The “vaav” or step-well is an intriguing aspect of South Asian architecture. The awe-inspiring architecture of the step wells add to the “wow” factor. The flight of steps leading to deep pool is the rough nature of step-wells. Rajasthan and Gujarat in India boast of numerous step wells with profuse sculptural embellishments. The step wells in further Northern part of India have a pleasing marriage of Persian and Indic elements of architecture and decoration such as arches, geometric arrangements of the elements and so on.
This 16th century CE “vaav” was built to commemorate a scholar, who was revered by the people of Sevasi. As I think about it, commissioning a step-well may have been considered an act of philanthropy by the ruler then. Water management as a part of architectural planning in the medieval towns is attested to have been a mark of a respected ruler right from the Mughal period.
A step-well in Sevasi area in Gujarat is relatively a smaller version of the celebrated “vaav” in Patan and other areas. Alongside a busy road, the step-well can be missed easily, owing to the narrow entrance and sub-surface structure. Climbing down the flight of stairs towards the ‘well’, one can feel the natural light diminishing. The changing gradient of light helps one see the hidden sculptural details on either sides of the steps.
Pillar capitals at the step-well have floral patterns and hanging lamps sculpted on them. Hexagonal in section, the long shaft pillars run parallel from the entrance to the last step of the well, balancing the horizontal supporting structure which secludes the well from view. The walls of the step-well were embellished with frescoes, remains of which are visible at the vaav.
Unlike other step-wells (of what I have had a chance to visit), Sevasi vaav is devoid of explicit religious sculptural decoration, as it stands presently. However, attempts at reclaiming monuments as edifices of particular religion has slowly engulfed Sevasi vaav. Niches with floral patterns or human figures are seen to have been painted vermilion, and worshiped as deities. These secular forms of public architecture, probably frequented by people from all sections of the society are currently undergoing change in perception and use of space.
This brief note cannot do justice to the awe one feels walking down the steps at a step-well. One has to visit to experience and relive it!