Importance of water in Hinduism (J.Bhagat)
As we all know water is essential to life. We build cities around it, cleanse, play and drink it. It is a scientific fact that we cannot live without water. For the same reasons, the subject of water has been treated spiritually, philosophically, cosmologically, medically, and poetically in the ancient Indian literature comprising the Veda(s), Brāhmaṇa(s), Upaniṣad(s), Purāṇa(s), and Smṛti(s). Water occupies the highest place amongst the five basic elements of nature, called pañchamahābhūta. These are: ākāśa (ether, substratum, space), vāyu (air), teja or agni (radiation, energy, or fire), āpa(water), and pṛthivī (Earth). (Narayana, 1995 and KN Sharma, 2008). These natural entities and forces such as sun, earth, rivers, ocean, wind, water etc. have been worshipped in India as Gods since many years. Perhaps it is not a sheer coincidence that the King of these Gods is Indra, the God of Rain. Clearly, ancient Indians were aware of the importance of rain and other hydrologic variables for the society. (National Institute of Hydrology).
In Indian culture water is linked to every social aspect of life. Divine water is consumed in the temple after puja worship rituals; idols of worship are sprinkled with water (abhishekam); and a plantain leaf kept for a meal is cleaned with water and a prayer. Many other rituals also highlight the significance of water in Indian culture. The Holy River Ganges is mythologically linked to Lord Shiva as the fountain that flows through the Himalayan terrain, reaching first Haridwar and then Benares. All over India people throng for a dip in the holy river to wash away their sins. The Holy River Ganges is the Hindu symbol for purification of the soul and rejuvenation of the mind. Holy river Ganges is sacred to Hindus. It’s a holy tradition to die and have the body burnt and the ashes cast into the waters of the holy River Ganges. Hindu believe that by doing so one is freed from the cycle of birth and rebirth. Millions of Hindu take bath in the holy rivers to wash away their sins and achieve salvation. Kumb Mela is also celebrated on the bank of holy river Ganges every three years.
Other rivers, such as the Brahmaputra, Indus, Godavari, Krishna, Narmada, Cauveri, and Mahanadi, are also symbolic places in Indian culture with thriving agriculture and plantations on their shores. The river Cauvery is linked closely to the culture, tradition, and history of the state of Tamilnadu. The Aadi Perukku festival (Adi means a Tamil month, Perukku means swelling) is celebrated in mid-July when the river is in full flow; and the Mettur Dam is built across it, storing water to release for the cultivation of wetlands. (KN Sharma, 2008).
Before doing any sacred ceremony, Hindus purify their body with water. Hindus prayed Gayatri during ablutions for purity : one prays to the Goddess to purify water in order that both the exterior and interior, the mind of a person are cleansed, purified and illuminated. There is a principle called the triple purity; this is purity of thoughts, words and actions. When one acts with this triple purity, one is said to be following righteousness or dharma, the foundation of Hindu life, and indeed, the foundation of the Universe.
Many temples have a bathing place attached; this is called a “tank” and it is customary to wash before entering and undertaking the rites.(SIN, Australia). For similar reasons Hindu offer water to Surya (Sun) early in the morning. Waking up early in the morning to perform this ritual every day makes a person disciplined and maintains the body, mind and spirit balance. The first ray of sun inspires early success in daily life. It grants you all pleasures, good health and wealth in life.
Water is essential for every Hindu ritual. Water offered to God and the water collected after bathing the divines are considered very sacred. This water is blessed and is given as offering to the devotees. The water of the (Kalasa or Kumbh) is said to be with divine essence, symbolising God. This is regularly used in different religious rites.
One of the religious rituals is Tarpana or Tarpan (offering made to divine entities). Which is the act of pouring water through the hands with the use of sacred grass as a symbolic gesture of recognition.
Hindus sprinkle water around the plate before starting the meal which is a tradition.
In Hinduism after child birth a close relative pours a few drops of water on the child’s body using the right hand is called Nir. It is said that this ritual will bless that child to get a good character.
Water also plays an important role in death rituals. Many funeral grounds are located near the rivers. After cremation the mourners bath in the river before returning home. By doing this the body of the mourner becomes pure. (Diptimayee Pairda, 2017).
Hence, Water in Hinduism holds a sacred place because it is believed to hold purifying and cleansing powers. … It recognises that water is a part of life; that we are made up of, live, breathe and consume water.
- Narayanan, Sampat, ed. Vedic, Buddhist and Jain Traditions. Vol. 2. New Delhi, India: IGNCA, 1995.
- K.N. Sharma, 2008, “Water in India: Spiritual and Technical Aspects”, Springer, Dordrecht. https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-1-4020-4425-0_9433
- National Institute of Hydrology, India. “Vedic Hydrology” http://184.108.40.206/rbis/rbis.htm
- Shepparton interfaith network (SIN), Australia, “Water in Hinduism”, 23/2/2012.
- Diptimayee Parida (2017) Significance of water in Hinduism. https://ommrudraksha.com/water-in-hinduism