Rajon ki Baoli: A medieval step-well

I’m feeling a sense of elation right now, because I’ve submitted the manuscript of the next Muzaffar Jang book. It will probably be about a year before the book’s published, but getting this done and out of the way has given me some breathing space.

Last week, I began a series of brief articles on interesting secular (and relatively little-known) historical monuments in Delhi. I started with Baadli ki Sarai, a Mughal-era sarai near modern-day Azadpur Sabzi Mandi. This week, we’ll focus on something different. Also practical, also meant for the use of the public, and also not too well-known: Rajon ki Baoli (also known as Rajon ki Bain), in the Mehrauli Archaeological Park.

A view of Rajon ki Baoli.

A view of Rajon ki Baoli.

Delhi, despite its location beside the Yamuna, has always had problems regarding the supply of water—brought on, partially, by the long and extremely hot summer, and by the proximity to the arid zones of neighbouring Haryana and Rajasthan. From early days, therefore, Delhi’s rulers began establishing waterworks: dams, canals, artificial lakes and wells. Among the last-named, some of the most prominent were the baolis, or step-wells. A baoli (known in neighbouring Haryana and in Rajasthan as a baori) is a (usually) four-sided well, with flights of steps built all the way down to the water. As water is used up or evaporates, more steps have to be traversed to get to the water.

Rajon ki Baoli (‘rajon’, in this instance, does not mean ‘kings’, but ‘masons’; perhaps a group of masons used this for a while) isn’t one of the deepest of baolis: it only consists of three long flights of broad steps leading down to the water. This is, however, one of Delhi’s more beautiful baolis. Supposedly built in 1506, during the reign of Sikandar Lodhi, the baoli has lovely arches all along the sides, with some exquisite plasterwork—very distinctive of the Lodhi period—along the arcade at the top of the baoli.

Rajon ki Baoli, seen from the top.

Rajon ki Baoli, seen from the top.

The Rajon ki Baoli was obviously meant to act not just as a source of water, but also as a place of rest for thirsty travellers. This is why, besides the small cells (used as rooms) which line the walls, there is a small and pretty mosque here, decorated with more of the finely incised plasterwork.

The main doorway to the mosque at Rajon ki Baoli.

The main doorway to the mosque at Rajon ki Baoli.

Detail of incised plaster at the mosque.

Detail of incised plaster at the mosque.

In addition, there’s a small tomb, in the form of a chhatri (a domed pavilion). This, according to an inscription, was built possibly by someone named Daulat Khan, for a certain Khwaja Mohammad, in 1506.

The mosque at Rajon ki Baoli, and the tomb of Khwaja Mohammad.

The mosque at Rajon ki Baoli, and the tomb of Khwaja Mohammad.

Unfortunately, despite restoration and conservation work in the recent past, the Rajon ki Baoli is now mostly dry—which is why it’s also now known locally as the ‘Sookhi’ (dry) Baoli.

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