The first thing you notice about Rani ki vav is the size. It is mammoth, the largest stepwell of its kind, and also sumptuously beautiful.
But all of this is below ground. From the plain, as you approach, it descends suddenly. Designed as an inverted temple with four pavilions on various levels, it highlights the sanctity of water. As you descend seven levels, you pass sculptural panels of the highest artistic quality, comprised of 500 principal sculptures and 1,000 minor ones.
A masterpiece of architecture, construction, and adornment, Rani ki vav in Patan, Gujarat, is the only stepwell to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is considered the foremost example of this type of complex architectural technique, demonstrating great beauty in proportion and detail.
It is believed that Rani ki vav (in Gujarat, a “vav” is a type of stepwell) was constructed by Rani Udaymati in the memory of Raja Bhimdev, son of Mularaja, the founder of the Solanki dynasty. The sculptures represent religious, mythological, and secular images. The central theme of the images is around 10 incarnations of Vishnu. At the water level, there is a sculpture of Vishnu reclining on a 1,000-headed snake. Other sculptures represent apsaras (celestial nymphs), strikingly beautiful in feature and pose.
Like other vavs, Rani ki vav was not only used for water collecting; it held great spiritual significance and was also a place for socializing. It was built on the banks of the Saraswati River, and it flooded and was silted over until the 1980s. It was restored to its original design and is now in very good condition.
Know Before You Go
Rani ki vav is situated in the town of Patan, about 77 miles from the capital, Ahmedabad, a three-hour journey. There are many trains and buses from Ahmedabad to Patan. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The best time to visit Rani ki vav is in the morning, when it first opens. There are few people there and the golden sunlight will make it very photogenic.