Thousands of years ago, the rishi of a famous Ayurveda text named Bhavaprakash stated that “Water is life to creatures” – Jivanam jivinãm jivaha. In Sanskrit, there are 70 synonyms for water. One of them is jivanam – life.
Little wonder that the ancient peoples of the world preferred to settle around river basins, lakes and other sources of freshwater. Some of these civilizations included those along the mighty Saraswati and Ganga in India, the Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia and the Nile in Egypt and northern Africa. A perennial source of freshwater for ancient man meant that he could stop his incessant foraging for food and instead settle down to produce crops through agriculture and irrigation. This also left him with spare time for higher pursuits such as art, music and religion.
In India, those who lived in desert areas or cities, also practised rainwater harvesting. The monsoon rainwater falling on the roofs of their homes was drained into an underground tank. Such tanks are still commonly found in old houses in some cities in Gujarat. In Rajasthan, the water falling on wasteland was and is still diverted, by a gradient, into underground tanks made of stone, known as kundis. Such water is used for drinking for both humans and camels during the summer when water in wells and ponds begin to dry out. Gujarati pioneers in the early 20th century who settled in small villages and trading posts dotted along the railway from Mombasa to Kampala used to survive on rainwater diverted by ducts from their tin roofs into large tanks. An 80-year-old Gujarati trader recalls that as recent as the 1960s in Uganda, this was their only source of potable water since there was no piped water in remote villages such as Luwero, near Jinja.
IMPORTANCE IN RELIGIOUS RITUALS
In ancient Bharat, the rishis extolled water’s importance in many ways. They advocated purta karmas to attain punya. These karmas included digging wells, step-wells, ponds, setting up free water facilities (parabs) for travellers on roadsides and for pilgrims en route to important pilgrimage centres. They also considered water as purificatory in all religious and domestic rituals. Water from holy rivers and lakes was carried long distance to bathe deities in other regions, for abhishek and in sankalp, vartaman and achaman rites. Bathing in holy rivers has been an ancient tradition to cleanse bad karmas and purify a person. A morning bath in a river or lake is considered more meritorious than having one at home (Chintyagama 4.3-5). Similarly, drinking water from a holy river was and is also considered purificatory, righteous and sometimes curative in certain disorders of both the body and mind. On the death of a person, a few drops of the holy Ganga is poured in the mouth to ensure that the jiva of the deceased ascends to swarga and not be trapped in the transmigratory cycle. Having briefly reviewed the role of water in man’s life in general, we shall now examine its importance in the maintenance of our physical well being and ultimately our spiritual health (adhyatma).
IMPORTANCE IN PHYSICAL HEALTH
Thehuman body, like the Earth, is composed of 75% water and 25% solid matter. When about 1% of body fluid in the form of perspiration, respiration, urine or defecation is lost, one experiences thirst. A 2% loss of water surrounding cells in the body’s tissues can mean a 20% decrease in one’s energy levels. When about 10% is lost due to diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera or bleeding, one risks death. The recent cholera epidemic in Haiti had taken the toll of over 4,000 lives by 28 January 2011. The salivary glands in the mouth use up about three pints of water a day to keep it moist. This reflects how much water the body consumes daily to maintain vital functions. Water has five vital functions. It is a transporter, a dispersant, a lubricant, a coolant and enhances the electro-negative charge of blood cells. Red blood cells already have a negative charge to repel each other to prevent clotting and clumping. Pure water which is negatively charged, passes this to red blood cells. A common practice and misunderstanding prevails in developed countries, especially among young people, that, instead of water, drinking sodas, artificially flavoured fruit drinks, juices, colas, glucose or energy drinks, are equally healthy as far as fluid intake is concerned. However according to nutritionists and food chemists, this is a dan-gerous misconception. They firmly believe that there is no equivalent to plain, potable tap water. It does not even have to be bottled mineral water, which has its own problems regarding unhealthy chemicals released from the plastic by heat during transportation and storage. In the past two decades, heavy advertising, coupled with fast-paced lifestyles has contributed to a drastic decrease in water intake during the daily schedules of schoolchildren, adults and more so the elderly, since their thirst sensation lessens with age. Chronic dehydration results in a host of ailments according to many naturopathic practitioners. A small number of allopathic practitioners are also beginning to realize this. One of the strongest proponents of this belief is Dr Fereydoon Batmanghelidj, MD, an Iranian physician who studied medicine in England. In his book, Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, he explains in medical termi-nology how every function of the body heavily depends on the level of hydration – ‘flooding’ – of the body. In simple terms, a chronic ‘drought’ in the body, he says, can lead to ‘dehydration diseases’ such as headaches, migraine, heartburn (acidity), peptic ulcers, asthma, back pain, cramps, allergies, arthritis and many others. He believes that thirst is the last signal of dehydration. How did he discover this? As in many discoveries, by accident. One night, while he was in Tehran’s Evin prison during the revolution to depose the Shah of Iran, he came across a man howling in pain. Bent in a foetal position on the floor, he said he had a peptic ulcer. Since he had taken all the conventional medications such as cimetidine and antacid gels, Dr Fereydoon was helpless. Then it struck him and advised the man to drink two glasses of plain water. Fifteen minutes later the man felt 50% better. Dr Fereydoon then advised him to drink two more glasses of water every hour during the night. In the morning, the man was strolling about without pain. Since this discovery, Dr Fereydoon has cured about 3,000 men suffering from peptic ulcers with only water, during his two-and-a-half year stay in prison. After his release in 1982, he went to the USA. There he reported his findings which were published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology in June 1983. Since then he has applied his water therapy to treat other diseases with remarkable success. The crux of his advice is to drink about eight to ten glasses of plain tap water a day, until one’s urine is colourless. If the colour is yellow, one should drink more. Along with this, he advises to take a pinch of salt (3 grams), by placing it on the tongue after drinking water, only once a day. This is to compensate for the salt loss during frequent urination. Water should be taken two hours after a meal. This is also sound advice in Ayurveda. Dr Fereydoon has appeared on TV and radio shows in the US and published two more books (for details see www.watercure.com). In the next issue, we shall examine the water intake of school children, the effects on their health and advice for parents.
This article on water is not intended as medical advice or discontinuation of any medication without advice of a physician. The information is only intended as an eye-opener for parents and adults.
1. Bhavaprakash Vol. II.
2. Understanding Hinduism brochure (C) 1995, Swaminarayan Aksharpith.
3. Mercantile Adventurers - The World of East African Asians 1750-1985 by Dana April Seidenberg (C) 1997.
4. Hindu Rites & Rituals – Sentiments, Sacraments & Rituals (C) 2010 by Sadhu Mukundcharandas.
5. Your Body’s Many Cries for Water by Dr F. Batmanghelidj, MD (C) 2001.
6. “Water, the drink of Life” by Susan Clark, The Times, UK, 21 March 2000.
7. Daily Mail, 10 July 1996, UK.