It took seventy years for me to know about it! I haven't studied in any of the text books either. Probably if the Govt of India had not issued a new currency note with a picture of it two years ago, I might not have come to know about it in my life span either!!
A new currency note of India's Rs.100 denomination issued in 2018 features Mahatma Gandhi on one side but on the other side an under ground structure- which doesn't look so in the photo- which is a combination of a marvel in Engineering, art and another long lost or neglected episode of Indian history. 'Rani Ki Vav' means The Queen's stepwell but in essence it is Queen of Stepwells ! When it is learnt that this could be the only well so featured on a currency note in any country of the world, which was built over thousand years back one will have to but admire...UNESCO has declared it as a world heritage site. I find that ancient India has contributed quite a few number of similar stepwells including Chand Baori in Rajasthan which is built in more or less the same era, I will stick here to 'Rani ki Vav'
My specific interest in what is featured on currency notes started about 20 years back while in Qatar. The firm 'AL BALAGH' of which I was the CEO was selected to build a small but an important landmark of the country in connection with a Gulf Cooperation Council GCC meeting which took place at Doha. It was the Pearl Oyster monument right in the heart of the city on the corniche, overlooking Qatar Central Bank on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other. The structure was a combination of selective art and modern engineering skills to be built within few weeks, I remember. The same scenario was featured on the currency note later as shown below . Qatar was once a pearl diving nation, struggling to exist while the main industry was the same. It was taken over by hydro carbon industry in the later years of 1950s. Thanks to the wise leadership over there, the country has become now the richest in the world on per capita basis!
Pearl Monument as featured on old and new currency notes of Qatar.
What is a stepwell?
A stepwell in Gujarati means a 'vav' or in Hindi 'Baori'.Essentially it is subterranean edifice and water source! Obviously the kings and queens in the old days dug wells in different parts of their states to get over shortage of water.
This stepwell was a part of local folklore for ages and is also narrated in some of the older chronicles like that of Mertunga in 1306. It was built near erstwhile river Saraswati but silted due to floods and people never knew about it for centuries unfortunately. It was rediscovered by two British archaeologists- Henry Cousens and James Burgess- employed with Architectural Survey of India (ASI) as Superintendent civil engineers who were travelling the concerned location in the 19th century. They wondered what could be the sculptured arches they found protruding out of soil! They could not find more. But it took almost another century till 1980s when Archeological Survey of India (ASI) started excavating the area to unearth this marvelous stepwell to what we see now.
The architectural and structural background...
These stepwells played much more role than just being a water source. They had social and cultural significances. I think it could be another excellent Indian contribution with unique 'desi' style to the architectural world. An inverted temple in seven stories underground with stunning sculptures with a water storage, the way ancient world has not seen. I can't blame the so called experts of the west for this short coming either because I myself didn't know about this and I am sure that I am just one among millions of Indians in similar situation! Again I remember the basic fact that we Indians are good in everything except marketing ourselves and our products- past or present! At least so far but might change sooner than later.
The statues - mostly dedicated to Lord Vishnu, together with hundreds of pillars which are built in perfect symmetry and sculptural completeness in many floors underground about a thousand years back will take a visitor, his or her breath away it is told. The structure has more than 500 principle sculptures and more than 1000 minor ones!
The historical background..
Patan is a town in the Gujarat state about 140 kms north west of the its capital Ahmedabad.
Bhima I was a king of Chalukya(Solanki) dynasty who lived between 1022-1064 CE where as the dynasty existed between 950-1300 CE .After the king died,it is believed that the construction of this stepwell was executed by his queen Udayamati along with her son. In an area of scanty rains and lower water tables, she decided that the best monument for everlasting memory of her late husband and useful for her subjects would be a unique stepwell, highlighting sanctity of water !
I am loading up more photos possible here to showcase the beauty of this art centric engineered marvel of India, which is much more effective than description of the same in words. As it is designed and built about thousand years back, I wonder how they could reach this perfection in stone without modern scientific instruments. Probably they might have had their own instruments but was not clever enough to 'patent' them! I am sure the world will talk and write more about this marvel as years go by as it is only 7 years since UNESCO had declared it as a world heritage site, while only twenty-five years since it has been unearthed.
My specific interest in bisecting what is featured on currency notes came after one of the structurers which the firm did in Qatar while I was the CEO was featured on the currency note oyster monument was built right in the heart of the city in the corniche, within few weeks by us in connection of a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting(GCC) at Doha. Perhaps only few in the new generation knows that Qatar was once a pearl diving society which was the nation's main industry before it was replaced by hydrocarbon industry. Qatar is now one of the richest countries in the world per capita wise.