Today is Vijaya Dashami or Bijoya. Today is the day when the Goddess Durga defeated Mahisasura or the buffalo demon, after a fierce battle that lasted 9 days and 9 nights. After killing him on the 10th day, Durga came to known as Mahisasuramardini or “she who killed the buffalo demon”.
The story of Mahisasuramardini (which you can read here or here) is perhaps one of the best known in Hindu mythology, and its associated imagery is one of the most recognisable.
I was introduced to the story of Mahisasuramardini by my grandmothers, and also my mother’s recitation of the Mahisasuramardini Stotram. Like most children of the 1970s, I was introduced to the popular imagery of Mahisasuramardini through Amar Chitra Katha’s “Tales of Durga” (see picture on the left).
It was this image of Mahisasuramardini that stayed with me till 1997 when I visited Mahabalipuram. I saw Indian sculptural art in a ‘natural’ setting for the first time, including this depiction of Mahisasuramardini. That was when I realised the immensity, beauty and power of the narratives I had heard and read from the time I was a kid.
That visit also marked the beginning of my interest in Hindu mythology expanding to include its representation in classical Indian art. And Mahisasuramardini fascinated me like no other, which, thanks to my travels in India, I came across in Aihole, Ellora, Patan, Vadnagar and Nalla Sopara. Artiistically and stylistically, each one of the relief sculptures were very different, and yet unmistakably that of Mahisasuramardini.
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It is around 10.30 in the morning when I enter the Rani ni Vav (or the Queen’s Stepwell) complex at Patan. It’s a sunny day with bright blue and cloudless skies.
I take this as an auspicious sign for I have been rather unlucky when it comes to viewing stepwells. Be it at Hampi, Champaner or Lonar, the wells were full of water when I visited them, and I was unable to see the step-like feature of the wells. So keenly aware I am of my ‘luck’ with stepwells that I cannot help asking the person selling entry tickets to the monument, if there is water in the stepwell.
I get the reassuring reply that the water supply dried up a long time back and the step well is completely dry. So it is with a spring in my steps and a smile on my face that I enter the complex. Manicured lawns and well laid out pathways welcome me, and I pass a photo shoot, as well as coy couples hiding behind bushes on my way to the stepwell, which is a short walk from the entrance.
Soon the stepwell is visible or rather a fenced off rise and depression is visible and it is only when I am almost upon it that I see steps descending into the stepwell. I have picked up a booklet from the ticket office on the Rani ni Vav and settle down on the topmost step to read and familiarise myself with the history of the stepwell.
Continue reading “Rani ni Vav: The queen of stepwells”