Post 304 – by Gautam Shah



Flowing water and rain water are considered fresh, holy and invigorating. This is perhaps due to the aeration process. Aeration occurs in the sky with clouds, falling rain or snow and flowing water. Aeration occurs on land due to vigorous water movements in springs, rivers and water falls. Several atmospheric gases and particulate matter attach to active waters. The aeration, however, reduces dissolved odours, while adds oxygen and other gases. Fresh water is generally characterized by its low concentrations of dissolved salts and other matter. Fresh water has an appeal that includes hardness, colour, taste, odour, and appearance.


Bagmati River at Sundarijal Nepal > Naturally aerated water > Wikipedia image by Sudan Shrestha

Traditionally natural and fresh waters were used or consumed at their spring sources. The process is referred to as taking the waters or taking the cure’. These centres developed as spas or baths. Bathing facilities for treatment of skin and infectious diseases were set up wherever, hot water and springs with high proportion of sulphur, were available.


Geothermal Spa Blue Lagoon Iceland > Wikipedia image by (SketchUp)


The term sweet water describes fresh water in contrast to salt water. Water sourced from a spring that contains various minerals, such as salts and other compounds, is called Mineral water. Mineral water may be effervescent or sparkling due to the dissolved gases. In England, the effervescent mineral water is often called Vichy water, (after the springs at Vichy, France). The US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) classifies mineral water ‘as water containing at least 250 parts per million total dissolved solids (TDS), originating from a geologically and physically protected underground a water source. No minerals however, may be added to this water’. In EU (European Union), ‘a water bottled at a natural source and has undergone no treatment or minimal processes to remove iron, manganese, sulphur and arsenic through decantation, filtration or treatment with ozone-enriched air, in so far as this treatment does not alter the composition of the water as regards the essential constituents which give it its properties. No additions are permitted except for carbon dioxide, which may be added, removed or reintroduce by exclusively physical methods. No disinfection treatment is permitted, nor is the addition of any bacteriostatic agents’.


Can of Hartwall salmiakki (ammonium chloride) flavoured Vichy mineral water > Wikipedia image by JIP

Still sources of freshwater, such as ponds, lakes, swamps, and mires are called Lentic systems, whereas running flows of water such as in rocks, aquifers, springs or rivers are called Lotic systems. The fundamental source of almost all fresh water is precipitation from the atmosphere, in the form of mist, rain and snow.


Hot springs at Aachen Germany 1682

Radon is a gas released from the decomposition of Uranium. As a gas it can dissolve and accumulate in the water from underground sources (ground water). The Ground water with dissolved Radon, when used for shower, washing, cooking or gardening, as a gas escapes into the air. Radon is not a concern in open or surface sources of water such as, lakes, rivers, and reservoirs as it gets released into the air. Filters with activated carbon and aeration of water remove the radon.


Purified water Kiosk in Chipata > Wikipedia image by SuSanA Secretariat

There are many other waters that are recognized as special, spiritual or holy. The recognition is due to the location or nature of origin, place-time of use, quality, medium or mode of storage and blessings showered on it. Sources like rivers, lakes and oceans are abundant and have good or consistent quality. Sources like wells, ponds and streams are small and can be used sparingly.


Feet washing Baptist practice > Wikipedia image by Flickr Peter Mackriell

River Ganga in India is a very large water resource of Himalayan glaciers. It is considered nourishing due to presence of minerals and aeration. It has age-old myths about its spiritual powers. Its overuse by a large population along its banks, however, gives it no chance to rejuvenate itself. Physical purity, spiritual cleanliness and the well-being, all manifest together. Temples are sited on river banks, tanks, or at least have an associated well.


Temple tank Nataraja Temple Chidambaram Tamil Nadu India > Wikipedia image by BishkekRocks

Ganga waters (Ganga Jal) or any water can be convoked as Ganga water, by simply reciting the Mantra (couplet) at any place, such as for a morning bath at home and other rituals. A pot, Kumbha or kalash filled with water symbolizes the Ganga water and fulfillment of Peace (Shanti), Happiness (Sukh) and Material things (Samrudhi). It is the first mandala on which deities are invoked. Invoked water is used for Aachaman (in-taking a sip), Ardhya (offering something to water), Mundan or Chudakarana (shaving of head hair and symbolically offering to the holy water), bathing, and immersions of ashes post the funeral. Post ceremonies images and statues of deities are immersed in water. Water is sprinkled on any offering to symbolically purify it. Flowing water of streams or out of a temple sanctorum (Garbha-Griha) are passed through Go-Mukh, a spout in the image of a cow’s mouth.


The Sun rises over the circular mound of creation as goddesses pour primeval water > Wikipedia image

Aachaman is the sipping of water three times, while repeating the names of the Lord. Aachaman is done after answering calls of nature, after walking in the streets, just before and after taking food, at the end of a bath. Jal-Anjali is Palm-full of water offering to the image or direction of the god. Jal-Abhisheka is pouring a pot or Kalash full of water on the head of a revered person or deity in purificatory ceremony. Abhisheka or Prakshala water is considered holy and is not allowed to be drained out, but collected in special vessels and used for irrigation.


Chhath Puja offerings at river Hooghly Kolkata > Wikipedia image by Biswarup Ganguly


Tirtha Empul Temple purification Pool Bali Indonesia > Wikipedia image by Yoshi Canopus

In Catholicism, there are two basic holy waters, one blessed by the priest and the other used during the washing of the priest’s hands at mass. Roman Catholic churches have a special basin -a Sacrarium that leads directly into the ground for the purpose of proper disposal. In the Middle Ages the power of holy water was considered so great that fonts had locked covers to prevent the theft of it for unauthorized magic and witchcraft practices. Catholics dip their fingers in the holy water and make the sign of the cross when entering the church, as a reminder of baptism. In a ceremony called aspersion, dating back to 9th C., holy water is sprinkled with an aspergill or aspergillum (a brush or branch) by dipping into the vessel, aspersorium, on the congregation.


Baptism of Augustine of Hippo at Troyes Cathedral (1549) Wikipedia image

In Ancient Greek religion, holy water called Chernips was formed, when a torch from a religious shrine was extinguished in it. Sikhs use holy water for Amrit Chhakhna (testing the Nectar) ceremony. Buddhists bless the water filled in a new pot by burning and extinction of a candle above the water, to symbolize the coming together of elements of water, earth, fire, and air. Muslims use water for rituals like Ghusal (mouth rinsing) and wudu (body limb cleaning) as ablution.


US President Obama pours water over Friday Buddha at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, Burma, > Wikipedia image by Pete Souza

Five elements Water, Earth, Fire, and Air, Aakash (ether) are perceived by the five senses Hearing, Touch, Sight, Taste, and Smell. Earth has solidity or inertia and can be perceived by all five senses. Water, has cohesion, and can be heard, felt, seen and tasted, but has no odour. Fire, has heat or energy so smell, feel and sight. Air can expand or vibrate and so can be heard and felt. Aakash or ether, has no perception, only abstract presence.


Hands washing for Shinto Temple Chozubachi > Wikipedia image by Chozuya

Zoroastrians see natural water as a pure element, which is never defiled by impure things. It is possible to use pure water only after ablutions have been performed with unconsecrated bull’s urine. Natural water bodies like seas, lakes, rivers are used for reading the Gathas (religious book). Fire temples (Zoroastrian places of worship) have a sacred well in front of the altar containing holy water. Water cannot be prayed to at night time as it goes to sleep.