One man’s passion launches stepwell preservation project in Maharashtra

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Rohan Kale’s passion for stepwells stems from his desire to preserve these tangible traces of history. And that passion has seen this HR professional cycling over 14,000 km of Maharashtra in the past year or so and mapping and documenting around 1,650 step wells. The oldest of them dates back to the 8th or 9th century.

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Step wells are wells or ponds in which water is reached by descending a series of steps to water level. The Stepwells of Rajasthan and Gujarat, specifically the Rani Ka Vav (Queen’s Stepwell) in Patan, is a protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India, famous for the intricate carvings surrounding it.

Built by queens and kings, the stepwells of these states are more regal than those of Maharashtra. Kale explained that while the stepwells in Gujarat and Rajasthan had royal patronage, those in Maharashtra were more utilitarian in nature, serving as watering holes for travellers.

“Stepwells in Maharashtra are found every few kilometers on major roads like Pune to Tuljapur, Nashik to Trimbakeshwar and others. Many were built during the time of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (17th century) to allow armies to rest and hydrate themselves as well as to give water to animals. Given the nature of their use, these stepwells are mostly devoid of intricate and delicate carvings,” Kale said.

Over time, step wells took a back seat, with most being used to dump garbage by residents. Very few of them have been marked on maps or documented. Realizing the importance and depth of his stepwell mapping project, Kale approached 14 schools of architecture who agreed to be part of the campaign. “However the Covid pandemic has delayed the project. Now that work is expected to resume in April,” he said.

Apart from architecture colleges, Kale has also interested the state archeology department, groundwater survey authority and Maharashtra tourism development corporation in the project. In fact, the tour company has since added stepwells to its website with a brief description of some of them.

On the occasion of Shivratri on March 1, Kale conducted an extensive stepwell lighting project to draw attention to them. With participants from all corners of the state, this forgotten part of Maharashtra history was given some light. Kale said his campaign aimed to provide the information needed to include stepwells in the annals of Maharashtra’s rich history.

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