Rani-ki-vav is located in Patan, Gujarat. In June 2014, UNESCO was finally convinced of Rani-Ki-Vavs uniqueness which led them to give it the prestigious UNESCO Heritage tag. How? Let’s find out.
Centuries ago, Patan was an integral part of many kingdoms that were ruled by different dynasties. There were many important buildings that were set up here, and more importantly one of the most famous wells of all time. Gujarat has always had an arid climate for many centuries. Gujarat did have monsoons, but each dynasty that came along to rule, ensured that their people did not have to suffer due to the lack of water. Step-wells were constructed; and one such well came into existence during the 11th century, or more precisely, during the years 1,022 -1,063 AD. Many events took place during this period.
King Bhimdev I established the Solanki dynasty of Rajputs in this region. Following this, the Mughals established their kingdoms, but after their decline, the Rajput kings once again prevailed. Queen Udaymati, wife of King Bhimdev I, was credited with creating the famous Rani-ki-vav. Realizing that the dry climate would prove fatal not only to the people, but crops and animals, the kings in those days would have to dig a well deep enough to penetrate the soil, and strike an underground source of water. The queen created a step-well which was dedicated to her late husband, the king; it was rectangular in shape. In those days, it was an important source of water to the people. However, it was designed in such a manner that during the severe heat, people could take refuge by entering this vav, which was designed in such a way, that the cool air from the well, and the high walls of the vav offered a shady retreat to many.
Once it was discovered, the ASI made efforts to remove the silt that covered the structure. It was carefully restored, and is now open for the world to see. There are seven levels of stairs. However, one can only go down to the fourth level because beyond that the structure is in a bad condition. There was even a caravan serai in those days where travelers could stay and it was a safe haven for them because of the way the well was designed. Each level of stairs has many columns of pillars and they doubled up as individual spaces for people to rest during the day or night. People would have to go down these sets of steps and come back up with their pots of water which would have certainly been tedious!
The entire vav is adorned with a myriad of sculptures. Each level has them; most of the sculptures consist of Gods and Goddesses of Hindu mythology. Since the queen created this, she ensured that most of the sculptures were of women or Goddesses and other divine beings. There are sculptures of Lord Shiva and Vishnu reclining on the Sheshanag and many others, such as sculptures of apsaras or nymphs. Sculptures of the daily lives of men and women are also seen here. There are many sculptures of different patterns which are popularly known as patola. These patterns still exist in modern times and are incorporated into various textiles including sarees. There are intricate images of the Sun God on the ceilings. Supposedly, there are 500 major sculptures and more than double the amount of minor sculptures. Each and every sculpture is incredibly detailed and there are many sculptures that have hidden meanings.
The well itself descends 65 feet below the ground, and is interesting because it is created as an inverted temple. The reason behind this is that in such a dry region, water was integral to their survival; water was almost revered, and therefore was equivalent to a temple to the locals. To this day, the well still holds water. There is a small gateway near the edge of the well; it is said that this was an escape route for travellers, locals and even the king and the royal family in the event of a war. Plants used to be kept as decoration near the well. Some of these plants were medicinal; and the medicinal properties somehow made its way to the well water, or so the locals in those days believed. This makes it the second monument to have made it to the UNECSO World Heritage List. It certainly is the most beautiful step-well in the world and is a matter of pride for the nation.