Unsolved Secrets of Indian Stepwells*
Historic structures such as temples, mosques and palaces are scattered over a vast territory of India. Often lose their original relics of ancient infrastructure, called “step-wells» (stepwells). Once upon a time, these underground structures were estimated in thousands.
Initially, these wells were dug in the ground – so people could easily access to the water. Over time, the stepped wells have become increasingly complex in geometry, and from the modest holes turned into hard engraved wells in step Hindu temples with ornamental columns, and ladders shrines.
These old wells or ponds, water in which was located at a depth of more than thirty steps down, often arranged multistoried with water wheel in order to lift the water to the first or second floor. They are most common in the western part of India and other more arid regions of South Asia, extending to Pakistan.
Construction of ancient wells at that time was of primarily utilitarian value – storage in the reservoirs of ground water in case of drought. Subsequently, they generously included architectural ornaments because the main guardians of the water were women, who prayed and offered gifts to the goddess of the well. Careful and sacred attitude to wells ensure their preservation for centuries.
Chicago journalist Victoria Lautman first described this architectural marvel. She devoted most of the last five years of traveling in India to find and photograph as many wells as possible. After 2015, she resumed the trip to India to find an additional 60 wells, bringing the photos of more than 200 wells, which she personally visited, described and photographed.
After centuries of neglect, some ancient wells are in a dangerous state or disappeared altogether, while others are carefully maintained by local authorities or living near communities that recognize their value and have a good will and finances, to restore them.
In an effort to preserve this wonderful heritage of India, Victoria Lautman made a visual tour of 75 of the most unique and interesting holes in a new book called “The Vanishing Indian Wells (The Vanishing Stepwells of India). The book includes not only original photos of objects, but also the experience of the author of each of them, including the exact coordinates of the location of the wells.
It is hoped that sooner or later a renewed interest to the ancient Indian wells will appear, as well as there is funding for their recovery.