So much of India is defined by its relationship to water. It’s a symbol for almost every aspect of life from purity to fertility to spirituality. Rivers are goddesses, while the Ganges is said to promote health, and speed the path to enlightenment. Ancient engineering feats of water harvesting meant the difference between destruction or survival of cities and empires. A common feature of even the earliest temples is the “tank”, the open water pool where it’s customary to take a purifying dip before entering to worship. Even the humblest of restaurants have hand washing stations. Visitors in Gujarat are always greeted with an offer of a cup of water.
So picture, if you can, a soaring temple built over seven levels, all covered with literally thousands of carvings and sculptures—only the temple soars DOWN, with several levels extending further down into the water at the bottom. They were called stepwells, and could serve as a special retreat for a princess, or as a town’s social center.