Activites - Heritage step wells restoration

Restoration of Heritage step wells
Heritage of step wells
From the fifth to the nineteenth centuries, the people of western India built stone cisterns to collect the water of the monsoon rains and keep it accessible for the remaining dry months of the year. These magnificent structures known as step wells are much more than utilitarian reservoirs. Their lattice-like walls, carved columns, decorated towers, and intricate sculpture make them exceptional architecture, while their very presence tells much about the region's ecology and history. For the past 500 to 1,500 years, step wells have been an integral part of western Indian communities, particularly in Rajasthan as sites for drinking, washing, and bathing, as well as for colorful festivals and sacred rituals. In stunning color and quad tone photographs and drawings, steps to water reveals the depth of the step wells' beauty and their intricate details, and serves as a lens on these fascinating cultural and architectural monuments.
Cultural value
Like the Egypt's great pyramids, inverted and elegantly lodged in the earth to serve a subcontinent's thirst for water, the role of India's step wells from the 5th through 19th centuries served to catch water from the monsoons and save it for drinking, washing and bathing. Being best place for the long distances travelers on foot or camels to quench their thirst and repose for a while, the step wells or Bawaries (a local name) have been at one time the prominent place of social gatherings on specific festive occasions like Gangaur, Dashehara, Deewali and religious ritual like new born, wedding, death etc.  For the Indian summer, these step wells not only fulfilled the original purpose of giving water but also became cool retreats. Art became a part of step wells. Walls, cornices, pilasters, pillars and niches were decorated with reliefs and sculptures. Over the years, the medieval architects also experimented with different designs which still attract the visitors.
Destruction of heritage
With unfortunate abundance and destruction of these step wells not only a big and sustainable source of safe drinking water for the village communities and both water and repose for the long distance travelers was lost, but a beautiful part of heritage of social get to gather and festive events for the rural India have become a glory of the bygone days. The village women have lost an opportunity to enjoy freely a small part of their drudgery life on these sites.
Most of the step wells need to be restored urgently as a big part of their construction e.g. walls, pillars, drainage, stone carvings etc. have broken down, paintings, artistic designs of collages got destroyed, windows, doors and fencing have damaged.
A pilot project
GBS implemented a pilot project of restoring 5 such step wells with support from the Prince Claus Fund, the Netherlands. Below is a brief description of the step wells restored under the pilot project.
There are a few more step wells those are important for their historical, cultural, ethical and architectural background. GBS would like to take them up for restoration in the next phase. Attempts are being made to explore resources for this purpose.
Banjaron ki Bawari
Banjaron ki Bawari based in village Thali said to be constructed by Lakhi Banjara, a well-known leader of nomadic tribe long before habituating the village. It is said that it was built in 1500 years before with the white stone of one mines only of the nearby village. It was constructed with stone only without using any supporting material i.e. cement, lime, gravel etc. The Banjaron ki Bawari was the only source of water when the village Thali was populated. The community people used to perform all the rituals from birth to death near the step well. Also water was used for cultivation. There is an old temple of God Sitaramji opposite the step well, which might have been built at the same time. People perform their prayers in the temple after having bathed in the step well.  
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                         Before restoration                                     After restoration        
Boharaji ki Bawari
As per a legend Boharaji ki Bawari or Raniji ki Bawari and Thakurji’s temple was built by Deenaramji Bohara on the insistence of his wife in 1510. Its water was used for drinking, worshipping and irrigation purposes. Number of cultural and religious events was organized at the step well. There would be a fair of Jobner Mataji (a Goddess) every year. Thousands of the visitors of the fair would have bathed in the Boahara ji ki bawari and then worshipped in the temple.  
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          Before restoration                                           After restoration
Chooli Bawari (Meenon ki Bawari)
According to some legends village Sarjoli was settled by the Mandar Meena community and Kanaram Meena, the leader of the tribe had constructed the step well by tearing the nearby hill to solve the problem of drinking water of the villagers. But when there was no water in the step well he asked a learned Brahmin (Scholarly person) the reason of it. The Brahmin told Kanaram that water would come only when a person would be prepared for self-immolation by performing profound meditation (a high level of yoga). Chooli, Kanram’s daughter heard this discussion and determined for her immolation for the sake of solving the acute problem of water of the whole community. She announced her decision and sat for immolation for a pious cause and there was profound amount of water in the step well immediate after Chooli’s sacrifice.   
                          Two faces of the Bawari after restoration
Pilgrims come over here to visit the religious place, particularly on Mondays and Saturdays being the auspicious days for worshipping and prayers etc.  The name of the step well was then labeled with her name ‘Chooli’ and it became a centre of religious standing. Also, there is an old temple of Hanumanji and place of ascetic practice performed by a saint Gyandas. Once Bhartrihari, a famous saint of India while travelling through the way stayed here with Gyandas for a night and so there is a place of his ascetic fire.
Bagichiwali Bawari
Bagichiwali Bawari of was constructed at the corner of village Bhanpur by a business family in 1625. There is a temple in front of the step well where people perform their prayers with water taking from the step well. A tank has been built outside the step well to provide the birds and animals with water. All the social and religious rituals are performed by the villagers at the big enclosure constructed on the land attached to the step well. 

Restoration Work before and after 
Balaji ki Bawari
Balaji ki Bawari was constructed by the same business family, which constructed the Bagichiwali Bawari in village Bhanpur in the year 1208 to provide the community people of village Baas with potable water as there was no source of drinking water in and around the area. A temple of Balaji (Hanumanji) was built first at a big piece of land and then the step well; therefore it was popularly known as Balaji ki Bawari. Accommodation was also developed in the premises to provide the villagers with facilities.
              Before restoration                            After restoration                                  
Gopinath ji Step well in Tehla, Alwar, Rajasthan

According to the senior community people of village Tehla the Gopinath ji Step well was constructed by Late Dungarmalji and Sheojimalji Bajaj in 1835. At that time it was an important source of drinking water for a population of 10, 000 people of the village. A religious festival of Ramnawami (Birthday of Lord Rama) has been and is still celebrated in a marvellous way at the step well in the village. Thousands of people from neighbouring area get together to participate in the event. A temple of Gopinathji was also built in front of the step well at the same time, which is still in a good condition to some extent. The mythological paintings on the walls of the temple still look attractive. There was number of useful amenities in the premises of the step well including a beautiful garden, bathrooms for men and women, a kitchen to cook food by the visitors, fruit trees, a swing and a trough for watering the livestock etc., most of them have now completely damaged.

                    After  restoration                                          Before  restoration