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The stepwell of Rani-Ki-Vav

The ornate and beautifully-carved stepwell of Rani-Ki-Vav


The Rani-Ki-Vav is a stepwell located at Patan, Gujerat, India. Stepwells are a unique form of water resource and storage system in India, as they are wells in which the water may be reached by descending a series of steps. The Rani-Ki-Vav is said to have been built during the 11 th century A.D. in memory of the Solanki king, Bhimdev I. As its construction was commissioned by his widowed wife, Queen Udayamati, it was aptly named as the Rani-Ki-Vav (“The Queen’s Stepwell).

The ornate and beautifully decorated stepwell was built in the Maru-Gurjara architectural style, and measures 64 m in length, 20 m in width and 28 m in depth. The stepwell is divided into seven levels of stairs, the deepest of which is the fourth level. This level leads into a rectangular tank.  As with other stepwells, the Rani-Ki-Vav was built to provide water, shade from the scorching Indian heat, and as a place for the community to gather together.

In addition to the practical functions of the Rani-Ki-Vav, it was also an aesthetic masterpiece. The stairs are covered with sculptural panels depicting religious, secular and mythological imagery. The major sculptures number at over 500, while the minor ones number at over a thousand. These sculptures include images such as that of the ten incarnations of Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma, Ganesh, Lakshmi, apsaras (heavenly dancers), nangkanyas (serpent women) and yoginis (female yoga practitioners). Interestingly, it has been observed that the sculptures of the apsaras showcase the solah-shringar, which is a term used to describe the 16 different styles of make-up used to make a woman look more attractive.

The exquisite carvings of the Rani-Ki-Vav

The exquisite carvings of the Rani-Ki-Vav. Source: BigStockPhoto

The Rani-Ki-Vav also has immense religious value. As the stepwell was designed as an inverted temple, it was meant to highlight the sanctity of water. This sacred quality of water is further emphasised by its proximity to the Saraswati, one of India’s seven sacred rivers. It is believed that the Rani-Ki-Vav was built beside the Saraswati. When the river changed its course, however, it flooded the stepwell. As a result, the monument was buried under silt for centuries. Another story suggests that the stepwell was intentionally buried with mud by the Solanki rulers to protect it from invading armies. Whatever the case may be, the river silt helped preserve the intricate sculptures which would otherwise have eroded over the course of time.

Sculptures of the Rani-Ki-Vav

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

The Rani-Ki-Vav was only rediscovered almost 900 years after it was built by the Archaeological Survey of India. In 1958, the stepwell was excavated, and the mud was removed to reveal the well preserved structure. In 2014, the Rani-Ki-Vav was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, a status that it is truly worthy of. In addition, prior to its inscription as a World Heritage site, a digital model of the Rani-Ki-Vav was made by the Scottish Ten. This was a project aimed at producing highly accurate digital models of Scotland’s five World Heritage sites and five international heritage sites. Thus, over a two week period in 2011, the Scottish Ten team, along with members of CyArk and the Archaeological Survey of India collaborated to accomplish this huge undertaking.

Stepwell of the Rani-Ki-Vav

Steps lead down to the base of the well, with intricate carvings decorating the interior. Source: BigStockPhoto


By producing a digital model of the stepwell, the Rani-Ki-Vav has been preserved for future generations to come. Furthermore, this accurate 3D model will allow better conservation and management of this heritage site to be carried out in the present as well as in the future. Therefore, this may be seen as an example of the way that modern technology can contribute to the survival and the preservation of the cultural heritage of mankind.

This absolutely spectacular video animation by the Scottish Ten enables you to experience every corner of the amazing stepwell of Rani-Ki-Vav.

Featured image: Full view of the Rani-Ki-Vav . Photo source: Wikimedia.

By April Holloway


Ahmedaba, 2014. Rani-ki-Vav gets World Heritage tag. [Online]
Available at: http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/rani-ki-vav-gets-world-heritage-tag/

CyArk, 2013. In Progress: Rani-ki-Vav. [Online]
Available at: http://archive.cyark.org/rani-ki-vav-intro

Harsh Kabra, 2014. Queen of Wells. [Online]
Available at: http://www.thehindu.com/features/kids/queen-of-wells/article6245357.ece

historicscotlandtv, 2012. Rani ki Vav, India | 3D Scanning (English). [Online]
Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IsUXQ8xdGA

Scottish Ten, 2014. Rani ki Vav. [Online]
Available at: http://www.scottishten.org/property4

UNESCO, 2014. Rani-ki-Vav (the Queen’s Stepwell) at Patan, Gujarat. [Online]
Available at: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/922

Wikipedia, 2014. Rani ki vav. [Online]
Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rani_ki_vav

Wikipedia, 2014. Stepwell. [Online]
Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stepwell



I was fortunate enough to visit Chand Baori last year. The intricate work and beauty of the of the statuary was an amazing to see. Thanks for posting this, may these sites be preserved for future generations to marvel at!

dhwty's picture


Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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