Around 20 years ago, an inquisitive fine arts student’s quest landed him in the village called Wela Harichandra. The village was 12 kilometers from Nagpur and right in the middle of nowhere. The student who wanted to draw a never-seen-before kind of landscape came across a ruin and found his perfect muse to sketch.
Little did Manoj Bhanuse realize he had stumbled upon a 600-year-old stepwell, a beautiful well created by the Bhonsalas. Stepwells are known as ‘bavadis’, ‘bahuli’ or ‘’pairyachi vihir’ in the Vidarbha region.
Somehow this heritage site was missed by the eyes of heritage conservationists. But it was the enthusiasm of some college students and teachers who took upon themselves to document it since 2010. It was in the same year that students of the Institute of Design Education and Architecture Studies (IDEAS) discussed and enlisted the locations of outstanding heritage sites bestowed with architectural elements.
Currently working as an assistant professor in the same college, Bhanuse decided to have a throwback on the historic structure. “I suggested the stepwell was an ideal subject,” he said while speaking to TOI.
Kirti Bhonsle, an associate professor and author of the documentation, initiated the research work on the step well in no time.
“We found that despite being a unique contribution to architectural heritage, the stepwell hardly has a recorded history.” She further added, “In April 2016, British scientist Philip Earis, who was mapping ‘India’s forgotten stepwells’, read the documentation and came all the way to Nagpur to visit this site.”
Despite being completely in ruins, the college consistently kept documenting the structure for the past eight years. It was only in the recent visit that they found that come elements of the structure were lost.
Stuti Vij Pincha, an assistant professor who led a group of students for the latest documentation, said, “A large part of the structure has collapsed. Such stepwells are well preserved in Gujarat but it is disheartening to see such a beautiful piece of architecture with intricate carvings in this pitiable condition.”
As reported by the TOI, the heritage site was covered in trash and plastic. The natives there did not know much about its history except that it was passed down from many generations.
Various awareness programmes are being held on a regular basis to prevent the villagers from damaging the site. “Students also worked out the plan and section of the structure and tried to reconstruct certain portions that may have existed at that time,” says Bhonsle.
K Girhe’s book ‘Architecture of Bhoslas of Nagpur’ talks specifically about the step wells of Vidarbha. One of the paragraphs in the book reads: ‘In ancient times, digging of wells was the easiest method for obtaining water. Idea and architecture of a stepwell is solely influenced by the Mughal architecture.’ According to Girhe, step wells are ‘India’s contribution to the architectural wealth of the world’.
Milind Gujarkar, head of the department of IDEAS, said, “In medieval times, stepwells were a major source of water and people then would protect them. At the time of invasions, they would fill up the wells to prevent the enemy from destroying them.”
An official of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), on the condition of anonymity, reveals that preservation of the structures does not fall within the purview of their work. It is the agencies’ work, for that matter.
City architect Ashok Mokha, who is also a member of the Heritage Conservation Committee verifies the fact that the this new found step well in not enlisted in the heritage site. He says, “It is a fantastic and first of its kind discovery for our city. The structure probably missed the heritage list as it is located in the outskirts. But we will now take it up with the Nagpur Metropolitan Region Development Authority (NMRDA) and make sure it is preserved.”
Mokha further suggests the stepwell be developed for tourism since Indian stepwells are world-famous.
Information & image source: timesofindia