'Rani ki Vav' on new Rs 100 note: What's the legend?

1 / 1

Rani Ki Vav (Gujarat)

This little-heard-of engineering marvel situated in Patan, Gujarat, was built in the 11th century AD by Rani Udaymati. Meant to worship the holy river Saraswati on whose banks it lies, Rani ki Vav deserves praise for its intricate architecture – it is a stepwell that runs downwards up to seven stories carved with over 500 sculptures of nymphs, humans, kinds and gods. The central theme however is the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. It is basically meant to look like an inverted temple to worship the sanctity of water.

The Reserve Bank of India announced on Thursday that it would issue new Rs 100 notes next month. The central banks has released an image of the new note. The new lavender note is slightly smaller than the current Rs 100 note. While the Mahatma's image remains intact, Gujarat's Rani ki Vav has replaced Goecha La, Kanchenjunga's southeast face on the note.

The new Rs 100 note is part of the new design series rolled out after demonetisation. Before this, the Rs 10 note was redesigned to feature the motif of Konark Sun Temple, Rs 200 to display the motif of Sanchi Stupa, and Rs 50 to feature the motif of Stone Chariot in Hampi. So, what is Rani ki Vav?

For the uninitiated, a vav is a stepwell, much like baolis or baoris. Stepwells are water storage systems that were first constructed in the 3rd millennium BC and were subsequently adopted by different dynasties and kingdoms over the centuries. They were designed to make water-storage areas, resembling ponds or wells, accessible by descending flights of steps. The ruins of these stepwells can still be found across the Indian subcontinent, including many parts of Western and Northern India.

Located on the banks of River Saraswati, Rani ki Vav was built by Rani Udayamati as a memorial to her husband, the 11th century-king Bhima I of the Chaulukya or Solanki dynasty, who ruled parts of present-day Gujarat. As per UNESCO, Rani Ki Vav displays the "height of craftsmen's ability in stepwell construction". Made in the Maru-Gurjara architectural style, the vav is not only intricately designed and beautiful, it also reflects complex technique and mastery of craftsmanship.

The vav is designed to appear like an inverted temple, signifying the sanctity of water. There are 500 primary sculptures and over a thousand small ones combining religious, mythological and secular imagery as well as references to literary works.

Divided into seven levels, the fourth is the deepest and leads to a rectangular tank located at the westernmost end of the complex at a depth of 23 metre. The stepwell is 60 metre long and 20 metre in breadth.

There is a 30 km long tunnel that leads to the town of Siddhpur and was used for safe passage during war or invasion. It was believed that bathing in the waters of the vav could cure people of many ailments. This "magical" quality of the vav's water was apparently due to the herbs found in and around the complex.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

In 2014, Rani ki Vav, in the current district of Patan in Gujarat, was added to the UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites after the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) nominated it for the title. "Unesco has recognised this masterpiece as an exceptional example of technological development in utilizing ground water resources in a single component, water management system and it illustrates the exceptional capacity to break large spaces into smaller volumes following ideal aesthetic proportions," a statement by UNESCO mentioned.

"The ancient stepwell was built in the 11th century and is an example of a unique Indian subterranean architectural structure. Its seven storeys of ornamented panels of sculptures and relief represent the height of the Maru-Gurjara style," it added.

Other stepwells in the Indian subcontinent

Perhaps relatively lesser known, the vav is not the only one of its kind in India. In Delhi itself, the immensely popular Agrasen ki Baoli is one of the capital city's most popular attractions. Similarly, there is Rajon ki Baoli in Mehrauli. Closer to Rani ki Vav is Adalaj ni Vav in Gandhinagar and Dada Harir Stepwell in Ahmedabad.

Chand Baori near Jaipur, Raniji ki Baori in Bundi, Birkha Bawri in Jodhpur, Shahi Baoli in Lucknow, Toor ji ki Baori in Jodhpur, Panna Meena ka Kund in Amer, Makli Baoli in Thatta, Pakistan, Rohtas Fort near Jhelum are some of the prominent stepwells in India as well as in Pakistan.