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Step wells of India : historical water management

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Published on Dec 12, 2014

It is extremely difficult to imagine an entire category of architecture slipping off the grid. But this is precisely what seems to have happened with the step-wells of India. Step-wells first appeared in India between the 2nd and 4th centuries A.D., born of necessity in a capricious climatic zone which remains dry for much of the year followed by torrential monsoon rains for many weeks.

Step-wells also known as Baolis were constructed throughout India during medieval times. Even before rain-water harvesting gained significance and the modern world woke up to the perils of diminishing fresh water, our ancestors realised the importance of water conservation. The sites for the step-wells were chosen where a natural depression or incline of the land meant that rain water falling in the area naturally flowed towards baoli. India had numerous baolis which have now either dried up or have been covered but a few survive even today.

A Stepwell or “Baoli” which deserves a special mention is the “Chand Baori” situated in the village of Abhaneri near Jaipur in the Western Indian state of Rajasthan. The Chand Baori is regarded as a unique innovation of the people of Abhaneri and was created with the primary purpose of rain water harvesting. Located in front of the Harshat Mata Temple, this colossal stepwell with a depth of 20 meters with as many as 13 separate levels, consists of 3500 steps. It is believed that this particular step well has certain spiritual powers and that is why it is placed within the temple complex. The state of Rajasthan is extremely arid. The design and final structure of this step well was made with the intention to conserve as much water as possible. At the bottom of the well the air remains 5-6 degrees cooler than at the surface and this place was used as a community gathering place for locals during the blistering summer months. The well and the ancient temple of Harshat Mata are both believed to have been built by King Chand, the ruler of Abhaneri and is one of the deepest step wells in India. Abhaneri has a glorious history and the magnetism of the place attracts tourists from everywhere.

“Rani ki Baoli” or the “Stepwell of Neemrana” is another stepwell worth a mention. It is a beautiful architectural monument situated in the town of Neemrana, Rajasthan.

One of the stepwells of Delhi is the Hazrat Nizamuddin Baoli. The baoli is a stepwell still remaining in Delhi that is fed by an active underground spring. The Baoli was constructed over 800 years ago by the sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya himself. It doubles up as a swimming pool for local boys who show-off their diving skills here.

Another noteworthy baoli in Delhi is the Rajon Ki Baoli.

Agrasen Ki Baoli is another important stepwell in India’s capital city. It is thought that it was designed initially by Agrasen during the period of the Mahabharat. It was rebuilt by the Agrawal community in the 14th century.

A quiet lane from Mehrauli village leads to the Gandhak ki Baoli built by Iltutmish a ruler of the slave dynasty. It is a huge circular five-tiered step-well built of sandstone and many claim that the water of this Baoli used to smell like Gandhak (sulphur), hence the name. The Baoli remains the largest stepwell in Delhi and the absence of the water allows tourists to view and admire its architecture and intricate design.

The Wazirpur complex is another small baoli of Delhi. A Lodhi-era construction, this baoli is situated in R.K.Puram in Delhi.

Today, most stepwells lie in a dilapidated state that urgently calls for conservation and public awareness. It is about time these stepwells were restored, clearing out all the rubble, cutting back the overgrown vegetation and making it safer for people to visit these magnificent places.

Victoria Lautman's write-up from www.archdaily.com/395363/india-s-forgotten-stepwells and her research at www.victorialautman.com were invaluable sources for this short scripted film.

This footage is part of the professionally-shot broadcast stock footage archive of Wilderness Films India Ltd., the largest collection of HD imagery from South Asia. The Wilderness Films India collection comprises of 50, 000+ hours of high quality broadcast imagery, mostly shot on HDCAM / SR 1080i High Definition, Alexa, SR, XDCAM and 4K. Write to us for licensing this footage on a broadcast format, for use in your production! We are happy to be commissioned to film for you or else provide you with broadcast crewing and production solutions across South Asia. We pride ourselves in bringing the best of India and South Asia to the world...

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