Water conservation has been an important aspect of Indian traditions. In keeping with this wells have played quintessential role in our mythology and social narratives. In northern part of the country worshipping of well [Koowa Pujan] is an important concomitant of marriage rituals. Therefore, wells have not remained merely a water collecting and storage systems, but have been part of prestige and ingenuity of the rulers. Such importance of wells has given birth to very beautifully chiseled step wells. Gujarat tops in such ornate step wells. But Rajasthan, being in the arid region also has some very well designed step wells.
Therefore, a visit to step well was part of our agenda when we visited Havelis of Mandawa in Shekawati region. We visited a step well that was located in Fatehpur[photo]. However, we were not very much impressed by this step well. Because there were very few steps and they too were in the form of large platforms rather than steps. Sanjay, our driver was very quick to suggest that he would take us to a genuine step well during our journey from Jaipur to Agra. And that is how we landed at Chand Baori of Abhaneri. And here what we saw was a very impressive architectural and historical marvel.
Abha Nagari – the City of Brightness, Abhaneri
Abhaneri is a village in Dausa District, in eastern Rajasthan. It is situated at a distance of 95 km from Jaipur, on Jaipur-Agra road. Originally the name of this place was said to be Abha Nagari, which meant “City of Brightness”. It is said that due to mispronunciation the name got changed as Abhaneri. Another feature of Abhaneri is the temple of Harshat Mata built in AD 800. Harshat Mata is the goddess of Joy and Happiness. As per the beliefs, the goddess is always cheerful, and imparts her joy and happiness to the entire inabitants. Temple, which is in ruins, has a very large area. On a higher platform one can see beautifully carved sculptures of gods and goddesses lay scattered everywhere. From these pieces of architecture one can make out that this should have been a very big temple. Some of these sculptures reminded us of similar ones at temples in south India. Today this ancient city of brightness is in ruins and has got reduced to a village. Yet, Abhaneri with such a glorious past attracts tourists from all over the world.
Chand Baori – the Step Well
Very close to the Harshat Mata temple there is this architectural wonder, the step well, called Chand Baori. It is said to be country’s largest and deepest step well. It was part of Harshat Mata temple complex. Having been located in a arid zone this step well could also have been a part of the joy and happiness which goddess is said to have imparted all around her. This step well is 13-storey construction, with 3 out of the four sides having steps that lead down to the bottom of the well. The fourth side of this step well has beautiful jharokhas, galleries supported on pillars and two projecting balconies enshrining beautiful sculptures.
The well is 100 feet (35 mtr) deep and has a total of 3,500 steps. This steps and the whole surrounding are fine examples of architectural expertise of the period. The Baori has a precise geometrical pattern, hard to believe that such architectural perfection existed in the 9th century AD. That speaks of architectural intelligence of the bygone era. The steps form a magical maze and consequently play of light and shadow on the structure giving it a captivating look. Photographing these steps any time of the day is a photographer’s delight.
On descending the stairs on the left, one can see the cavernous Baori narrowing towards the bottom, criss-crossed with double flights of the steps on the three sides to reach the water surface down below. It is claimed that at the bottom of the well the temperature remains 5-6 degrees cooler than at the surface. Chand Baori was used as a community gathering place for locals during periods of intense heat. That is the reason that one finds a pavilion and resting rooms for the royals on one side of the Baori.
Chand Baoir is named after King Chand Raja from Gujara Pratihara clan, who claim to be the descendant of Lord Ram’s younger brother Laxman. The Pratihara dynasty was at their peak during 6th-10th century AD, and also ruled over other parts of Rajasthan. Their capital was Mandore, near Jodhpur.
With the visits to Chand Baori at Abhaneri, our wonderful tour of Rajasthan came to an end. And what a tour it was. As stated in the previous write up, this state has very wisely utilized its heritage to channelize its tourism very effectively. Every stakeholder in the tourism industry is adding his/her positive efforts to further the cause of tourism. We will visit this state again and tour those places which we could not for want of time. From Abhaneri we entered Uttar Pradesh to visit Mathura and Vrindavan.