Nearly 3 km away from Panvel station lies a 19th century stepwell in Kudave village. A two-storey structure below the ground level, the stepwell is located in a private property to the east of the village, along the banks of Karnavati River.
Despite being a part of the draft heritage list released by The Mumbai Metropolitan Region-Heritage Conservation Society (MMR-HCS), the stepwell is one of the structures not notified as heritage yet. Stepwells, called baav (in Maharashtra) and vaav (in Gujarat), are wells in which the water can be reached by descending a set of steps to the water level.
Stepwells were built in an architectural form that was popular in the arid regions of India. The stepwells in Maharashtra are smaller in scale compared to the ones in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Stepwells like the one in Kudave are significant not only as architectural ruins but as good rain harvesting and water storage systems.
“Several stepwells exist in the state but this is one of the rare ones to be ornate in nature. It must have been an important water body, which could have been commissioned by the wealthy ‘Sahukars’ during the flourishing times. The water is still being used, but the structure has been neglected,” said conservation architect Rahul Chemburkar.
Who commissioned the stepwell and when is not yet known. Chemburkar said it could have been constructed in the 18th century.
The stepwell has features of Deccan architecture such as multi-foliated archways, decorative cornices and brackets. It had been built using black basalt stone masonry. The stone walls of the well have decorative arched niches at regular intervals. Its gateway has typical Maratha style arches on its east and west surface. It has a decorative stone cornice chajja above it with stone brackets supporting it.
India’s water crisis has renewed interest in stepwells.
“During British rule, many stepwells were destroyed after they had been deemed unhygienic breeding grounds for disease. Local communities neglected their upkeep, thus allowing them to silt up, get filled with garbage or suffer from ruin. Considering the water shortage today, these water storage bodies need to be protected and revived,” added Chemburkar.