There is a beautiful stepwell in Adalaj, Gujarat. Adalaj Stepwell (or Adalaj Vav in Gujarati) was built in 1498 and it is truly a fine example of ancient Indian architecture.
If you don't believe me, look at this beauty for yourself.
There are around 500 stepwells in Gujarat. Why does Adalaj Stepwell stand out?
The amazing architecture is certainly one of the reasons. However, that's not all. Its origin story is as sad as it can be, and I thought, why not share the misery? (Disclaimer: I am not a sadist.)
The storybook king and queen
In the small kingdom called Dandai Desh, all was well. It was ruled by a benevolent king - Rana Veer Singh of the Vaghela dynasty, and his beautiful queen - Rani Rudadevi. Rana's first priority was always his people, and his good nature was evident in his endeavours. The queen matched her king in her generosity and the subjects of Dandai Desh had nothing much to complain about.
The lack of water!
Adalaj fell on a popular trade route. As a result, many people travelled through the region. Everyone had a common complaint - The unforgivable heat from the mid-day sun and the lack of water in the dry and arid region.
It was a legitimate concern. Being the good and concerned king that he was, Rana decided to find a solution.
Adalaj Stepwell is born
The king decided to construct a stepwell. Stepwells are ancient wells where people can reach the water by descending a set of steps. Here, Rana wished to create a solution for both the scorching heat and scarcity of water. The stepwell's design would make sure that it provided shelter to the travellers during the day. Of course, it would also solve the water problems.
The construction began in 1498, but things were about to take a tragic turn soon.
A battle, death and unfinished dreams
While the construction was going on, Dandai Desh was attacked by Mohammed Begda, the ruler of a neighbouring kingdom. A fierce battle ensued and King Rana Veer Singh was no more. He was killed in battle, and now Dandai Desh was Begda's territory.
What would happen to Adalaj Stepwell now? Would it remain an unfinished dream?
We know now that it was finished. But, at what cost?
A new love (or lust?)
As I mentioned before, the queen was beautiful. It doesn't matter if it is the modern times or the medieval ages, beautiful women (or just anyone with b**bs) would never get a moment of peace from men. As soon as Mohammed Begda saw Rani Rudadevi, he fell in love. I use the term "love" very loosely, for I am sure that he was just lusting after her.
When the queen tried to perform Sati (jumping into her husband's pyre to join him in death), he stopped her from doing so. He proposed marriage to her and seemed entirely enamoured of her beauty.
Surprisingly, the queen agreed to the proposal. However, it came with terms and conditions attached. She would marry him - only and only if he completes the construction of Adalaj Vav.
What do you think Begda did? Men in love (ahem) think with their hearts (ahem) rather than their brains. Obviously, he agreed. (Big surprise!)
The construction resumed in full vigour, with Begda rushing to complete it in record time.
The Queen's determination
Adalaj Vav was finished in 1499. Now, it was time for the queen to fulfil her part of the deal. Begda reminded her of her promise to marry him. I like to imagine that she smiled a sweet, enigmatic smile and said "Let me see the stepwell first."
The besotted Begda then escorted the queen himself to show off the stepwell. The queen took her time checking it out. She made rounds, offered prayers to the gods and heaved a sigh of relief that her husband's efforts weren't in vain.
And then, she jumped.
To her death.
Rather than marry her husband's murderer, she chose to end her life once she fulfilled her goals. The beautiful stepwell thus became steeped in tragedy.
According to some sources, before her death, the queen requested some saints to take a bath in the stepwell so that the water is purified from the sin of her suicide.
History is bleak
When you see Adalaj Vav today, it is hard to imagine that it holds such a sad piece of history within itself. It is five stories deep and the carvings show women doing daily chores under the watchful eye of the king. It is a piece of architectural art, and I hope to pay it a visit one day.
It is possible that the queen was not the only one who sacrificed her life for the stepwell. Near the vav, there are six graves - for the six masons who built the well. It is said that Begda asked the masons, "Can you create another stepwell like this?" The proud workers replied in the affirmative. Instead of being rewarded, they were sentenced to their death. Begda was impressed with the work, and he didn't want it to be repeated elsewhere.
Note from Pixie:
Check out this video of Adalaj Vav from Gujarat tourism. I am not sure if you got how beautiful it is from just the picture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SyO8kmC2D4
Long time no see! I have been going through a BIG creative slump. Hopefully, I will be writing and posting a lot more frequently now. No promises though! I am bad at keeping them :P.