India Tales: A Proud Queen, a Harem Boss Lady and the Power and Prestige of Water

GUEST BLOGGERS, INDIA — By on August 31, 2010 at 20:11

Story by guest blogger Roona. Photos Copyright © Roona.

I RECENTLY MOVED to the city of Ahmedabad in the arid regions of Western India. In a landscape dominated by desert and dry air, people unashamedly propitiate rain gods and fervently pray for the monsoons. In a modern nation with modern methods of water conservation and distribution, people here continue to offer prayers to the gods to bring down the monsoons. I always wondered what it was like in ancient times and I soon had my answer.

As I explore this place and familiarize myself with it, I find myself easily traveling back and forth between today and the last few centuries. One day, my husband and I heard about a step well purported to be in good condition somewhere near old city.

Centuries ago, as far back as the sixth or seventh centuries, talented masons devised a way to harvest rains by digging deep trenches and tapping into the ground water. Then, artisans and moneyed people, including kings and queens caught on to the idea and began to build step wells to provide villagers and travelers with a consistent water supply. Soon, this also became a matter of honor and prestige and they did not hesitate to indulge themselves with beautiful architectural designs to construct these step wells.

Queen Rudabai's memorial to her husband

Dada Harir's mosque

We began to drive to our local step well and found ourselves going through narrow streets and roads, with houses and markets that looked to be hundreds of years old. After much inquiry along the way, and some driving around in circles, we managed to find the step well.

Dada Harir, a superintendent of the sultan’s harem, had this step well built around 500 years ago. Behind it are her mausoleum and a beautiful mosque.

From outside, nothing was visible; however, when we went in, there were beautiful rows of steps, tumbling downward into the depths of the earth. Although it is maintained as a heritage building, it is deserted now; a home for birds, bats, squirrels and other little wildlife. Down in the depths a bat flew out at me so suddenly that I screeched fit enough to scare it in return! The stairs and the well shaft are made of sandstone with gorgeous carvings and you can find Sanskrit and Persian inscriptions on the walls. One of the inscriptions says,

This well was built at a place where four roads meet, crowded with good men, who come from four quarters. As long as the moon and sun endure, may sweet water of the well be drunk by all men

After whetting our appetites here, we made a trip to the nearby town of Adalaj in search of a step well that both inspired Dada Harir’s step well construction as well as comes with a romantic horror story.

A step well in Ahmedabad

A step well in Ahmedabad

“Hundreds of years ago, Sultan Beghara killed the chief of Vaghela, Vheer Singh, in a battle for land supremacy. The Sultan was not satisfied with simply annexing the kingdom; he also wanted Veer Singh’s wife, Queen Rudabai to marry him. Queen Rudabai agreed to the proposal on the condition that the Sultan permits her to build a step well as a memorial to her husband before she married him. The Sultan agreed to do so and the Queen took twenty long years to complete the step well. By then, the Sultan had had enough and he sent her a message that he would wait no longer and she would have to marry him immediately. The Queen, who was too proud to marry the man who had killed her husband, went to the topmost balcony of the step well, and killed herself by leaping into the water.”

I stood there looking at the glistening green water and it was not hard to imagine the place when it was a much-needed step well providing water and cool shade to locals and travelers alike. It was noon and the brief period of sunlight entering the well threw the carvings into sharp relief as people wandered about admiring the place. It has a little temple on one side and a beautiful park on the other.

It was indeed sad to hear that a queen had met a watery grave in this beautiful place!

———-

Roona

Roona

ROONA has lived and worked in India and the United States and recently moved back to India. In the process of settling down in her home country, she continues to miss her life in the USA. On the other hand, for the first time in her life she has an opportunity to focus on her one true passion: writing. She blogs at IndiaRepat and Aesara Says.

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    3 Comments

  • Al McCartan says:

    This is the stuff movies are made from – a proud queen, a proposal, a self-sacrifice. If this story has not been dramatised, it should be. What a tale.

    You have captured the area well. As a very young soldier in the early 60s, a lot of my senior officers and NCOs were ex-British Army or ex Indian Army who had served in those regions and in a lot of cases, India was more home to them than was Britain or later Australia.

    They often spoke about monsoons and would laugh at our ‘puny’ rainfalls compared to what they had seen.

    India is going to be in the forefront of our news over the next few weeks – so your article is indeed timely.

  • Rob says:

    I have always wanted to visit India, I doubt I shall ever make it but writings like this can transport me there if only briefly.

    Thank you Roona

  • Lois says:

    This was a great post. It sent me to a place where my imagination could roam free. Thanks for posting this! 😀

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