Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Rani Ki Vav: Queen of all Stepwells in India

Every inch of Rani Ki Vav Stepwell has something to show or tell

It is an ancient water storage system. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. And it features on the back of the new one hundred (100) rupee currency note. But what makes this 11th century stepwell so unique are its intricate carvings, sculptures and visual depictions that have stood the test of time.

Above video: The above video is a walkthrough of this magnificent stepwell. Watch in full HD or 4K mode for best quality.

An Apsara and her jewels - fashion in the 11th century

An engineering and creative feat, Rani Ki Vav was built as a memorial to 11th century king Bhimdev Solanki by his wife queen Udayamati. Spanning seven levels, Rani Ki Vav looks like a deep well from the top and from the front, it looks like a wide multi-storied temple complex with a maze of steps, sculptures and pillars.

The UNESCO World Heritage site of Rani ki Vav, Patan, Gujarat

Stepwells are an ancient form of subterranean water resource and storage system. It was created to help people find water in some of the driest regions of the country. But, Patan’s Rani Ki Vav, takes the stepwell concept to another level. It made this daily chore of carrying water an entertaining and informative one through its rich sculptures and carvings that tell many stories from Hindu mythology. And all this entertainment and learning takes place when people used to take breaks while climbing these 7 storeys with loads of water in hand.

The ornate pillars inside Rani ki vav, Patan, Gujarat

In simple words, the people living here got access to water (stepwells), got protection from the sun (sheltered rooms inside the stepwell) and visual entertainment and learning (through the sculptures and carvings).

World Heritage Site of Rani Ki Vav on the back of our 100 rupee currency note

This amazing stepwell, built using Maru-Gurjara architecture as an inverted temple, is a sight to behold in the 21st century and I am assuming that it was way more special when it was built in the 11th century during the rule of the Chalukyan dynasty.

The mesmerizing carvings of Rani Ki Vav - Entertainment for those who came to fill water in the 11th century

But, there was a period of time when this magnificent piece of architecture was hidden from the world after a massive flood in the nearby Saraswati river buried this entire stepwell in silt. It wasn’t discovered till the late 1980s, but this stepwell rose out of the all the silt while retaining all of its pristine glory. A few earthquakes have weakened the lower levels, but in spite of all these testing elements, Rani Ki Vav stands magnificent in all its grandeur.

Ganesha and his consort along with other sculptures at Rani ki vav, Patan, Gujarat

Rani Ki Vav’s highlights are its 800 plus sculptures across the seven galleries. It’s side walls are the most ornate, but if you look closely, you can experience impressive visual stories almost everywhere. The sculpting gets richer as you descend into the stepwell and at the bottom, you feel like you are inside a surreal sculpted world.

Balram Avatar of Lord Vishnu with Apsaras - Rani Ki Vav, Patan

The famous sculptures are:

1) The Ananta Sayana Vishu (Reclining Vishnu) that you can see at the far end of the stepwell at each of the lower levels with the Shesh Nag protecting him

2) The 10 avatars of Vishnu – Vaman, Varaha, Koorma, Narasimha, Krishna, Rama, Buddha, Balram, Kalki and the others

The beautiful Rani ki Vav stepwell of Patan, Gujarat

3) The Vish Kanyas who depict sexuality and poise

4) The apsaras who depict fashion, grace and sexuality (do pay note to all the make up elements of that era)

Gorgeous interiors  of Rani Ki Vav, Patan

5) Tridev (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) with their consorts

6) Mahisasura Mardini slaying the demon

Rani Ki Vav - Magnificent heritage of Gujarat

7) The demon who was cursed to lift the weight of the world

8) An ancient game played by the artisans who built Rani Ki Vav (Can be seen on the floor on one of the levels)

Varaha Avatar of Lord Vishnu - Rani Ki Vav, Gujarat, India

9) Ganesha and his consort

10) Stories of Lord Shiva

11) Brahmins and Sadhus

Vaman Avatar of Lord Vishnu - Rani Ki Vav, Patan

Rani Ki Vav is certainly an astounding place. One visit can simply overwhelm you, which is why I went there thrice. Once, to get a feel of the place. The second time with an authorized tourist guide to understand the history in depth and the third was to indulge in some photography.

Kalki Avatar - Rani Ki Vav, Patan

During each visit, I seemed to discover more of the place. I seemed to see newer motifs, designs and sculptures. Most of you might not be able to visit many times. So, even if you manage to visit only once, do ensure that you opt for a proper tourist guide and plan to stay here for at least 2 to 3 hours.

Mahisasura Mardini - Rani Ki Vav, Patan

In addition to Rani Ki Vav, you can visit the nearby Sahastralinga Talav, which is an ancient structure that was used to store water and was kept for irrigation. If you cross the Talav, you will come to the dry bed of the Saraswati river, the river that was once full of water in the 11th century and that changed course somewhere around the 13th century AD.

Lord Viishnu and Apsaras on the walls of Rani ki vav stepwell, Patan, Gujarat

Unlike the dusty Patan town, Rani Ki Vav and the neighbouring Sahastralinga Talav are clean, green and full of trees and birds, thus making you feel that you are in the lap of nature. Hence, don’t be surprised if you see a lot of locals picnicking here during weekends, festivals and holidays.

An ancient game played by the workers who built Rani Ki Vav, Patan

Rani Ki Vav and Patan were once the jewel of the Solanki dynasty. Patan was its capital. Trade and business used to thrive. And creativity was at its very best. Even the famous Patola sarees come from here. Unfortunately today, this town is a shadow of its glorious past.

Designs and Sculptures galore at Rani Ki Vav, Patan, Gujarat

Even though it is just 3 hours from the capital city of Ahmedabad, no one prefers to visit this offbeat side of Gujarat and instead head straight to Rann of Kutch, Gir National Park or Dwarka. But, this offbeat trail is full of hidden gems! The Modhera Sun Temple, the heritage town of Siddhpur and Rani Ki Vav are places that one have to experience. There are countless other small gems in this region.

An Apsara applying lipstick  in the 11th century - Rani Ki Vav, Patan, Gujarat

I would certainly recommend exploring this part of offbeat Gujarat. The queen of all stepwells in India, Rani Ki Vav, will blow your mind! Go on and experience it for yourself on your next holiday to Gujarat.

Pillar carvings - Rani ki vav, Patan

Rani Ki Vav Entrance Fees:

Indian Nationals: INR 35

Foreign Nationals: INR 550

Tourist Guide Fees: Roughly INR 400 per hour (price is usually negotiable). Remember to check for official ID card.

The demon who was cursed to lift the weight of the world - Rani ki Vav, Patan

Rani Ki Vav Timings: 8 AM to 6 PM

Carvings and sculpting on every inch of Rani Ki Vav Stepwell, Gujarat

Handy Tips for Rani Ki Vav:

1) Carry an umbrella, sunglasses, sunscreen or hat to protect you from the strong sun. There are hardly an trees around offering you shade

2) Carry a jacket in case you are visiting during the winter months

3) Do wear good shoes as you will have to climb up and down a lot of steps

4) Hold young kids at all times as the bottom level is cordoned off and quite risky for them

Visual stories seen from every single nook and corner of Rani Ki Vav Stepwell, Patan, Gujarat

How to reach Patan:

By air: Ahmedabad would be your nearest domestic and international airport. From here, you can reach Patan either by rail or road.

By rail: Many long distance trains connect to Mahesana, which is an hour from Patan. You could either opt to take an auto, cab or bus from here or opt for the less frequent passenger train from Mahesana to Patan (this train is locally referred to as DEMU)

By road: Patan is about 140 kms from Ahmedabad. On a good day, it should take you somewhere between 2 to 3 hours if you are using your own mode of transportation. If you opt for public buses, it can take you close to 4 hours.

Rani Ki Vav, a magical place in Gujarat

Best season to visit Patan:

September to February would be the best months to visit Patan and Rani Ki Vav as it is during these months that the temperatures are pleasant. This would also be the time when this town gets the most visitors.

This is what is portrayed in the new 100 rupee currency note - Rani Ki Vav, Gujarat

Best time to visit Rani Ki Vav:

As Rani Ki Vav is many levels under the ground, natural light doesn’t reach in at all times. If photography is on your agenda, you should plan to visit between 11 am and 2 pm to get maximum light. An hour before or after is also fine, but one side of the stepwell might have shadows while the other is well lit.

Top view of Rani Ki Vav Stepwell, Patan, Gujarat

Other tourist attractions in Patan:

1) Patan Patola museum where the 900 year old art of weaving Patola sarees still exists

2) Ancient paper carving of the Jadiya family

3) Sahastralinga Talav

4) Sunset at Maya Tekri

The queen of stepwells, Rani ki Vav, Patan, Gujarat

Nearby tourist attractions of Gujarat:

1) The 12th century Sun temple of Modhera, about 45 to 60 minutes away

2) The heritage town of Siddhpur, about 45 to 60 minutes away

3) The UNESCO world heritage city of Ahmedabad, about 3 hours away

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