Buddhist cave complex and the Step-wells of the Junagarh Fort

This entry is part 9 of 10 in the series Gujarat Reverie

We descended out of Ranakdevi’s palace on an eastward slope leading towards Adi-Kadi Vav and reached an old Buddhist cave complex on the way. These caves were dug into a hillside in second century and were used by the Buddhist monks for meditation. The cave complex contains exquisitely carved pillars, entrances almost of the size of the modern doors, windows, assembly hall, and cells for meditation; it should be an ideal place for learning and self-reflection in solitude.

The three-tiered Buddhist cave complex, Uparkot, Junagarh

The three-tiered Buddhist cave complex, Uparkot, Junagarh


The cave group has been quarried in three tiers in a manner that even the lowest tier is also well-lit and ventilated. The upper floor had a deep square hole at the centre with verandahs and spaces for balcony sitting known as Kakshasanas. The floor was clean and smooth, giving a feel of a mud house.

Well-lit and ventilated lowest floor, Buddhist caves, Uparkot, Junagarh

Well-lit and ventilated lowest floor, Buddhist caves, Uparkot, Junagarh

The lowest tier had meditation cells, a corridor and carved pillars. These pillars support the ceilings of the underground rooms. The base and the shaft of these pillars and the walls around carry the decorative designs of figures, flowers and foliage. The decorative style has strong influence of Scythian and Greek art. Though time has taken its toll on these semi-reliefs and today only a faint outline of these motifs can be seen.

The upper-floor of Buddhist cave complex, Uparkot, Junagarh

The upper-floor of Buddhist cave complex, Uparkot, Junagarh

The excavation of debris accumulated over the top-tier of these caves has revealed potteries and coins datable to around the third and the fourth century. The top-tier was the last phase of excavation. It hints that the earlier caves were hollowed out at least one or two centuries earlier, giving an excavation date circa second century AD.

Meditation Cells, Buddhist cave Complex, Uparkot, Junagarh

Meditation Cells, Buddhist cave Complex, Uparkot, Junagarh

There are two more cave complexes – Khapra Khodia caves and Baba Pyara caves. Khapra Khodia cave complex is the oldest and is believed to be approximately two thousand years old. It was used as quarry by builders of medieval and later period and so its upper storey has disappeared. It is believed that this cave complex was abandoned soon after its construction when the resident Buddhist monks noticed cracks in the rocks that allowed rain water to seep-in and they feared that it may collapse.

The faint ouline of various reliefs, Buddhist cave complex, Uparkot, Junagarh

The faint ouline of various reliefs, Buddhist cave complex, Uparkot, Junagarh

Baba Pyara caves were excavated in second century or may be even earlier. It is in better state than the Khapra Khodia cave complex. It has thirteen buddhist cells decorated with religion symbols of fish, swastika and ankush. However we skipped both these caves.

Next in line were – Adi-Kadi Vav and Navghan Kuwo – the water-temples of medieval India. Our guide boy was sharing the local wisdom – “अडी-कड़ी वाव ए नव्गहन कुवो, जे ना जोयो, ऐ जीवत मुओ” meaning that the one who has not seen the Adi-Kadi vav and Navghan Kuwo has lost a great chance in his life.

Stunning Rock-stratum of Adi-Kadi Vav, Uparkot, Junagarh

Stunning Rock-stratum of Adi-Kadi Vav, Uparkot, Junagarh

Adi-Kadi Vav, a man-made canyon carved out of virgin rocks, is around eighty-one meter long, 4.75 meter wide and around forty-one meter deep. It is difficult to date it with scholars suggesting varying dates from second century to the fourteenth century; it is definitely among the earliest step-wells of the country. Its simple structure consists of a basic stepped corridor, leading down several stories beginning at the entrance pavilion and ending at the water level of the well, and a well-shaft with a small window cut in the thin membrane above the wall to have an arrangement for fetching water-up by buckets. There were no ornamental designs and the rock stratum along the side walls gave it stunning looks as if someone has written a cryptic book in braille.

Impressive Ad-kadi ni vav, Uparkot, Junagarh

Impressive Ad-kadi ni vav, Uparkot, Junagarh

I find it more plausible that this well was dug on this plateau to store rain water, but folklore goes that it was dug to find the ground water. The Vav, cut out of natural rocks is believed to be constructed in the second half of the tenth century during the reign of Ra Navghan of Chudasama dynasty. Initially, even after digging deep, there was no water. The royal priest informed the king that water would flow only when two virgin young girls were sacrificed. The two servant girls of the king, Adi and Kadi, offered themselves, with their sacrifice, the prophecy was fulfilled and the water erupted from the ground. Today colorful clothes and bangles are hung on a tree in the memory of the two sisters.

I would like to digress a little here. It is ok till it is folklore; else such shameful belief on black magic and human and animal sacrifice is appalling as well as reprehensible. It would have been easy to force or brainwash two young girls to give up their life for someone’s stupid suggestion and belief.

आँखों से सपने लेकर, आँखों में दहशत भर दी|
हमने बच्चों के सपनों की बस इतनी कीमत रख दी|

Impressive adi kadi vav with a small window above the well-shaft, littered with plastic and debris and dying a slow death, Uparkot, Junagarh

Impressive adi kadi vav with a small window above the well-shaft, littered with plastic and debris and dying a slow death, Uparkot, Junagarh

I walked down those primitive 162 steps to have a look at the water in the Vav (step well). It was very dirty with all sort of modern garbage thrown into it. I wonder can these old water temples be given a fresh lease of life, or will they die a slow death, that too, at a time when we have realized the importance of rain water harvesting and also the importance of reviving the old water-harvesting systems…

Next, we went towards the Navghan Kuwo – a dramatically deep well cut into the natural soft rock. It is believed to be even older than Adi-Kadi Vav. The simple square pillars and its peculiar construction method indicate its early date. Some scholars believe that it was constructed during Saka Kstrapa period (second to fourth century), some others believe it to be constructed in sixth or seventh century and some others contest that it was dug much later on by Ra Navghan-I and completed by his son Ra Khengar in eleventh century. It is named after Ra Navghan-I, Chudasama ruler who ruled over Junagadh in 1060 AD. There is a ten feet wide circular passage that surrounds the well shaft and winds down to a depth of around one hundred twenty feet. The stairs are lit and cooled by an array of small square openings. As one descends down the illumination reduces. It is believed that the purpose of low illumination was to retain as much water as possible by minimizing the evaporation. We skipped going down as Tanmay was not looking well.

Navghan Kuwo, Uparkot, Junagarh

Navghan Kuwo, Uparkot, Junagarh

Deep wells always leave me scared and my heart beat increases whenever I look into them. Am I suffering from bathophobia? I once read a person’s view who was suffering from acrophobia. He clarified that it was not the height that scare him, what scare him was the continuous thought that come to his mind to jump from there. It’s almost the same feeling 🙂

Next to that rock-cut cistern was a large granary that would have allowed the fort occupants to withstand extended siege.

It ended our trip of the fort of Uparkot. It was time for the guide-boy to leave. He was patient, allowed us to take our own sweet time and never pushed us to hurry. Towards the end the boy told us that he was working as a guide to earn some extra money to pay his school fees. I doubted it and thought it to be a way to rouse emotions to get extra money. As soon I paid him, he politely thanked us and smilingly departed. As he did not pester me for any extra amount and happily walked away with initially agreed amount, I think he was genuine.

It was time for lunch. We walked to the Kalwa Chowk. There at Patel Restaurant we ordered two thalis and told the waiter that the kid would be sharing food with us. After our meal, the owner told me the amount to pay. On a request for the breakup of the bill, the waiter explained it to the owner and added that as the kid has also shared the meal, so he has charged for an extra half thali.

Kalwa Chowk, Junagarh

Kalwa Chowk, Junagarh

It was enough to make the owner angry. He apologized and asked us to pay for the two. After the payment, as I moved ahead. I heard him scolding the waiter in Gujarati and warning him never to charge for a kid sharing a thali.

Commendable!

Series Navigation<< Junagadh – A walk through history and folklores at Uparkot FortThe Nawabs of Junagadh >>


Comments

  1. Manish Khamesra

    May 21, 2017 at 9:47 pm

    I felt like leaving this comment and realized that there is not much new, its a recurring feeling.

    The feeling of sadness for the neglected water bodies – the step-wells, lakes, ponds. We did not construct them, we inherited them, but still we could not take care of them and we suffer in their absence.

    Once upon a time these water bodies were treated like temples, nobody dare to spoil them, on festivals and on special occasions there was festive atmosphere, the master musicians played here, kings used them to get relief from scorching summer heats. They were life lines of tired travelers, residents, and in case of siege life-line of all within the fort.

    What changed and when and who was responsible?

    Was it Nehruvian model of development, which made us lazy in assuming that state has all the responsibility and citizens of villages/towns/cities have nothing to do to take care of these life-lines. Or were the British responsible for it, making the Indians feel that these water-bodies are unhygienic.

    I live in Bengaluru now, a city that faces serious water crunch many a times. The argument is the city is on a hill so it is but natural to have water scarcity; what is left unsaid is the pathetic situation of its Lakes. There are still so many of them, though several of them were encroached by the land-mafia. If they were not polluted have we felt the water scarcity in Bengaluru!

    I still remember all the debris that was there in Adi-Kadi Vav. Can these step-wells/lakes/ponds be kept clean with a collective responsibility?

    The sad answer today is a big No. There is no initiative towards it.


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