Once the focal point of many Indian communities, stepwells were mostly phased out during British rule due to concerns about water borne parasites. They never returned to mainstream use. Richard Cox describes their use, “During their heyday, they were a place of gathering, of leisure, of relaxation and of worship for villages of all but the lowest castes. Men gained respite from the heat in the covered pavilions, while the women had a rare chance to chat amongst themselves while drawing water for their families.”
Have been neglected for centuries, efforts are now being made to restore many of the wells. More recently, many have become dry as groundwater has been diverted for industrial use and the wells no longer reach the water table.
Stepwells are mainly to be found dotted about the desert areas of Gujarat and Rajasthan, some descending by as many as 170 steps and 46metres to reach the water.
A more detailed report will follow from Richard when he returns.
Richard Cox will be touring his exhibition:
“Subterranean Architecture: Stepwells in India” 2008-09.
For details, visit www.richard-cox.co.uk