Rav-ki-Vav Stepwell at Patan, Gujarat, India

Beautiful, utilitarian stepwells of India are in danger of becoming extinct

(Read the article on one page)

When Muslims conquered different parts of India through the years, they halted the practice of representing deities, people and animals in the ornamentation of the stepwells because of an injunction against graven images. But some of the stepwells commissioned by Muslims were beautifully ornamented too, Lautman wrote. Hindu builders employed post and lintel construction with corbels to support domes, but Muslims used arches and true domes.

The magnificent sculptures of the Rani-Ki-Vav remained well preserved over centuries after being buried under silt.

The magnificent sculptures of the Rani-Ki-Vav remained well preserved over centuries after being buried under silt. Source: BigStockPhoto

Now many wells are dried up because of unregulated pumping, or when the water is present in some cases it is covered with algae or plant growth. Lautman says stepwells are also being used as garbage dumps and latrines. Some have been mined for stone for use in other structures. Others are crumbling from lack of maintenance. Some have been destroyed.

But others are still in use, “though not always in the way you’d expect,” she said in e-mail. “Unfortunately, many of them lack water due to the precipitous drop in the water table, a crisis only recently (but thankfully) being addressed. But in other areas, I’ve seen plenty of wells with water being used for washing, irrigation, and thirst-quenching—exactly as they were used hundreds of years ago. Other wells are still being used as temples, while still others have been being appropriated for clever contemporary uses, extending stepwell significance into the 21st century. For instance, a hotel in Rajasthan offers elegant dinners in a nearby stepwell, while certain renowned architects and artists have incorporated the wells into their work.”

Featured image: Rav-ki-Vav Stepwell at Patan, Gujarat, India ( Jeremy Richards / Dreamstime )

By Mark Miller

Comments

Seeing these designs, makes me feel like architects nowadays don't deserve even 5% of their paycheck.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

The sarcophagus of Junius Bassus.
Bacchus into Jesus. This is a topic seen many times before and its relevance continues here. As mentioned in a previous article, the attributes of the Greco-Roman god of wine, transformation and ecstasy—called Dionysus or Bacchus—were borrowed from in the early days of Christian worship in and around the city of Rome.

Myths & Legends

Human Origins

Ancient Technology

Acharya Kanad
John Dalton (1766 – 1844), an English chemist and physicist, is the man credited today with the development of atomic theory. However, a theory of atoms was actually formulated2,500 years before...

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article