Inhabiting Infrastructures: Indian Stepwells

stepwells-india-01

Chand Baori Stepwell in Rajasthan, India
Photo by Saumil Shah
http://www.flickr.com/photos/saumil/6793106884/

The stepwells are generally storage and irrigation tanks in which sets of steps must be descended in order to reach for water and mantain the well itself. These structures are mostly common in western India and in arid regions of South Asia where they provide regular supply in regions affected by heavy seasonal fluctuations in water availability.

The stepwells, (the erliest date to 600 AD), essentially appear as infrastructural monuments for water collection, huge artifacts somewhere between landscape and architecture sunken in the earth. They are usually composed of two constant elements, a well and an access route: the well collects monsoon rain percolating through layers of fine silt (to filter particulates), eventually reaching a layer of impermeable clay. The second elements, the staircases, are descended to reach water and allow the use of the infrastructure. There are no two identical stepwells, as each one of them, – about 3000 were built -, reveals specific features in the shape and in the decorative motives; in some cases the stepwells host galleries and chambers around the well.

With their ability to allow the population to survive during arid months, the wells slowly turned into temples dedicated to water or even metaphores for the Divine River, the Gange. An inhabited infrastructure, the stepwells became leisure and ritualistic spaces: providing a comfortable microclimate they also turned out to be a favourable space for the community to gather. Despite the completely different scale and geographical location, the developement of social gathering around a water collecting space in India reminds us of the social character of the wells in Venetian campos (squares). Each campo, with its central well, was born to allow rain water collection and progressively it developed into a community meeting point, connected to the daily act of  getting water.

Chand Baori Stepwell in Rajasthan, India

Chand Baori Stepwell in Rajasthan, India
Plan and Section

 

 

Panna Meena, Amber, Rajasthan, India,

Panna Meena, Amber, Rajasthan, India
Photo by Edward Burtynsky “Stepwell #2″, 2010
Chromogenic print, Edition 1/15, 30” x 40”
Courtesy the artist and Nicholas Metivier Gallery

 

Panna Meena, Amber, Rajasthan, India

Panna Meena, Amber, Rajasthan, India
Plan and Section

 

Rani ki Vav, Gujarat, India

Rani ki Vav, Gujarat, India
Photo by Vtanurag

 

Rani ki Vav, Gujarat, India

Rani ki Vav, Gujarat, India
Axonometrical Section

 

Adalaj Stepwell, Gujarat, India

Adalaj Stepwell, Gujarat, India
Image from Lord’s flickr page
http://flickr.com/photos/lohray/7471361082 
All Rights Reserved (c) Mahamahim Bharat Bhushan Lohray

 

 

 

Adalaj Stepwell, Gujarat, India

Adalaj Stepwell, Gujarat, India
Plan and Section

 

Stepwell, India

Stepwell, India
Photo by Steve McCurry

 

Agrasen ki Baoli, Jantar Mantar, New Delhi

Agrasen ki Baoli, Jantar Mantar, New Delhi
Photo by Emma Rowe

 

Stepwell in India

Stepwell in India
Photograph unknwokn

 

Sagar Kund Baori, Bundi, Rajasthan, India

Sagar Kund Baori, Bundi, Rajasthan, India
Photo by Edward Burtynsky
“Step-​well #4″ 2010
Chro­mogenic Print

 

Chand Baori Stepwell in Rajasthan, India

Chand Baori Stepwell in Rajasthan, India
Photographer unknown

 

Chand Baori Stepwell in Rajasthan, India

Chand Baori Stepwell in Rajasthan, India
Photographer unknown

 

Further reading:

Infranetlab

Steps of waters

Channeling Nature: Hydraulics, Traditional Knowledge Systems, And Water Resource Management in India – A Historical Perspective” by Rima Hooja, PhD

Comments

  1. Peeyush Sekhsaria says

    Concerning the following citation “Adalaj Stepwell, Gujarat, India – Photo by Lord – http://flickr.com/photos/lohray/7471361082” the photo on the extreme right bottom says in Hindi –
    “All Rights Reserved (c) Mahamahim Bharat Bhushan Lohray” please consider correcting the attribution
    Thanks

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