Rani ki Vav
In India step wells have been used for centuries to provide water and shade. At Rani ki Vav there are seven levels descending more than 20 metres into the earth.
Each terrace is decorated with multiple pillared pavilions adorned with ornate and intricate sculptures of Hindu deities.
Step wells dotted western India from around the 7th century AD onwards and aside from serving the very practical purpose of providing a communal water source; they were often also architectural masterpieces. The well itself was reached by descending a number of steps and levels within the structure. Step wells were also a focus for social gathering, since the lower levels provided respite from the sun’s rays.
Dating from between 1022-1063 AD Rani ki Vav is also known as the Queen’s stepwell as it is believed to have been commissioned by Udayamati in memory of her late husband Bhimdev I.
Rani ki Vav is currently on the UNESCO Tentative World Heritage List which means that the World Heritage Committee will consider it for official WHS designation.
Rani ki Vav was scanned over a two week period in 2011 by the Scottish Ten team and colleagues from CyArk and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Why was Rani ki Vav included in the Scottish Ten?
A shortlist of potential Indian heritage sites was agreed between the Scottish Government and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) – the Indian equivalent of Historic Scotland.
Despite its architectural significance, Rani ki Vav is not widely known outside India and currently sits on the UNESCO Tentative World Heritage List. By digitally documenting Rani ki Vav for the Scottish Ten project, we hope we will be able to bring the site to a much wider audience and raise both its national and international profile.
Digital conservation was also an important consideration in choice of site: we will generate a very accurate, high resolution 3D survey which the ASI will be able to use for heritage management purposes.
What were the challenges of scanning Rani ki Vav?
Rani ki Vav faces east, measures approximately 64m x 20m and is 27m deep. As well as the multiple levels, pavilions and sculptures there are almost four hundred niches on the walls that hold delicate carvings. The sheer number of carvings and their complexity was the major challenge of digitally recording this site.
We used a number of new and adapted 3D scanning technologies to deal with this and also incorporated digital photogrammetry into our fieldwork programme.
Scanning the interior walls of the well itself was a significant technological challenge. Access is difficult and ensuring we could scan all aspects of the surface was challenging. We developed and built a special rig which we used to suspend the scanner over the edge of the well. This rig could be lowered down the well to capture the carvings on its walls in 3D.
The temperature was between 38-40°C, which was not only a challenge for the team, but for our equipment as well which we had to keep as cool as possible.
How is the data being used?
The ASI has been able to add a high resolution 3D survey to their existing survey record from the scanning data. This will inform the ongoing conservation programmes and heritage management strategies for Rani ki Vav.
The 3D scans can be used as an interpretation and education tool and as a visual aid to understanding the construction and iconography. Also, there will be the potential to process scans into photo-realistic animations for developing remote access and virtual tourism options.
We worked on site in partnership with the ASI and we are delighted that this project has been the basis for what we hope will be a long-term relationship with them to build on the historic and cultural links between India and Scotland. This project has given us valuable experience and further enhances the international reputation of CDDV and Historic Scotland.