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Stepwells jacket

The Vanishing Stepwells of India by Victoria Lautman. documents 75 stepwells in chronological order of their construction. The book takes us across Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana and Varanasi. It delves into not only architecture and contexts of their creation, but also the intangible ideas and events that surround their existence.

Rudabai

On a hot summer afternoon Victoria encountered her first stepwell - Rudabai-ni-vav in Adalaj, Gujarat. It was perhaps the perfect commencement to her alliance with the stepwells. Its creation incorporates not only architectural and engineering excellence but also tales of politics, propaganda and sacrifice. We won’t reveal more but encourage you to find out for yourself!

The nameless ‘helical vav’ in Champaner, Gujarat / Ujala Baoli in Mandu, Madhya Pradesh / Neemrana Baori in Neemrana, Rajasthan.

The stepwells resemble temples in form, function and spirit. Stepwells documented in the book vary from the heavily ornamented, meticulously carved styles to those comparatively simpler and purely functional. While the stepwells arose from the context of tapping underground water reserves, they varied not only in form but also in diction as one travels from Gujarat (Vav) to Rajasthan (Baodi or Baori) to Madhya Pradesh(Baoli)!

‘Adi Kadi’ Stepwell

The rock-cut ‘Adi Kadi’ Stepwell is one of the earliest stepwells. The lack of any architectural style or detail makes it difficult to date the structure.

Rani ki Vav

The ‘Rani ki Vav’ was commissioned in the 1063 wears the UNESCO World Heritage Site status and boasts of a Facebook Page! Not only its architecture, but also its stories of why it was constructed to the calamities it braved and eventually a part of the step-well gave into it! From grandeur to melancholy to hope, the step-well is a journey in itself!

Chand Baori

Chand Baori Featured in movies like Paheli (2005), The Fall(2006) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). It’s most astonishing feature is the remarkable amalgamation of Hindu and Islamic styles. Read the book or do your own research to find out what distinguishes this baori from the rest!

Van Talav Baoli in Amer, Rajasthan and Batris Kotha

We leave you with two lesser known, derelict step-wells. The former is shrouded in mystery and dense foliage. Batris Kotha in Kapadvanj, Gujarat is modest in appearance and built. Yet, both carry this air of a fairytale, a lost world. Framed by careless foliage and marred by disregard, they still hold your attention and command respect!

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Showcase 01 Aug 2017

The Vanishing Stepwells of India documents Victoria Lautman’s pursuit of lost Indian architecture

“We do not choose our obsessions; they choose us, and I could never have predicted that stepwells would commandeer such a large slice of my life.” – Victoria Lautman, author of The Vanishing Stepwells of India.

A hot summer afternoon, Victoria chanced upon Rudabai-ni-vav in Adalaj, Gujarat. It was her first trip to India; bestowed upon her by a friend and fate. With an undergraduate and graduate degree in Art History and owing to time spent in Los Angeles and Chicago, Victoria had been exposed to architecture at a young age. Her tryst continued as she wrote for architectural magazines but spiralled when she encountered the stepwell at Adalaj.

Stepwells jacket

The Vanishing Stepwells of India by Victoria Lautman. documents 75 stepwells in chronological order of their construction. The book takes us across Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana and Varanasi. It delves into not only architecture and contexts of their creation, but also the intangible ideas and events that surround their existence.

She was traveling in India with a group of architects. But it was their guide who pointed in the direction of the stepwell, which resembled an ordinary wall. With zilch knowledge of a stepwell she looked down from the wall and the earth opened up dramatically into a maze of columns, steps and platforms. She descended into the intricacy and experienced the ambient temperature drop, the sun diminished its glare and noises silenced themselves into oblivion. She descended till she reached the pool of water, entrapped in its architecture; the filigrees, majestic columns and carvings.

The Rudabai-ni-vav was perhaps the perfect commencement to her alliance with the stepwells. It incorporates not only architectural and engineering excellence but also tales of politics, propaganda and sacrifice. 30 years, and 200 stepwells later, Victoria compiled her years of research, toil and discoveries into the book – The Vanishing Stepwells of India. It documents 75 stepwells in chronological order of their construction.

The book takes the reader across Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana and Varanasi. The stepwells resemble temples in form, function and spirit. The stepwells documented in the book vary from the heavily ornamented, meticulously carved styles to ones that are comparatively simpler and purely functional. Those built between 8th to 18th centuries are yet to find their rightful place in art, architecture and history.

Rudabai

On a hot summer afternoon Victoria encountered her first stepwell - Rudabai-ni-vav in Adalaj, Gujarat. It was perhaps the perfect commencement to her alliance with the stepwells. Its creation incorporates not only architectural and engineering excellence but also tales of politics, propaganda and sacrifice. We won’t reveal more but encourage you to find out for yourself!

 

"The book explains some construction methods adopted to build structures below ground level and the efforts that went into arresting seepages, containing the soil from caving in. So efficient were the techniques that some stepwells survived earthquakes (the Ramkund Stepwell, Bhuj)."

To understand each form, the book offers various rationales that resulted in their formation. Most stepwells were potable water sources, some facilitated irrigation and offered shelter to travellers. They were also places of worship and offered a space for communal gatherings.

The nameless ‘helical vav’ in Champaner, Gujarat / Ujala Baoli in Mandu, Madhya Pradesh / Neemrana Baori in Neemrana, Rajasthan.

The more elaborate stepwells were commissioned by wealthy patrons. The initial step-wells were rock-cut structures – like the Navghan Kuvo in Junagadh – and later graduated into those made with masonry blocks. With time, the stepwells took on complex layouts and ornamentations as wealthy patron commissioned their construction. This continued under the Mughal patronage and subsequently the stepwells incorporated Islamic motifs while some stepwells, like the Chand Baori in Abhaneri, is an amalgamation of Hindu and Muslim styles.

The stepwells resemble temples in form, function and spirit. Stepwells documented in the book vary from the heavily ornamented, meticulously carved styles to those comparatively simpler and purely functional. While the stepwells arose from the context of tapping underground water reserves, they varied not only in form but also in diction as one travels from Gujarat (Vav) to Rajasthan (Baodi or Baori) to Madhya Pradesh(Baoli)!

The book explains some construction methods adopted to build structures below ground level and the efforts that went into arresting seepages, containing the soil from caving in. So efficient were the techniques that some stepwells survived earthquakes (the Ramkund Stepwell, Bhuj).

‘Adi Kadi’ Stepwell

The rock-cut ‘Adi Kadi’ Stepwell is one of the earliest stepwells. The lack of any architectural style or detail makes it difficult to date the structure.

Rani ki Vav

The ‘Rani ki Vav’ was commissioned in the 1063 wears the UNESCO World Heritage Site status and boasts of a Facebook Page! Not only its architecture, but also its stories of why it was constructed to the calamities it braved and eventually a part of the step-well gave into it! From grandeur to melancholy to hope, the step-well is a journey in itself!

Till date, some are used as shrines and some still supply drinking water (Shree Abhaynath Mahadev Ki Baoli, Bundi). Extensive work being carried out by individuals, NGOs, agencies, conservationists and architects are slowly reviving some stepwells. Yet, most stepwells are on the verge of extinction as indicated in the title – The Vanishing Stepwells of India.

Chand Baori

Chand Baori Featured in movies like Paheli (2005), The Fall(2006) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). It’s most astonishing feature is the remarkable amalgamation of Hindu and Islamic styles. Read the book or do your own research to find out what distinguishes this baori from the rest!

Van Talav Baoli in Amer, Rajasthan and Batris Kotha

We leave you with two lesser known, derelict step-wells. The former is shrouded in mystery and dense foliage. Batris Kotha in Kapadvanj, Gujarat is modest in appearance and built. Yet, both carry this air of a fairytale, a lost world. Framed by careless foliage and marred by disregard, they still hold your attention and command respect!

This book is available on Amazon. We hope, endeavors like the book, support from the government and patrons help restore the stepwells in form, function as well as in our education system and literature.