The first place I saw in Delhi was Agrasen Ki Baoli and it was amazing place to see. Actually i saw this place before in Aamir Khan’s amazing movie PK but to see it life is different. The place was hidden for years among the high-rises near Connaught Place, New Delhi. But PK is only a blip in the long life of the grand baoli. The history it has witnessed and the mysteries hidden in its depths will never be truly revealed.
According to Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Agrasen Ki Baoli measures 58.52 metres x 13.71 meters at ground level. It has been constructed by putting together uneven stone units, usually called ‘rubble masonry.’ The monument is divided into four levels with a flight of 108 steep steps leading down to the well.
The steps are flanked by thick walls on both the sides with two series of arched niches at the first (top) and second levels. Each series of niches are divided into two levels — the top level is a shallow ‘false niche’ which seems to be there more for the purpose of design. However, the lower niche is deep and can easily fit two people, serving as a meeting place and providing relief from the heat. There are passages and rooms inside the baoli, which are now locked and inaccessible.
At the northern end of the baoli is a circular well measuring 7.8 meters in diameter. It is covered by iron grills at the top and is connected to the baoli through a shaft. In the past, as the water rose in the well, it would fill the baoli from the bottom to the top level.
The Origins of Agrasen Ki Baoli
The design of Agrasen Ki Baoli point at late Tughlaq (1321-1414 AD) or Lodi (1451-1526 AD) architectural style. However, according to popular legend Agrasen Ki Baoli (which means the Stepwell of Agrasen) was built by Maharaja Agrasen or Emperor Agrasen. He is believed to have lived in the ancient town of Agroha Haryana , during the times of the Mahabharata. Maharaja Agrasen is considered to be a contemporary of the Hindu god, Lord Krishna, and with 3124 BCE assumed to be his year of birth.
The Mosque at Agrasen Ki Baoli
On the west corner of Agrasen Ki Baoli, above the flight of stairs, is a small mosque. A portion of the roof had fallen off a long time back. Old photos and records have always shown the mosque as we see it today. The four pillars made of red sandstone, which support the roof, stand out against the general design of the mosque.
The columns, ‘quite unusually’, are carved with Buddhist-chaitya motifs (a chaitya is a Buddhist shrine). The spandrels (the space between the arch and the rectangular enclosure) are decorated with ‘stucco medallions’ (the medallion is made of stucco, a material which is applied wet and hardens into a dense solid when it drys up).
The Haunted Agrasen Ki Baoli
There are stories that Agrasen Ki Baoli is haunted and that the ‘black water’ of the baoli invited people to jump into it and commit suicide. How much of it is true is actually difficult to say. The baoli nowadays remains almost waterless. The very little water that is there in the well is anything but black. There are hundreds (definitely not thousands) of bats inside the baoli but all they do is create a ruckus, which can be heard as you walk down the steps to the bottom.
Going by the legend about the suicides there should have been a high number of incidents reported in newspapers. However, in the past many years, there seems to have been just one report. It happened in June 2007 and was reported in the Hindu newspaper. Even at that time the level of water was “just four to five feet deep.”
These stories have only added to the popularity of Agrasen Ki Baoli and given it a place in the numerous lists of the top haunted sites in India. Most stories seem to be the result to very fertile imaginations or derived from the old photos of Agrasen Ki Baoli.
The Restored Agrasen Ki Baoli
That Agrasen Ki Baoli was full of water till the 1970s is clearly established by the photograph. Over the years as the urban jungle around Agrasen Ki Baoli grew, the water level receded. It left behind mud and silt and revealed that much of the baoli was buried underground. Over the years Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) worked on de-silting and restoring Agrasen Ki Baoli and other baolis in Delhi. Comparing Rahu Rai’s photograph with what the baoli looks like today, one can see that a lot of restoration work has been done. In the old black and white photograph, the baoli looks dilapidated and in serious need to repairs.
However, in pre-independence era, even though the historical monuments were not in good shape, they were not as edangered as they are today. With less population, there was abundance of water (unlike today). In fact the area around Agrasen Ki Baoli lay in ruins and was mostly wasteland. The closest important human settlement was the village of Madhoganj (‘Madhogunje’ in old British maps), which lay north-west of Agrasen Ki Baoli and next to Jantar Mantar.