This post was first published at Open Road Review.
The longer version is here:
“It’s amazing what people do for love.
It’s even more amazing what love does for people”
It was for this love, for her deceased husband Veer Sinh chieftain of Vaghelas, that Rani Roopba, consented to marry Mehmud Begada, the slayer of her husband himself, on a precondition that he would complete the construction of ‘Adalaj ni Vav’, the step-well at Adalaj, that her dead husband had begun before being killed in war.
Again it was for his love, for this beautiful woman, that Mehmud Begada agreed to honour her wish and instead of destroying the Hindu motifs adorning the walls of magnificent well added some Islamic motifs during completion of the step-well showing a great religious tolerance in an era when Muslim kings were defacing, plundering and destroying Hindu temples.
And all for the love for her husband, the queen, after the completion of the structure, chose to kill herself and jumped to her death in the well shaft itself. Though aware of the benevolence shown by the Muslim King, she preferred to keep the flame of her first love burning over a promise to another man.
Bhairon Singh had happily parroted away the whole story in part Hindi and part Gujarati when he was convinced of my interest in hearing him out. He was this middle-aged, thin, dark, dhoti-clad man who had appointed himself as guide. He usually sat under the shady tree in the small lawn adjoining the step-well, only occasionally getting up to offer his services to tourists. Though he was happy with whatever anybody paid him as ‘bakshish’ or fee for his effort but most tourists turned him down.
As we had ascended the steps out of the landing platform, after having feasted our eyes on the stone tapestry and exhausting our camera battery, to show ourselves out, he had lumbered towards us, expectation writ large on his face.
In me, he found a history enthusiast listening patiently, so he took me all around the well pointing out various images on the stone railings of octagonal well shaft which hardly had any water. Six grave-like structures atop the roof of step-well passage roused my curiosity and another story tumbled out of the guide’s mouth. The graves were supposedly of the six craftsmen who designed and carried out the construction. When Mahmud Begada, asked the craftsmen if they could replicate a similar ‘vav’ at any new place, the unsuspecting architects proudly nodded in affirmation. But the king wanted the design to be unique so he sent the poor men to the gallows allowing only their lifeless bodies to rest near their creation.
Aimed to function as a perennial water supply to the villagers, a centre for social gatherings and a cool retiring shelter for fatigued parched travellers, this step-well constructed in 15th century, descended five levels below the ground with each floor a veritable display of artistry. The entire interior of walls replete with delicate lace like geometric and floral patterns and equally ornate beams and pillars resembled more like an exquisitely embroidered cloth.
But, post the introduction of canal system by British, these step-wells, once a hub of all social, cultural and religious activities of villagers, for want of patronage, gradually succumbed to negligence.
A delight for art connoisseurs’ eyes, the surviving few tell the tales of an artistic and architecturally rich bygone era. These art galleries of sorts, having braved many calamities, seen many wars and fought thousands of storms for more than 600 years mutely illustrating a lost era of love, dedication, commitment and exemplary craftsmanship, seek attention now in their vulnerable senility. Unless conserved and preserved, these architectural marvels exhibiting such riveting art, will be lost in sands of time forever…the crumbling walls turning into just another carved stone block encased in glass coffins on museum floors…lifeless like the entombed artisans who created them….
Looking back, the only regret I experienced was the inaccessibility to the four lower levels, which rendered fragile from natural wear and tear over centuries were off-limits for visitors.
The trip never felt like a waste of effort. Here stood an illustration of love, religious tolerance and unity surviving for more than 600 years while today the two communities were embroiled in issues as trivial as beef, pork and vegetables….
The trip left me wondering…. Will Hindus and Muslims ever join hands again?
- Popular among tourists, the Adalaj step-well is situated 18 kilometres north of Ahmedabad and is 5 kilometres from the capital city of Gujarat, Gandhinagar.
- Ahmedabad is well connected to other parts of country by road, railways and air. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Airport, the international airport at Ahmedabad, has flights operating to several countries. The nearest railway station to the stepwell is Kalupur.
- There are few shops around the stepwell where beverages are available but for a proper meal, it is better to travel back to city.