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.
The construction of the Dada Harir Stepwell fell in the reign of Sultan Mahmud Begada. This stepwell derived its name from the patroness Dada Hariri. In an early account, this stepwell was called ‘Nurse’s Well’ by literal translation of patroness’ title given in the inscription.
This stepwell bears two inscriptions, one in Sanskrit and the other in Arabic. The stepwell has five storeys and five pavilion-towers. In the inside world of the world at each story, one small niche is introduced at the center of the back wall. Inside the niches, there are intricately designed scroll-motifs. At the top most storey, and arch supports a platform, were formerly the device for hauling by buckets had been installed.
The stepwell displays various elements of the prevailing Hindu tradition and Islamic elements of decoration. Animals appear on the horizontal bands inside the back word of the well in between the floral scroll. Islamic decorative elements are rosette-medallions, the ‘tree of life’ or a huge lotus-rosette in a vase which seems to be an alteration of the classical motif of purnaghata, the vase of plenty.
Reference: Jain-Neubauer, Jutta. The Stepwells of Gujarat: In Art-historical Perspective, 2003.