Significance of Water in Sanathana Dharma
आपो वा इदग् सर्वं विश्वा भूतान्यापः प्राणा वा आपः
पशव आपोऽन्नमापोऽमृतमापः सम्राडापो विराडापः
स्वराडापश्छन्दाग् स्यापो ज्योतीग् ष्यापो यजूग् ष्यापः
सत्यमापः सर्वा देवता आपो भूर्भुवः सुवराप ओम् ॥ १॥
Aapo vaa idam Sarvam Vishwaa Bhoothaanyaapah praanaa vaa appah
Pashava Aapo Annamaapo Amruthamaapah Samraadaapo Viraadaapah
Swaraadaapah Chandaagsyapo Jyotheegshyaapo Yajoogshyaapo
Sathyamaapah Sarvaa Devatha Aapo Bhoorbhuvassuvaraapa Om
Water is life
The above Manthra from Mahanarayana Upanishad sums up the status, significance and the central role of Water in the cosmic view of Sanathana Dharma. The manthra begins by stating that Water (Aaapah) is EVERYTHING… (Aapo vaa idam Sarvam), then elaborates this by enumerating several facets of water, like ALL the elements consist of water (Vishwaa Bhoothaanyaapah), Water is Life (praanaa vaa appah), Water is FOOD (Annamaapo), water provides immortality (Amruthamaapah) and then glorifies Water by saying “Yajoogshyaapo” – water symbolizes all sacred activities, that Water is the ultimate TRUTH (Sathyamaapah) and that all divine entities are in fact manifestations of water (Sarvaa Devatha Aapo)
Such glorifications apart, water plays a very central role in the day-to-day life of a follower of Sanathana Dharma. Every ritual – small or big – requires the use of water. There are manthras mentioned for chanting while one takes a bath, making it clear that bathing is not merely a physical activity but is in fact a spiritual activity. In these manthras, the glory of Water and its Devatha (Varuna) are elaborated.
Holy Waters of the Rivers
Every river is considered sacred in the view of Sanathana Dharma, wherein, taking a holy dip in the rivers is considered an act of spiritual purification. It is for this reason, that every river is assigned a Devatha and this Devatha is worshipped by performing Arathi or by celebrating festivals centered around the river call “Pushkara” festivals. These Pushkara festivals come in cycles of 12 years and 144 years. Even when someone enters the river water for the purpose of bathing in it, one does not straight away step into the water with the feet, but the first step is to take some water with the hands, sprinkle it on one’s head and then with a prayer, the person has to step into the water.
Water in Temples
Not only rivers, even tanks and other water bodies like wells, ponds and lakes were revered as sacred and divine. This is the reason that every Hindu temple will have a tank as part of the temple complex and these tanks are treated with the same level of respect and sacredness as the Deity of the Temple. Float festivals are common in such temples and once in the year, the Deity is taken around on a Float in these tanks. All of this is done with the intention of keeping the tank and its waters in good condition without pollution.
In the temples, water is used in Abhishekams as a part of the worship to the Deity and the water that comes out of these Abhishekams are treated as God’s Gift (Prasadam) and are even sent to places several thousands of kilometers away as special gifts.
Water to purify
In many purification ceremonies, a ritual called Punyaavaachanam is performed, wherein a vessel with water is placed in front, into which the main Devathas are invoked and prayer Manthras are chanted treating the water-filled vessel as a representative of the Devathas. After the chanting is completed, the water is sprinkled on the objects that require purification and this sprinkling will also involve sprinkling onto the persons present at the ritual.
Sandhyaavandanam, a daily ritual that one has to perform thrice everyday, water is extensively used in the first part of this Sandhyaavandanam and during this ritual, the Manthras chanted convey the meaning that Water is Divine.
The Water Cycle
Sanathana Dharma had recognised the significance of the Water Cycle, namely, the evaporation of the sea waters by the rays of the sun, the formation of the clouds, the phenomenon of the winds bringing these clouds together to pour the water down as the rain, the creation of rivers from these rain waters and then the fact that these rivers eventually join back the ocean.
Water in Vedic Scriptures
To bring home this point, the water cycle is mentioned in several Vedic Manthras as well as in Bhagavad Gita and there are Sukthams found in the Vedas which praise and pray to all the Devathas associated with the process through which rain and water are made available to humanity. The Prayers addressed to Sun God (Aruna Prashna, Aadithya Hridayam), to the Wind God (Vaayu Suktham), to the God that governs the clouds (Parjanya Suktham) are all a recognition of the fact that water is life sustaining and without water, humanity will not survive for long.
Modern Science tells us that 70% or more of our body is made of water and that nearly 72% of this Earth is made of water, but thousands of years ago, the Rishis of Sanathana Dharma were more than aware of these facts and had therefore institutionalized the protection and preservation of Water resources on this earth by proclaiming the Divinity of Water, the Divinity of the Sources of Water and the Divinity of the Water Cycle that makes sure that Humanity is blessed with adequate water for the purpose of sustaining life – all of this by incorporating the appropriate prayers and hymns that address all these aspects, which are divinized as Devathas.
When Sanathana Dharma discusses the process of Creation – the Creation of this entire Cosmos – it begins with the creation of Space (Aakaasha), from which air (Vaayu) is born, from air fire (Agni) is born, from fire is born water (Aapah) and finally from water is born the earth (Prithvi). This process is described as consisting of two stages. In the first stage, the five elements are created in their Subtle (Sookshma) form. Then these Subtle Bhoothas combine among themselves through a process called Pancheekaranam from which alone the gross (Sthoola) Elements are created.
According to this principle of Pancheekaranam, the Subtle form of a given Element consists entirely of that Element. E.g., Sookshma Vaayu is 100% air, Sookshma Water is 100% water etc. However, with the help of the Pancheekaranam, when the Gross Element comes into being, it consists of 50% of one element and 12.5% of the remaining 4 Elements. For example, Sthoola Agni consists of 50% of Sookshma Agni and 12.5% of Sookshma Aakaasha, Sookshma Vaayu, Sookshma Jalam (Aapah) and Sookshma Prithvi. The space, air, water etc. that we perceive and experience are all the Gross (Sthoola) Elements and this means that every Element that we experience has a component of Water in it.
In today’s world, due to the indiscriminate consumerism and mindless materialism, the Planet Earth has been polluted in every possible manner, which has brought Humanity to a crisis situation. By appreciating and respecting the Divinity of the Elements, as taught by Sanathana Dharma, we have the possibility to avert a disaster and get back to a point where Water, Air and Earth are no longer poisoned & polluted by our materialistic greed but restored to their earlier purity and serenity.
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