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Step Wella.jpg

Subject: Step Well

Place: Hampi, Karnataka

Year: 2023

Camera: Yashica Mat 124 G

Film: Ilford HP5 Plus

Water plays a significant role in many spiritual traditions of the world. This element represents transformation through cleansing both physical and symbolic, like baptism in Christianity and the ablutions before prayer and on other sacred occasions as sanctioned by Islam and Judaism. 

Similarly, In the long-standing Vedic culture of India, water played an important role in various religious and social ceremonies. Many temples in ancient India had a water tank or pushkarani for ritual purposes. These were used by devotees for ritual bathing before worship. Sometimes the priests would use a pushkarani for performing teppotsava for the temple deities by ferrying them across the body of water to seek divine beneficence for the royal family, the kingdom and its people.

Hampi has many step wells.  Some of these (like the one featured in this picture) were works of great sophistication that combined cosmology, sacred geometry and hydrology in complex ways. It was discovered by the Archeological Society of India in 1985 and dated to the 15th century at the zenith of the Vijayanagara empire.

The architects and artisans of these water tanks exhibited very high levels of knowledge and skills.    Every stone used in the construction of this tank has different symbols that also include the letters of the Kannada alphabet. Construction marks in some of the stones index the direction of water flow to the tank.  Most notably it features steps in a pyramidal form descending to lower levels through precisely numbered stone steps – a total of one hundred – lending it great elegance and a rare uniqueness. Stone slabs and sand at the bottom served as a natural filter for the water in the tank keeping it always fresh.

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