Adalaj Vav: An Illustration of Love and Religious Tolerance

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.

Few mythological figures

Few mythological figures

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.

Floral motif on the walls

Floral motif on the walls

Intricate floral motif

Intricate floral motif

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….

View through the passages till wall of water shaft

View through the passages till wall of water shaft

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?

Travel facts:

  • 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.
Advertisements

About shoma abhyankar

I like to believe that I am a creative person. I read, write, paint, sketch, rustle up some quick and some elaborate meals for friends and family, love chess, su-doku and scrabble, can hum an old Hindi song tentatively, always stand up for women rights, hate fake people, bugs, roaches, spiders and cigarette smokers!! I graduated with a degree of Bachelor of Architecture in 1998. Soon after, I married an officer in Indian Air Force and have been on move since then. For a brief time of two years when we were posted in Pune, I worked as a junior architect in a firm. Being aware of frequent movement that we would have to live with, I chose to be a homemaker and concentrated on creating a warm and welcoming home for my family. But sitting at home without any creative activity was not my cup of tea. I learnt candle making and soon put up an exhibition at Poona Club when my daughter was barely a year old. I also enjoyed a short stint as a home-based entrepreneur, supplying chocolates and cakes on demand, while we were posted in Bareilly. With an inclination towards writing, I completed a diploma in ‘Creative Writing in English’ from Symbiosis College of Distance Learning, Pune. Then I discovered the blogosphere. Now I hope to not only travel and share my experiences with the world but also to pen a book someday....
Image | This entry was posted in Architecture, Destinations, Gujarat, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Adalaj Vav: An Illustration of Love and Religious Tolerance

  1. N. E. White says:

    What is so amazing is all the details given to such a mundane structure. It was part of the community, so they designed it that way. Now a days, it would just be a concrete bunker, hidden in the center if town. Very tragic story too. I like to think she didn’t die, but got carried away on some underground stream to a new land where she could live again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • True… These days designing such exquisitely detailed water well will not be undertaken and instead prefabricated concrete slabs will make a water tank of sorts.
      What a thought… The Queen’s eternal love sweeps her away to a new land to live and meet again with her lost love…. I like the idea and imagination.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What an amazing structures.. very nice post,.,.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The imagery along with your explanation on the history of this amazing place is moving. Thank you for sharing!

    Like

  4. Where do we find such love and honor these days! Moving story and what magnificent architecture.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Anil says:

    Nice blog.Amazing story of a princess who for love of her dead husband agreed to marry her enemy.Do we get to see this now.Not possible.

    Good blog along with photos; thought i was already there.

    Like

Do please share your opinion

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s