WATER and ITS MEANING
Post 113 --by Gautam Shah
Water is a great cleanser, it washes, and therefore heals and purifies. It softens so dissolves and penetrates everything. It nourishes and enlivens, and so satisfies. Our Earth, our body and all organisms contain 75-80% water, as the constituent matter.
Water is in dynamic equilibrium as its heat content is continuously balanced by transition from gas to liquid to gas at ambient temperatures. It is rarely pure, always has something, mainly salts, dissolved in it, varying its behaviour and the electrical properties. It has good cohesion and adhesion and capillary action. Water has a high dielectric constant, giving it an ability to make electrostatic bonds with other molecules, meaning it can eliminate the attraction of the opposite charges of the surrounding ions.
Air and Water are our two basic realities. The air begins and ends our conscious life, it is invisible and we realize its presence when we consciously breathe it. The encounters with water begin with embryonic fluid, and continue through the life. Water is omnipresent in our body and psyche.
The touch-feel of water by various limbs of the body, fingers, palm, feet, forehead, head, eyes or lips carries a sensorial and spiritual meaning. A wisp of moist air on a dry skin gives immense joy, a drop on the lisp revives a life, a sprinkle on forehead cools the fever, an anointment over head blesses the ethereal soul, and few driblets can quench thrust of a lifetime. A dip cleanses not just the body but the soul, and immersion reforms or baptize one forever, and a wudu or wash prepares you for the holy encounter.
Birth to death, all our activities are connected to water. Several water related processes such as sprinkling, anointing, partaking holy water, washing of body limbs, baths and dips, or full body immersions, are ordained in various faiths and regions. These processes also vary with terrain, climate or season, traditions, availability of process-conductor or priest, technology on hand, political compulsions and effects of other cultures.
All procreative fluids whether it is sperm, embryonic fluids, milk, or blood, are connected, detailed and metaphorically accepted with water. An unborn child gets a ‘shower’ of blessings, gifts, rice, etc. from friends or relatives as a social event or a religious ceremony. Post birth, the ceremonies are for real or ritualistic cleansing of the mother and child. A child passes through several such water related rituals till the age of prime-hood, such as baptism, tonsorial, ablutions, turmeric anointing baths for marriage, post death immersions and cooling of ashes.
Water by and changing its state, and while continuously flowing, sheds the impurities and remains pristine. It has little to offer beyond a deep satiation and the tactile perception. It has no colour of its own except endowed by the surroundings. It has no form but bubbles or ripples with air. It has no sound other than the rubbed by the surfaces. Pure water has no taste but of dissolved contents. Water is what we give it and expect of it.
Rituals are interactions between humans and the environment, where God is made a witness. Water is the element that makes one aware of the environment, therefore the God. Water is embodied in rituals, lifestyles, practices, and our subliminal behaviour. The rituals turn the water holy or the holy water make for the ritual. The holy water is what one believes in. A flowing water separates the dissolved and suspended matter and so becomes pure and holy. The water also becomes worthy by ephemeral processes such as chants, Mantras and other conducts.
Processes that are good for humans are better for idols of Gods. In India idols are treated with water such as Abhisheka (bathing-offering of five nectars or Panch-amrutam made of water, milk, yogurt, ghee-clarified butter and honey), Prakshala (water bathing with or without milk), and Tarpana or Ardhya (an offering of water and other substances to all Gods, Planets and other spirits whenever a Mantra associated with it is recited).
Water is used for self cleansing or Aachaman. These include sprinkling, pouring out and partaking a small amount of water. Aachaman occurs during major religious ceremonies, day to day prayers, specific activities like before and after taking food, toilet, outdoor visit, visits to a low cast person’s place, etc.