Water in Ayurveda
In Ayurveda, the same procedure is known as nasya, except salted water is used. Water is also used in enemas to cleanse the bowels, a procedure known as jal basti, and in swedan, which is a herbal steam bath.
Ayurveda also advocates walking on green grass with morning dew just after the sun’s rays emerge. This is believed to improve one’s health, prana and eyesight.
Drinking boiled water during illness removes toxins known as aam, cited in the previous article (Swaminarayan Bliss, June 2011, p. 23). This occurs probably because minerals and chemicals are removed, as in distilled water. This, according to hydrotherapists, makes it prone to attract toxins. In the language of Ayurveda, aam is removed from the channels and tissues by this water. This re-establishes the equilibrium of the three humours of vata (wind), pitta (bile) and kapha (phlegm).
Water in Festivals
The grandest utsav in which water is liberally used is Dhuleti/Fuldol. Traditionally, colour from kesuda flower (tesu, flame of the forest) is extracted by boiling. This saffron coloured and fragrant water is first sprinkled on the deities with a bamboo or brass pichkari (water squirter). The sanctified water is then sprayed on devotees who feel immensely blessed. In the Swaminarayan Sampradaya, this festival has been celebrated on a large scale since the time of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Today, Pramukh Swami Maharaj celebrates it annually in Sarangpur, Saurashtra (for details see Hindu Festivals – Origin, Sentiments and Rituals, Swaminarayan Aksharpith, 2010). Since this is the only utsav in which devotees get completely drenched by sacred water from the Guru, it attracts the greatest number of devotees from all parts of India and the world.
Another festival in which water acts as a medium is during the Jal Jhilani Ekadashi celebration on Bhadarva sud 11. During the puja ritual, the utsav vigraha deity and a clay murti of Ganapati are taken on a boat ride – nauka vihar – five times in a river, lake or a makeshift pond. Appropriate bhajans are sung during the vihar or jal yatra. At the end, Ganapati’s murti is immersed in the water. This is known as visarjan or farewell.
In some south Indian mandirs, the utsav deities are bathed in the mandir’s water tank during some festivals.
Water as Harmonizer
When a guest arrives in a Hindu home, he is first welcomed by offering water. If water is not offered by the family or accepted by the guest, this is considered disrespectful.
For over two hundred years, two groups of Rajputs of Odarka and Kukkad, in a total of 45 villages in the Bhavnagar district, had avoided drinking water from each other’s group of villages. In short, they had feuded over a disputed piece of land for which many of their ancestors had fought and died. This avoidance of drinking water is known as appaiya in Saurashtra. During the Raj, a British official had also tried for a truce but failed. After independence, repeated efforts by government officials also failed.
Finally, through Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s efforts, the two groups agreed for a permanent truce. On 12 April 1990, Pramukh Swami Maharaj held a peace yagna on the disputed land for the sadgati – spiritual uplift – of the people who had died. Then both groups drank water from each other’s wells, given by Swamishri himself. They then happily embraced each other. Sacred water from Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s hands established permanent peace and harmony.
Sacred Water Initiation
Water is used to initiate a newborn or a new follower into the Swaminarayan Sampradaya in a rite known as vartaman. The guru, sadhus or appointed devotees place a few drops of sacred water in the right palm of the person. The mantra “Kāl, māyā, pāp, karma...” is recited. Then the water is dropped on the ground. The person is then given a kanthi – a two-stringed neck chain of tulsi or sandalwood beads.
During the final moments of a person’s life, Ganga water is given to drink. If the person has already expired, a few drops of Ganga water and a tulsi leaf are placed on the lips. This ensures that the person’s jiva attains a sacred abode such as Swarg and not an infernal region such as Narak.
After death, the body is bathed with water and adorned with new clothes and draped with a white, unstitched cloth known as kafan.
After cremation, the ashes and bone pieces, also known as ful (flowers) or asthi, are washed with milk and water from the nearest sacred river.
The asthi then immersed in a holy river such as the Narmada at Chanod in Gujarat, in Ganga in northern India or at Triveni Sangam at Srirangpatnam, Karnataka, in south India. This is the confluence of the rivers Kaveri, Hemavati and Lokpavani. This rite is known as asthi visarjan.
In the Swaminarayan Sampradaya devotees also perform this ritual in the river Ghela in Gadhada and in river Gondali in Gondal, since Bhagwan Swaminarayan and his paramhansas had bathed in them, thus sanctifying them.
In England, Gateshead Council has designated a part of River Derwent for British Hindus and Sikhs to disperse ashes.
In the BAPS Swaminarayan Sampradaya, there is a tradition in which sacred water is given to devotees in a bottle to alleviate adhi (mental stressors), vyadhi (physical problems) and upadhi (external stressors). This water can be from Akshar Deri, the sacred shrine in the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Gondal, the abhishek water from Nilkanth Varni or the water sanctified by Pramukh Swami Maharaj in his morning puja in which he dips a bead and a piece of cloth, both used by Bhagwan Swaminarayan, in a jug of water, while he chants the Swaminarayan mantra and offers prayers. He also adds a few rose flowers offered in the puja. Thus this water becomes greatly sanctified.
Experts who use water in healing believe that water has the ability to retain memory. When a healer holds a glass of plain water and directs loving and healing thoughts at the water, that water attains healing qualities. If such a simple method can confer healing properties in water, then surely water sanctified during abhishek on Nilkanth Varni while the pujari chants Vedic mantras, and that sanctified by Pramukh Swami Maharaj in his puja, certainly attains immense divinity. This divine water induces amazing healings in devotees. For some, the illness may not be cured, yet the devotees feel solace at the atmic level. That is in itself is also healing.
In Gujarat especially, a tradition prevailed for philanthropists to construct beautiful step-wells, known as vavs, to accrue punya. Besides providing water, they served as shelters for wayfarers who could rest there temporarily. The Ranki Vav in Patan and Adalaj Vav near Gandhinagar, are two such ornate vavs. Bhagwan Swaminarayan and his paramhansas bathed in the latter, to fulfill the wish of its builder, Ruda Rani, who wished to attain moksha. In her next birth, she was Queenmother Kushalkunvarba of Dharampur, who met and was liberated by Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
When a Satpurush, such as Pramukh Swami Maharaj, who is a jangam (mobile) tirth bathes in a sacred river, lake or ocean, he purifies the infinite pap karmas that it has accumulated from the people who have bathed in it. For even holy water bodies need to be cleansed and re-charged spiritually by Paramatma and his realized sadhu.
Thus sacred water in Sanatan Dharma is of immense importance in a variety of ways in the daily lives of Hindus and is rightfully jivanam jivinaam jivaha – life for all.
The Times, London, 13-2-2009
Hindu Rites & Rituals, Swaminarayan Aksharpith
Hindu Festivals, Swaminarayan Aksharpith
Brahmopanishad, Swaminarayan Aksharpith
Healing Energies of Water by Charlie Ryrie