Legends are just legends, sometimes born out of real incidents, sometime just made up stories. Sometimes its fear that gives birth to a legend, sometimes its curiosity, sometimes gossip and sometimes something as small as a story told to children past bed time turns into a legend that lives on for centuries. They are always beyond reasoning but within explanation. The story gets passed on from generations to generations, never proving to be true yet always leaving an impact. One such story is of Agrasen Ki Baoli.
Baoli was an ancient step-well system of India known by many names such as Bawdi, kalyani, pushkarani, barav or vaav. Most common in Western India, these were wells or ponds in which the water was reached by descending a set of steps. It is said that this idea of water preservation originated in Gujarat in 600 AD and soon spread to other parts of India. In ancient times, Northern and Western India were often hit by droughts and these Baolis were invented as a way out in tough times. They not only provided the common people an easy round the clock water availability, but soon became places for social gatherings as well in Summer and that is probably the reason why these wells are so huge in size.
Located on Hailey Road near Connaught place, at walking distance from Jantar Mantar, Agrasen Ki Baoli is a 60 meter long, 15-meter wide historical step well consisting of 103 steps. The only available records related to its origin are in the works of Vibudh Shridhar, an accomplished Apabhramsha writer and poet in North India from Agrawal community. Vibudh, who is believed to have written between years 1133 to 1174, in his work “Pasanahacariu” mentions that this Baoli was rebuilt by a wealthy and influential Agrawal merchant by the name of Nattal Sahu, who lived during the reign of Tomara king, Anangpal. This can also be related to another Baoli located in Mehrauli, Delhi, the Anangtal Baoli, which was also built was King Anangpal.
Going by the architecture, historians believe that this step well was probably rebuilt during the Tughlaq period, after year 1321 but it is possible that the Tughlaqs did some reconstruction work as well during their reign. The architectural style matches that of the Tughlaqs and the Mughals which means that this Baoli probably was not what it is today. The ancient architectural style that Tomars built it in must have been quite different than the one we see today. Vibudh also mentions that Nattal Sahu undertook the work of rebuilding this Baoli at a huge expense because he traced its origins back to legendary King Agrasen of Mahabharata Era. Being a highly religious man, Nattal’s idea was that of paying respect to the gods by bringing this Baoli back to its glory. Once restoration was completed, it was Nattal Sahu himself who named it as Agrasen Ki Baoli, after King Agrasen.
Like all the other ancient monuments in India, even Agrasen ki Baoli is an architectural wonder. It consists of three levels, each lined with arched niches on both sides. There is no water left in the Baoli anymore and you can clearly see the bed of the reservoir. Even though it is under the wing of ASI, is indeed a beautiful monument and has a ticket less entry, the only visitors here are some “love birds” looking to spend some “quality time” together. This Baoli now completely belongs to different kinds of birds and Bats and the smell of their droppings will fill their nose as you get further down the steps.
I found the above picture over the web and it clearly shows that this Baoli was filled well with water until a few decades ago. It also shows that kids and teenagers must have been using it as a swimming pool and considering its depth, it is not impossible that there must have been a few deaths due to drowning and this is probably what gave birth to the scary legend of this beautiful Baoli. It is said that the waters of this Baoli were always dark in color, not the greenish dark but the pitch black dark. People who often sat there alone heard voices from the water urging them to take a dip, drown themselves and raise the water level. People who were emotionally troubled or depressed were said to be the primary targets of the evil spirits residing in this Baoli. The only logical explanation is that people who were troubled in their daily lives jumped here to their deaths here, the same way it keeps happening all over the world still. People unable to cope with financial or emotional stress and jumping to their deaths is nothing new and the same thing must have kept happening here for centuries. Ancient India was a highly superstitious country and there is no wonder that people linked all the drowning to evil spirits.
There is no water left and there are no deaths by drowning here anymore. What’s left is now just a silent place echoing with cooing of pigeons and screaming of bats, standing still in time and who knows how long it will continue to do so. The stones of this Baoli have already seen centuries of passing time and will probably see a few more. For me, it’s definitely not a place that one would want to visit to drown oneself but a place that is located right in heart of one of the busiest cities of India and yet is wrapped in a blanket of calm, far away from the hassles of the city.