The Legend of અડાલજની વાવ / Adalaj ni Vaav* (*Step-well of Adalaj)
I had a few hours to spare before my flight back from Ahmedabad to Pune, and I called some friends for recommendations on places of historic & architectural interest, to visit. One of them suggested Adalaj, located close to Gandhinagar and not very far from the airport.
The King, his beautiful Queen and a shocking Proposal
The story goes, that in the late 15th century, this part of modern-day central Gujarat was called Dandai Desh, and ruled by Rana Veer Singh of the Vaghela dynasty. In a land beset by perennial drought, he ordered the construction of a large and deep step well (a Vaav), in Adalaj, to collect and store water.
While the well was still under construction, Dandai Desh was invaded by Mahmud Begada, the Muslim Sultan of Gujarat. In the battle that ensued, Veer Singh was killed, and his kingdom annexed by Begada.
When news of Veer Singh’s death reached his queen, Roodabai, she decided to commit Sati. But Begada intervened: He wouldn’t let her take her own life.
It is said Roodabai was by far the most beautiful woman in the land, and Begada was besotted by her beauty!
Roodabai implored her captor: “Please set me free! As a chaste Hindu wife, it is my duty now to follow my lord to the afterlife. I have no children. My life is meaningless, now that my husband is dead”
The invader did not relent and had the audacity to propose marriage instead!
“Marry me, and you will have purpose in life again”
A Queen’s Duty and a Promise
Roodabai hadn’t forgotten her responsibility to her subjects and saw a way out of this predicament.
“Complete building the Vaav for my people, and I will accept your proposal”, she retorted.
So enamoured was Begada with her beauty, he put all his effort and energies into finishing construction of the Vaav.
And soon enough, the Vaav was ready!
The step well of Adalaj is one of its kind: it’s construction was started by a Hindu ruler and completed by a Muslim invader. It thus blends elements of both Hindu and Islamic architecture, both of which can be distinctly seen on its five subterranean levels
Begada reminded Roodabai of her promise to marry him.
On the day of the wedding, she was draped in the deepest red saree, and adorned with the finest flowers and the most exquisite jewels. En route to the wedding she stopped at the Vaav, to ascertain that the invader had kept his word.
She did a pradakshina (circumambulation) and jumped into the well, ending her life.
Mohammed Begada was devastated; inconsolable with rage.
His thunderous cries sent his attendants and generals scurrying for cover from his wrath.
But somehow, he found peace.
Begada let the Vaav stand, and ode to his unrequited love, in honour of the proud and beautiful Roodabai.
It is said that Roodabai secretly left instructions for a few Sants (holy seers) to bathe in the Vaav after the mourning period for her death had passed.
And thus the water in the well was purified, delivering her from her sins
Not far from the Vaav are six tombs, reportedly of the six master masons responsible for constructing the well.
A dejected Begada reportedly asked them if they could build a similar well, as grand and exquisite as the one at Adalaj. Of course, they could!
Begada had them executed immediately.
He could not stand the thought of another Vaav to rival this one.