May 13, 2003
Can’t commerce and heritage combine?
It is fashionable among wealthy causerati to espouse conservation. They want colonial buildings, markets, mews, post boxes and water fountains to be saved. These are mostly urban structures and have little chance of fulfilling their devout desires. Good luck, any how.
But here is a truly creative opportunity: India’s countryside is strewn with works that combine beauty with utility. Many of these have collapsed. Some are beyond repair. But they speak of a time when craft, utility, economics, spirituality and governance converged.
Let us stay with the theme of ‘water’. Why not construct --anew-- water harvesting structures that are modeled on the old but designed by today’s craftsmen? Bring in modern tools but try and at least mimic the aesthetics of the bygone eras. There are innumerable models for us to start from. Village tanks, step wells, basement storages [ Click to view one. But be patient, it’s a large picture.] , aquaducts etc, etc.
This passion piece is prompted by Adalaj Vav just outside Ahmedabad. Built over five hundred years ago it serves as a sacred place, a community centre and an architecture rich tourist spot. It is in fact a great water harvesting structure. See it if you will, as a hollow pyramid buried in the ground, its apex down.
We owe these pictures to Sanjeev Nayyar. He’s a man in love with India and runs a website called esamskriti that expresses his passion. It is worth a visit for some stunning pictures.
He has published a dozen views of the Adalaj Vav. From the street level  it is barely noticed. But it sprawls over a vast area, open to the sky and eagerly waiting for rain . Then it goes down five storeys, narrowing at each level until finally some sixty feet below ground is a well .Every square inch of its stone surface is richly carved with birds, people, animals and trees. It must have kept many people employed for years and when done, served as a water store.