Rani ki Vav, which translates to the Queen’s Stepwell in Hindi, is located in Patan, Gujarat, the medieval capital of the region from the 10th-13th centuries CE. The stepwell was commissioned in 1050 CE by Queen Udayamati to honor the death of her husband, the Solanki King Bhimdev (1022-64 CE). There are thousands of stepwells across South Asia, and Rani ki Vav is the largest of its kind in India.
The Vav (Well) itself measures 65 meters in length (approximately 213 feet), 20 meters in width (approximately 66 feet), and 25 meters in depth (approximately 82 feet). The well shaft is 10 meters in diameter (approximately 33 feet). The Vav is divided into several pillared stepped terraces, each with several hundred intricately carved panels, creating the appearance of an inverted temple emphasizing the sanctity of water.
The outstanding value of Rani ki Vav lies in its architectural form. Not only is the structure a feat of engineering and weight bearing modules, it is also rich in sculptural imagery along the northern and southern corridors, as well as within the interior of the well shaft. Reflecting the artistic vocabularies of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions, Rani ki Vav is an excellent example of a spiritual abode that also has an actively used function, that of water storage. The stepwell may thus be seen as a place of worship honoring the sanctity and preciousness of water.
It is believed that Rani ki Vav was covered in silt by the flooding of the Saraswati River around the turn of the 14th century. As such, the stepwell remained in a state of excellent preservation until the Archaeological Survey of India began excavating the site in 1964-65. Today, the well has been fully restored and preserved in its entirety.
In this lesson, students will utilize CyArk’s Rani ki Vav digital preservation project as a resource for investigating the basic construction of wells around the world. Navigate the class to www.CyArk.org, and click on the Projects tab. Find Rani ki Vav and encourage students to research the site in more detail (individually or in groups), encouraging the following lines of inquiry:
- What are the basic construction features of a well?
- What are a few examples of stepwells, and how is access to well water facilitated?
- Where is the original water source in these examples?
- At Rani ki Vav, how was the stepwell constructed?
- Where did the construction materials come from, and what tools were used to carve it?
- What are some other sites that have similar construction techniques?
- What is the effect of water on common well construction materials, and what has been done to minimize this effect?
- In what ways are functionality and spirituality linked at Rani ki Vav?
- How is water commemorated within the stepwell?
- What are other examples that demonstrate the importance of water for survival in spirituality?
- In what way is ceremony an integral part of the construction process in a place like Rani ki Vav?
- Are there other examples in your area that demonstrate this emphasis on social and religious ceremony?
In groups, students will experiment with different construction materials to build a scaled model of a well or stepwell. Before beginning their models, each group should draw a sketch of their model with dimensions, either by hand or using a Computer Aided Drawing (CAD) program, such as AutoCAD. Additionally, each group should test various materials to determine what they would like to utilize in constructing their models. Each group may present their sketches and material choices to the class before beginning their construction project.
Possible materials to use are soap, foam, or soapstone if a sculpture class. This process would replicate the carving of stone.
Each group may complete an essay providing context for their models. Information to consider includes, but is not limited to:
- What style does this model follow?
- How would this well/stepwell be constructed using real-world materials?
- What does this construction technology say about the society and its available resources?
- Are there any laws of math, physics, or geometry that are employed in this model?