Ancient Indians used to build water temples as well as earliest forms of stepwells and reservoirs. Stepwells are wells or ponds in which the water is reached by descending a set of steps. They are often multi storied in structure and are found in arid regions of South Asia.
Ugrasen ki Baoli (a.k.a. Agrasen ki Baoli) is one of such stepwells in Delhi. It is designated a protected monument by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI). It’s a 60-meter long and 15-meter wide historical step well on Hailey Road near Connaught Place in New Delhi.
Baoli or baori is a Hindi word (from Sanskrit vapi, vapika). Water temples and temple step wells were built in ancient India and the earliest forms of stepwell and reservoir were also built in India in places like Dholavira as far back as the Indus Valley Civilisation. Thousands of stepwells were built in India starting around the 2nd and 4th centuries A.D. where they first appeared as rudimentary trenches but slowly evolved into much more elaborate feats of engineering and art. By the 11th century some stepwells were commissioned by wealthy or powerful philanthropists as monumental tributes that would last for eternity.
Although there are no known historical records to prove who built Agrasen ki Baoli, it is believed that it was originally built by the legendary king Agrasen during the Mahabharat epic era circa 3124 BCE and rebuilt in the 14th century by the Agrawal community which traces its origin to Maharaja Agrasen.
Apart from providing water Stepwells also served as a place for social gatherings and religious ceremonies. Usually, women were more associated with these wells because they were the ones who collected the water. Also, it was they who prayed and offered gifts to the goddess of the well for her blessings. This led to the building of some significant ornamental and architectural features, often associated with dwellings and in urban areas. It also ensured their survival as monuments.
The galleries and chambers surrounding these wells were often carved profusely with elaborate detail and became cool, quiet retreats during the hot summers.
Ugrasen ki Baoli is a unique blend of architecture with an impressive design known to have existed centuries ago. The red stone walls of the Baoli, dressed with a series of arched structure are grim and desolate, but still beautiful. The Baoli is made up of a series of superimposed arches supported on piers or columns. It consists of 103 steps made of red stones. A basic difference between stepwells on the one hand, and tanks and wells on the other, is to make it easier for people to reach the ground water and to maintain and manage the well.
Because of an increasing drop in local water table due to unregulated pumping, the stepwell has long since dried up and one can see the bed of the reservoir. It is a cool and silent place in the heart of the capital.
Is the place haunted?
This Baoli has the reputation of being one the haunted places of New Delhi. It is said that the water of the well was black in colour and the ‘black water’ had often lured people to jump into it and commit suicide. Whether these stories are true or figments of imagination of some people cannot be confirmed, but many visitors to this place say that they often have an uncanny feel near the well. The Baoli does give a grim look. The silence deepens as one moves to the bottom of the stairs, and the gradual increase in the gurgling sound of pigeons, and squeaky chatter of bats echoing off the stone walls makes this place creepy. The mystic architecture is definitely worth a visit.