How India’s ancient stepwells started fading into oblivion | art and culture | Hindustan Times
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How India’s ancient stepwells started fading into oblivion

American journalist and author Victoria Lautman recently took part in a talk in Jaipur where she spoke of India’s heritage of stepwells.

art and culture Updated: Jan 28, 2018 10:31 IST
Katan Baoli in Rajasthan is an ancient stepwell.
Katan Baoli in Rajasthan is an ancient stepwell. (Courtesy: Victoria Lautman )

Tourists have been thronging India’s temples, palaces, forts and mosques, but its ancient stepwells have largely been unknown which is really sad, said Chicago-based author-journalist Victoria Lautman on Saturday.

Participating in a talk titled Rahiman Paani Rakhiye in Narayan Niwas Palace, Lautman said India’s stepwells were a marvel which bespeak architecture, beauty, culture, history and heritage of the country. These remarkable subterranean structures provided communities with water all-year-long and also served as civic centres, refuges, remote oases and, in many cases, active places of worship as well, she added.

“Emerging as marvels of engineering, architecture and art, with some being lavish while others ornate, they were left abandoned during the British regime which brought it to the present deplorable shape.” Stressing the need to give them urgent attention to ensure those bounce back, she said: “The British failed to take care of this precious property of the country. I hate saying this, but this is the explanation for the present state of stepwells.”

She was speaking in a programme organised by Anantaya, which has been setting new equations on grounds of sustainability. Geetanjali Kasliwal from Anantaya said: “From being one of the most sophisticated water management systems to one which is constantly dependent on external sources, the water systems of Jaipur are in urgent need of restoration.

“Anantaya believes that our collective future depends upon how we address the issue of water. Perhaps, we can look into the past, and learn from it. Rahiman Pani Raakhiye is one such initiative where we discuss the various aspects around water.”

Lautman also shared the reasons that prompted her to come out with a book The Vanishing Stepwells Of India. She said that she fell in love with “baoris” (stepwells) of India. “They had wonderful architecture and were a living heritage of India. When I visited India for the first time, I felt that India can’t get out of my system. I loved every aspect of India...I was drinking in the entire country everyday. But I was also feeling that stepwells in India are vanishing which was paining me from within. “I was posting pictures of stepwells on Facebook and people were asking me about its details. Hence, I thought of writing a book on the same. Ultimately, an obsession with the country’s vanishing stepwells prompted me to write a book.”

The need of the hour was to adopt this incredible heritage and spread awareness on restoration of these stepwells in public-private partnership (PPP) mode. “It’s sure to bring a new era in new India,” said Lautman. Claiming that she is the biggest fan of India, she said that she is in love with this country and hence loves visiting frequently.

A print and broadcast journalist for over 25 years, Lautman has hosted radio programmes in Chicago. Her first visit to India in 1985 led to many subsequent trips and ultimately an obsession with the country’s vanishing stepwells.

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