five-storied, step-well located in the sleepy village of Adlaj is a
marvel of architecture. This unique water work is an excellent blend
of Hindu and Islamic styles. The intricately carved monument served
religious and utilitarian purposes of the people around though its
origin is marred by tragedy.
Indo-Islamic style of architecture, which developed in India in the
early centuries of the medieval period, is neither a local variant of
Islamic art, nor a modification of Hindu art, but it is an
assimilation of both the styles, though not always to an equal degree.
It is so because each region in India has its own form of Indo-Islamic
architecture, which varies from place to place and there is no
standardization. On the other hand, Islamic art itself was a composite
style, which had various Muslims influences—Turkish, Persian, and
different parts of the Muslim world, who came to India and settle
here, brought with them the artistic traditions of their regions. The
intermingling of such traditions with local Indian practices resulted
in various examples of Indo-Islamic art.
the Indian and Islamic styles have their own distinctive features,
there are some common characteristics, which made fusion and
adaptation easy. Both the styles favor ornamentation and buildings of
both styles are marked by the presence of an open court encompassed by
chambers or colonnades.
The Adlaj Vav
(step-well) is a classic example of the Indo-Islamic style of
architecture and has features of both the styles. The intricate floral
patterns, which are a part of the Islamic style, can be seen in
harmony with Hindu symbolism, which includes depiction of animal and
human forms. The profusely carved pillars on different levels of this
step-well show strong Hindu and Jain influences, while the
ornamentation at a number of places in this monument are influenced by
mosques and mausoleum halls of the 15th-16th century Gujarat Sultans.
about 120 vavs or step-wells spread across the Indian state of
Gujarat. The oldest vav is the Rani vav or Queen’s vav, which is located in Patan and dates back to the 11th century
AD. However, the vav situated in the small village of Adlaj is the
most popular one. The Adlaj vav is in fact a na vav,
literally meaning an upside down architecture of a step-well.
of sandstone, one can enter into this step-well from three sides,
which consist of octagonal landings with huge carved colonnades and
intricately carved niches. The architecture of this well also shows
the influence of the earlier Solanki rulers of Gujarat. Carvings of
leafy creepers—typical adornment of Islamic architecture—co-exist with
Hindu symbolism. Among the other carvings on the panels are a king
sitting on a stool with two bearers, a scene depicting women churning
buttermilk, musicians accompanying dancing women apart from abstract
representations of various Hindu Gods and Goddesses. One can also see
a few Buddhist and Jain influences on some of the pillars and walls.
stupendous structure with its elaborate and heavily ornamented
temple-like finish and surrounding structures is a synthesis of
various elements–earth, rock and water. On one story is a little Hindu
shrine secretly hidden in an obscure corner. The step-well served both
ritualistic as well as utilitarian needs. People from the nearby
villages used to take water from the well and considered it holy. In
the semi arid climate of Gujarat, the cool water from the vav provided a welcome break, particularly in the harsh summer months.
Water from the vav was also used for irrigation.
the ceilings above the landing enable light and air to enter the well.
However, direct sunlight never reaches the flight of steps or landings
except for a brief period at noon as the inner ceilings are arranged
to receive the sunlight through these openings. According to a
research, there was a total difference of six degrees between the
outside and inside of the well, thus making it a veritable
strong and exquisitely carved pillars support each story of the vav and each available stone surface is profusely covered with carvings.
Each landing has wide space suggesting that people, especially
travelers, rested there while on journey. The main attraction of this
step-well is the pool of water at the lowest level. Besides this,
there is a niche here that houses an ami khumbor a pot that
contains the water of life and a kalpa vriksha or a tree of
life made out of a single stone slab. These sites attract the
villagers on religious and auspicious occasions like marriages, sacred
thread ceremonies (a ritual performed by Hindus) etc.
vicinity of the well are graves of the six masons who were
instrumental in erecting it. It is believed when Mohammed Begda asked
them if another vav was possible, they replied in the
affirmative. This proved to be their undoing and they were instantly
put to death. Perhaps that is why the Adlaj step-well stands
unrivalled till today.
behind the origin of this step-well is as interesting as its
architecture and is shrouded in beauty, romance and tragedy. In AD
1499, the area around Adlaj was known as Dandai Desh and was ruled by
Rana Veer Singh of the Vaghela dynasty. Around this time, Mohammed
Begda, a Muslim ruler of a neighboring state attacked Dandai Desh and
killed Rana Veer Singh. The beauty of the slain king’s widow, Rani
Roopba, enamored Mohammed Begda who sent her a proposal of marriage.
The heartbroken but determined queen agreed to the proposal on the
condition that he complete a five-storied step-well (vav) for
her. The Muslim ruler, enticed by the charm of the queen, readily
construction of this well had begun years ago under Rana Veer Singh
but had to be stopped later. Begda resumed this project with great
enthusiasm and got the well completed in record time. When this
five-storied edifice was completed but for the dome, Begda renewed his
proposal. The next day, Roopba took a round of the well and saying a
final prayer, flung herself into the water and drowned.
immediately stopped further construction but did not get the monument
demolished probably because Roopba had employed Muslim masons who had
decorated it with Islamic motifs. The incidents, which led to the
erection of this unique well, are detailed on the walls and pillars of
the vav in Sanskrit and Pali (an ancient language).
village of Adlaj is at a distance of 19 km from Ahmedabad and 5 km
from Gandhinagar. It can be reached from either of the two cities by
road. Travelers can take taxi or hire cars from these cities to reach