Healing Waters Yoga East Aurora
SACRED WATER IN HINDUISM
Hinduism is the world’s oldest religion, rooted in a reverence for nature and the interconnectedness of life that’s largely missing in Western culture. In an animistic society, nature is alive with spiritliterally animated. Every rock, tree, and stream has its own spirit, which humans can perceive and communicate with. Oblations may be offered in return for blessings. Over time, in a development that Westerners call polytheism, the most important spirits became personified as gods and goddesses, with greater powers requiring more elaborate propitiation rituals. Water has been an object of worship from time immemorial, and among the most worshipped deities are Indra (king of heaven and god of rain), Varuna (god of water) and the river goddesses.
Over the last few millennia, Hinduism has evolved through many different stages and manifestations, becoming more urbanized and “sophisticated,” but nature gods and goddesses are still worshipped in the villages. Even in urban society, they remain vital spiritual and artistic forces.
For the purity-conscious Hindu social system, in which pollution is inevitably accumulated on a daily basis, water plays a central role in both domestic and public rituals. Water is a purifier, life giver, and destroyer of evil; it cleanses, washing away impurities and pollutants. In most Hindu families, it’s considered auspicious to keep a vial of Gangajal (sacred water from the Ganges) in the house. This is used to purify the body, household objects, and rooms. Bathing or sprinkling oneself with water is the customary way to rid oneself of impurities when entering the house, before eating, and on many other occasions.
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Water is also important in rites of passage. Newborn babies are sprinkled with water in a ritual similar to Christian baptism [see Chapter 11]. Brides take a ceremonial bath similar to the Jewish mikvah [see Chapter 12], while the groom has his feet washed by his prospective brother-in-law. The last rite of life is to place drops of sacred water (preferably Ganga jal) in the dying person’s mouth.
Water is also essential to temple ritual. Every temple has its own sacred wells and tanks, and both priests and worshippers bathe before entering the sanctum Statues of the gods are immersed in water before installation; and daily libations of water, or flowers and leaves soaked in holy water, are offered to gods, rishis (saints), and ancestors. Water may also be sipped during prayers and invocations.
To Hindus, all water is sacred, but rivers are particularly venerated on account of the purifying quality of running water. Water absorbs pollution; but moving, flowing, or falling water has a great cleansing power that carries impurities away. This power can be utilized by sprinkling water over your head or taking a dip in a running stream rituals that remove most kinds of daily contamination. The current of a river changes constantly, but in the body of the river dwells a spirit who controls the flow of the water. River spirits are propitiated and deified as goddesses.
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