A stepped-well (Baoli, Vav, Vapi) is generally a rectangular structure containing a draw well, constructed below the ground level. It is approached by a long stepped corridor which leads from the ground level to the water of the well. Building stepped-wells especially in arid regions was a common practice in the Indian subcontinent. Mostly placed on travel routes, these not only served to quench thirst of the travellers, the space created several levels below the surface of these elaborate wells provided cool resting places. Besides the well these used to have additional tanks for bathing and washing purposes. The Center for Art and Archaeology's image collection of stepped-wells include documentation from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh.
An inscription from Dashapura/Mandasor records that an official at the court of the Aulikaras of Dashapura, named Daksha, excavated a well in memory of his deceased uncle, Abhayadatta, in 532 AD. The stepped well is not preserved intact, but a deep trench still remains that was until the 1970s was identified as Abhay-koop, or Abhaya’s well.
The Adalaj Stepwell was built in 1499 CE during the reign of Sultan Mahmud Begada (1458-1511 CE). The stepwell was commissioned by Queen Ruadabai, wife of Raja Virasimha. Raja Virasimha who, according to scholars, started the stepwell, was killed in battle with Mahmud Begarah, which has led to much speculation about who was the patron of the stepwell and the reasons why the stepwell was constructed.
The Adalaj stepwell is of the Late Maru-Gurjara style. It has a stepped corridor that descends into the well. These steps allow the visitor to go and retrieve water, take part in Tirthayatra, or pilgrimage, or to look at the decorative ornamentations that illuminate the stepwell’s walls.
The corridor is made of an arcade of pillars and pilasters. The pillars are in the bhadraka style, that is squares with recesses and are highly decorated with their serpentine buttresses and bell pendants. The decorative motifs in the opened niches represent composites of animals, kalpavraksha tree of life, vines, swirling trees, or a full lotus. The inscriptions praise the stepwell and compare it to the Ganges and Mount Kailash because of its beautiful ornamentation that creates this idea of another realm or place that is important.
Purnima Mehta Bhatt, Her Space, Her Story: Exploring the Stepwells of Gujarat, 2014
Jutta Jain-Neubauer, The Stepwells of Gujarat: In Art-historical Perspective, 2003.
Morna Livingston, Steps to Water: The Ancient Stepwells of India, 2002.
Darielle Mason Frame, Form, and Variation in the Maha-Gurjara Temple, 1995.
Ashapuri Vav, Nadol, Rajasthan