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Exploring “rani ni vav” step-well at Patan by Murli Menon

After having lived in Gujarat close to thirty years of my forty-six years on this planet, I have travelled to the most interior pockets of Gujarat.

Murli Menon in conversation with Prittle Prattle News

After having lived in Gujarat close to thirty years of my forty-six years on this planet, I have traveled to the most interior pockets of Gujarat. But however, last month I made a trip to Patan, which is only a six-hour drive from Ahmedabad, but returned back with a treasure trove of memories, having visited one of the most beautiful step-wells in India. This step-well is called “rani ni vav” in Gujarati and is located at Patan in North Gujarat. Patan is a 135 km. Drive away from Ahmedabad. The drive takes you through Mehsana.

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I have just returned after a memorable trip to Patan, the ancient capital of Gujarat. The visit lasted a few hours, but its memory will last a lifetime. At Patan, I visited an ancient architectural wonder which I would like to share with our esteemed readers. I saw “rani ni vav” or (Queen’s step-well in Gujarati), which is a million times more majestic than any of the so-called wonders of the world. I am extremely happy that this ancient treasure is hidden from the cynosure of materialistic tourists and offers a great experience to Indian families who want to spend a blissful day away from the vagaries of stressful life and spend a day in bliss. This is precisely what I experienced during my visit. The most memorable part of my adventure is that I am more energized after returning from this never-ending journey. 

“rani ni vav” is a famous step-well situated in Patan town in Gujarat in India. Patan was called as Anhilpur Patan when King Siddharaj Jaysingh was ruling and it was the erstwhile capital of Gujarat. Vanraj Chavda founded Patan. This step-well was constructed during the period of the Solanki or Chalukya. It is a richly sculptured monument.

“Rani ni vav” was built in the memory of Bhimdev I (1022 A. D. to 1063 A. D.) son of Mularaja, the founder of the Solanki dynasty of Patan in about 1050 A.D. by his widowed queen Udayamati. “Rani ni vav” was completed by Udayamati and Karandev I a thousand years ago. A reference to Udayamati building the monument is in the ‘Prabandha Chintamani’ composed by Merunga Suri in 1304 AD. It was one of the largest and the most sumptuous structures of its type. Almost all the intricate sculptures are visible now, including endless rows of sculptured panels in the well’s circular part. The pillars are proof of the elegance of its design and a tribute to the engineering abilities and visualisation skills of the artisans. 

I am confident that the most advanced nations on this planet with present-day technology cannot build this grandeur’s step-well! Ancient wisdom beats the left-brained thinking of the present day. That is why, we base our ZeNLP meditation workshops on ancient wisdom. A part of the west well is extended from which it appears that the wall had been built in brick and laced with stone. From this wall, projections of vertical brackets can be seen. These brackets support the different galleries of the excellent shaft. This bracketing is arranged in tiers and is richly carved. There is also a small gate below the last step of the step-well, which has a 30-kilometer tunnel leading to the town of Siddhpur near Patan. The kings used this tunnel as an escape gateway in times of defeat. Most of the sculpture is in devotion to Vishnu, in the forms of his Avataras (Krishna, Rama, and others), representing their return to the world.

Around 50 to 60 years back, there used to be lemongrass around this area, making the water in the well alkaline. This alkaline lemongrass flavored water accumulated in “rani ni vav” is perfect for health. Visiting this step-well, which is known as “The Queen’s step-well,” is a once in a lifetime experience. Minute details are visible in the more delicate features of each sculpture, be it that of “Vamana Avatar,” “Ram Avatar,” or “Kalki Avatar.” After entering Patan city, one encounters a fort with a wall running around the old town. 

One has to drive along the wall to be led to this step-well. Giant trees protect this monument like soldier’s guarding a king. Lots of migratory birds have made their homes on these giant trees and sing their flowery tunes at dawn. The walk down the step-well offers a birds-eye-view of the well. But as we descend the steps we can experience poetry etched in stone. Delicate sculptures of plants, animals, gods, goddesses, nymphs and serpents decorate the walls of this step-well in endless rows. As a photographer with an eye for detail, I could click about 1000 high resolution photographs in the few hours I spent exploring this treasure trove of sculpture. Every picture clicked resembled a picture post-card. Gujarat would do better to showcase its tourism through “Rani ni vav.” rather than personality cults. I have travelled to seven countries other than India but the finesse in the sculptures at “Rani ni vav”, Khajuraho and Konark exceed the skills of anything seen in Indonesia, China or Thailand. And this also anything includes all sculptures created by the west in the last 5000 years.

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The story of Lord Vishnu’s ten incarnations is sculpted in stone here. Starting from Matsya (Fish) and ending with Kalki (on a horse with a sword), destroying the forces of evil. “Rani ni vav” puts one into a mild trance and transports you to a different world. Minutes turn into hours as you get lost in the hypnotic world of sandstone sculptures. As you descend the steps, you reach a short tunnel which leads to the water. The step-well is seven stories deep and it is mind-boggling to think how this marvelous structure was constructed a thousand hundred years ago. Step-wells are subterranean structures with steps leading down to the water level and are found in large numbers in the arid regions of Gujarat and Rajasthan. They started as simple structures, and in course of time, these wells evolved to become involved, aesthetically pleasing works of art. The “rani ni vav” at Patan, is the most beautiful amongst all sculptures I have ever seen. 

No other ‘vav’ or step-well in India is so profusely adorned as “rani ni vav.” More than 800 sculptures form a remarkable backdrop to what was purely a functional structure. “Rani ni vav” includes the link between a ‘Kunda’ and the now classical step-well. This is due to the fact that in addition to the straight staircase, it also has lateral staircases, along the very broad, stepped corridors. The “vav” is laid out in an east-west direction, with the entrance in the east and the well in the west. The door, the side-walls of the stepped corridor, some of the ‘mandapas,’ and the well’s back wall are majestic. Five lateral, staggered staircases attached to these side-walls connect the various storeys. 

The ‘vav’ is very rich in sculptures. Each level is profusely adorned with carved friezes and deities. Statues of gods in recessed and projecting niches cover all sides of the well. The lowermost level has 37 slots with rudimentary images of Lord Ganesh in the centre. The photos of Sheshashayi Vishnu in the central niches, on the upper classes, are more elaborate. Also, on the upper levels, are impressive images of Laxmi-Narayana, Uma-Mahesh, Brahma-Brahmi, and Kuber and Ganesh, with their respective consorts. On the lower levels, are the images of Vishnu’s incarnations and 24 forms. 

Patan is a religious place and there are several pilgrim shelters, where one can stay the night. Budget hotels ranging from Rs. 500/- to Rs. 1000/- are found near the bus station. The nearest airport to reach Patan is at Ahmedabad. The 135 km. The drive between Ahmedabad to Patan takes about 180 minutes. Patan has a railway station and is also connected by trains. Lots of small restaurants serving Gujarati cuisine are found in Patan and all along the highway from Ahmedabad to Patan. Hot Bajra (millet) rotis are served with potatoes with fenugreek and brinjals cooked in a mild gravy flavoured with cumin. Macrobiotic vegans can get a variety of fruits and vegetables at the local market.

About the Author :

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Murli Menon

Murli Menon, author of “ZeNLP-the power to relax” is a stress management consultant based at Ahmedabad and can be contacted at 

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