered about 30 years ago. The Rani-ki-Vav stepwell is seen in these times as a representation of the outstanding architectural skills that existed in ancient times and the ability of the artisans to create motifs, build it proportionately and also make it functional and beautiful; all without even a glimpse of modern technology.