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Bad times for Dada Hari ni Vav in Gujarat

Friday, 27 November 2009 - 9:24am IST | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: DNA
A visit to the now dried-up step-well, built by Bai Harir Sultani, is worth the effort, as it is reasonably well-maintained by the ASI.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Mine began with a broken sandal, a flat tyre and a parking ticket, but I eventually managed to locate the seven-storey Dada Hari ni Vav (step well) in Asarva. Not a mean achievement, considering that there aren’t enough signposts to direct you to the place. A nondescript road leads to the monument, so much so that you are likely to miss it if you don’t ask the local people for direction.

But a visit to the now dried-up step-well, built by Bai Harir Sultani, is worth the effort, as it is reasonably well-maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). A board outside the monument gives you some information about it.

If you want a guided tour, you better get hold of the monument’s caretaker as he has a good knowledge of the place. How much of his version is true is a different matter altogether.

A Sanskrit inscription on the step-well says the monument was built in 1500 AD. It was during the reign of Mahmud Shah that Bai Harir Sultani, locally known as Dada Hari, built the step-well. Sultani was the superintendent of the royal harem.

The building, with beautiful carvings all over, had cost 3,29,000 Mahmudis (over Rs1 lakh). The interior of the step-well remains cool despite the heat outside.

It has a spiral staircase that takes you to each storey. Almost all walls on each storey of the step-well have graffiti by some 21st century misguided lover proclaiming his love for his beloved. Given that the “I Love Yous” are written in English and not Persian, I believe these inscriptions were not in the original plan prepared by Dada Hari!

The boundary wall of the monument is broken and is being repaired. My guide told me that in earlier times the water of the well was drawn with the help of bullocks and fed into canals built on top of the step-well. The narrow canals carried the water to a tank where it was used by the people.

Just behind the step-well is the tomb and mosque of Sultani, built around the same time as the Vav. It is still used for prayers. The place also has a few tombs of workers who helped construct the building. Although it doesn’t make for a pretty sight, there are bags of cement stored near the tombs; the cement is used for repair work on the boundary wall.

The courtyard of the mosque has a ‘gupt darwaja’ (secret passage) that, at first sight, looks like a gutter hole. But the passage from the hole leads you to the bazaars of Kalupur.

Seeing my enthusiasm to jump into the secret passage and travel through it, my guide kindly reminded me that the other end opening to Kalupur has been sealed.

Later, when he was convinced that I had got over my “over-zealous investigative” tendencies, he told me that if I had indeed entered the secret passage, I need not have jumped into the hole but could have taken the stairs that are built in the wall of the hole. These stairs are as small as soap cases and you need to crane your neck to get a look at them. The only refreshment available near the monument is a cutting chai. The area around the monument has not been developed and, as far as parking facilities go, you can pretty much park anywhere as long as it is not somebody’s courtyard.

There is a public toilet some distance away from the monument, but it is ancient, dilapidated and ill-maintained. There are no dustbins and no night lighting arrangements (at least I didn’t see any). As for souvenir shops, there aren’t any and it is better if you don’t try to steal any of the loosened sandstone as proof that you visited the monument.

History

A Sanskrit inscription at Dada Hari ni Vav says that the seven-storey step-well was built in 1500 AD. It was during the reign of Mahmud Shah that Bai Harir Sultani, locally known as Dada Hari, built the step-well. Sultani was the superintendent of the royal harem. The building, with beautiful carvings all over, cost 3,29,000 Mahmudis (more than Rs1 lakh) at that time. The ornate step-well has spiral staircases pieced into the side wall of the well shaft and descending to the different platform levels. Together with the lofty, colonnaded mosque, it must have been originally situated in a fine garden but is now rather desolate and full of accretionary construction.

Source: Ahmadabad by KV Soundara Rajan




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