Ancient stepwells of INDIA

Stepwells or bawdi (Hindi: बावड़ी) are wells or ponds in which the water may be reached by descending a set of steps.

  • They may be covered and protected and are often of architectural significance. They also may be multi-storied having a bullock which turns the water wheel (“rehat”) to raise the water in the well to the first or second floor.
  • Most common in western India.Found in the other more arid regions of the subcontinent, extending into Pakistan.
  • The construction is utilitarian &  includes significant architectural embellishments.
  • To cope with seasonal fluctuations in water availability.Must have forced the inhabitants to built for water conservation.
  • More in towns where traders were present , like Ratlam , Indore , Pattan , Jaipur .
Builders dug deep trenches into the earth for dependable, year-round groundwater. They lined the walls of these trenches with blocks of stone, without mortar, and created stairs leading down to the water.
Stepwells usually consist of two parts:
  1. a vertical shaft from which water is drawn and
  2. surrounding inclined subterranean passageways, chambers and steps which provide access to the well.
The galleries and chambers surrounding these wells were often carved profusely with elaborate detail and became cool, quiet retreats during the hot summers.
Social Acceptance
  • The majority of surviving stepwells originally also served a leisure purpose, as well as providing water.
  • Provided relief from daytime heat ,more relief if the well was covered.
  • Served as a place for social gatherings and religious ceremonies esp women because they were the ones who collected the water& who prayed and offered gifts to the goddess of the well for her blessings.
  • The earliest stepwells most likely date to about 550 AD, but the most famous were built in medieval times.
  • Water in the architecture of India could be found since the earliest times and had played an important role in the culture.
  • Stepwells were first used as an art form by the Hindus and then popularized under Muslim rule.
  • Spread north to the state of Rajasthan, along the western border of India where several thousands of these wells were built.
  • Hit its peak from the 11th to 16th century.
  • Earliest existing stepwells was built in the 11th century in Gujarat = Mata Bhavani’s vav.
  • A long flight of steps leads to the water below a sequence of multi-story open pavilions positioned along the east/west axis. The elaborate ornamentation of the columns, brackets and beams are a prime example of how stepwells were used as a form of art.
Many stepwells have ornamentation and details as those of Hindu temples.
Proportions in relationship to the human body were used in their design, as they were in many other structures in Indian architecture.
carving of rani ki vav
Mughals –
  • In fact, even the invasion by Mughal rulers did not disrupt in the culture practiced in these stepwells. As a matter of fact, they encouraged the building of many stepwells.
British Rule –
  • The British rule was not satisfied with the quality of hygiene that existed in these stepwells and instead installed pipes and pumps to replace their purpose.
  • British forced abandonment of the wells. Consequentially, the social and religious activity taken place in these places were lost to the authority of the British.
Indians –
  • After Independence , Indians neglected the usage as other Sources of water came up with better technology for drinking.
  • For Irrigation , it was used for few decades.

 Stepwells in India

Numbers of surviving stepwells can be found in North Karnataka (Karnataka), Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra.
Chand Baori stepwell is one of the most overlooked landmarks in the country,consits of 3,500 narrow steps over 13 storeys making it one of the deepest and largest stepwells in India.  is one of the oldest and most attractive landmarks in Rajasthan and also the most visually spectacular step well in India.


The Queen’s Stepwell is situated in the town of Patan in Gujarat and included in the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. Rani ki vav is a magnificent architecture east facing step well with multi-storeyed pavilions is a unique feature and one of the largest and the most sumptuous structures of its type.



Adalaj Stepwell is a unique Hindu water building situated in the village of Adalaj near to Ahmedabad. The Adlaj stepwell attracts a large number of tourists and were also venues for colorful festivals and sacred rituals.



The protected monument by the Archeological Survey of India, Agrasen Ki Baoli is a 60-meter long and 15-meter wide historical step well on Hailey Road near Connaught Place in New Delhi. Agrasen Ki Baoli is among a few of its kind in Delhi, consisting of 103 steps made of red stone, It is also one of the most haunted place in India.



The Pushkarni Tank Hampi is an example of Chalukya architecture, the one in Hampi is a very beautiful built in the 15 century, Vijayanagara Dynasty.



The Sun Temple complex of Modhera,situated on the bank of the river Pushpavati, Modhera temple is under the supervision of Archaeological Survey of India. Surya Kund of Modhera is a large rectangular stepped water tank known as a finest example of geometry

 Negligence After Independence
  • Used for household water consumption & for critical irrigation needs. These were in use till drinking water was sourced from other areas and hence was neglected thereafter.
  • In the summer months, erratic supply brings in the water tankers from rural areas for meeting household needs in the city.
  • If existing bawdis be renovated, some 40% of daily domestic needs could be met from them.
  • Neither Aam Aadmi nor Municipalities are doing their job, both criticising each other.
  • The importance of water to the locations the area are scarcity of rain and water.
  • The construction of these wells encouraged the incorporation of water into the culture where they were popular.
  • These stepwells were even proven to be well built after withstanding earthquakes in the range of 7.6 on the Richter scale.
  • Without doubt, bawdis are the best insurance against any water emergency — man-made or natural.
  • Traditional wisdom of water conservation in an era marked with supply uncertainties and climate change.

SOURCE- walkthroughindia


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