The Queen’s Stepwell
One of the most spectacular of these wells is the Rani ni vav or the Queen’s Well in Patan, which has been granted the status of an UNESCO World Heritage site for its sheer beauty and grandeur. It is said to have been built by Queen Udaimati, wife of Raja Bhima Dev in the 11th century AD and is the most ornately decorated well in the world.
Profusely carved and sculpted, images of 200 apsaras or celestial nymphs abound on its walls. As one descends its steps, one can see Anjana adorning her eyes with kohl and Nupura, slipping on an anklet. The Darpana-Sundari admires her reflection in the mirror as the Karna-Sundari puts on her earrings. The Kapura-sundari dries her long-flowing hair even as the Aalas-Kanya lazily stretches her curvaceous body. Each of these sculptures has been carved to perfection, revealing a high level of aesthetic and artistic skill of the craftsman.
Images of kirtimukhas are found on the steps to ward off the evil eye along with the kshetrapala or the guardian deity who protects the well. Latikas (creepers) add a decorative element while the geometric shapes of the patolagive it a distinctly local feel. Shaded pavilions offer a weary traveller a place to rest, away from the scorching rays of the sun.
Gods and goddesses, demi gods and deities, water nymphs and celestial musicians – they all make a striking appearance as one descends the steps. In the centre, Vishnu reclines in his Shesha-naag position after having sustained and provided for the world.
While there are many step wells in Gujarat, the Rani-ni-Vav is noteworthy for its intricate sculpture-work and deserves to be included in any travel itinerary to the state. (The only travel tip is to avoid wearing yellow, for the colour seems to be a magnet for local insects).