Session 4

Step-wells: Reviving India’s Cultural and Traditional Water Storage Systems
Meenakshi Piplani1, Tarun Kumar2
1M.S. Ramaiah Institute of Technology, Bangalore, India; 2Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India

Water has been foreseen to be the cause of the next great global crisis. India, has 18% of the world population but only 4% of the world’s water resources. This brings us to the important issue that India may lack overall long term availability of replenishable water resources.
India is characterized by diverse ecological and cultural regions inhabited by the people. For centuries, a traditional construction for harvesting rain in the arid regions of India, Step-wells, has helped people overcome water scarcity in the dry seasons. Step-wells, also known as Baolis and Vav in Hindi, are large subterranean stone structures built to provide water for drinking and agriculture.
This study explores these traditional water systems in light of their potential to address the current water crisis in India and as artifacts of cultural heritage. Step-wells of the lost ancient Indian city of Hampi in Karnataka were studied. Furthermore, studies of various step-wells across India was conducted, to develop an understanding of their social and historic importance. The case studies show that the timeless grandeur of step-wells is unmatched but most of them have fallen into neglect and have become dumping grounds for adjacent urban communities.
Finally, the study proposes solutions for the rejuvenation of these man-made ground water reservoirs for sustainable water consumption. These step-wells can also be turned into major tourist attractions and social interaction hubs in the form of parks, melas and Haat Bazaars (Traditional Commercial centers). This would also effectively generate revenue for maintaining them, one of the major challenges in its upkeep. Thus, the step-wells can be enlivened to improve aesthetics of the urban fabric while serving as solutions to the problem of depleting water resources for a growing population. Furthermore, it would also be instrumental in conserving the cultural heritage of various Indian traditional settlements.