Invoking Water

May 30, 2016 at 9:15 AMMay (Activism, Literature, Media, Musings)

A very brahminical ritual among the upper caste Hindus is of chanting a shloka while taking bath before going to the temple and also in the beginning of the process of performing the daily prayer service. The shloka goes thus:

Gange cha yamune chaiva godhawari saraswathi
Narmade sindhu kaveri jalesmin sannidhim kuru.

The sholka broadly means: “In this water I invoke the presence of holy waters from the rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Godhawari, Saraswathi, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri.”

riversSimilarly prior to the entering of the Masjid and before the performance of namaaz one is expected to perform the ritual of wuzoon which is to purify oneself with water.

Metaphorically looking at this ritual of purification one realizes that without being purified through water and invoking holy rivers in the water one cannot access the divine.

Water and religious/ spiritual experiences are closely connected through rituals.

***

Interestingly the rivers invoked in the sholka carry the name of goddesses, women to be more specific. In a quite imperceptible way the divine, woman and river/ water are interwoven in the sholka and a close look at it, again metaphorically, we realize that the divine, woman and water/ river are creators and also source of life!

So it is not surprising, with a basic understanding of history makes one realize, that all civilizations took birth by the river coast! To put it in another way, for civilizations to take birth, to sustain them water body has been very necessary. It is the river/ water which have nurtured human civilization.

Where rivers have dried civilizations have died.

***

Rahul Sakritaayana the scholar-writer constructs his fiction spanning from 6000 BC to 1942 AD around the river coast and calls it Volga-Ganga. Though a fiction in the work it is the rivers which provide the setting for the stories to unfold. The twenty fictional short stories in a metaphorical way narrate the history of human civilization. History, we realize, is built around river/ water body.

It is also a reference to how water body is central to epic storytelling and an inseparable part from the creative energy.

Shantanu’s children are drowned in the river, Karna is left afloat in the river, Shakuntala’s ring gets lost in the river—these are few examples of how river has been a very integral part of our mythology and our narratives.

***

While we can agree that water is the source of life, we must never forget that water has also been a tool of dehumanizing. While it is the water route which lead to colonization it was denial of water and refusal to share water which has been the cruelest way in which untouchability is practiced.

Kabir when says ‘ekai pawan ek hee paani ekai jyothi samaana, ekai khaak gaDey sab bhaandai ekai kumhaar saana’ (same air same water same fire, God the potter made all in the same mould by the same clay) it is also to be understood that it is in sharing all the basic resources, nature broadly, inclusive of water, that equality is established and refusal to share any of these and denying some to share/ use them is to not just dehumanize oneself by treating the other lesser human but is also a disrespect shown to divinity!

Water being one for all is a kind of spiritual experience for divinity and thus a propagation of equality for Kabir. But it, in social reality, is divided and denied turning the world inhumane which makes it necessity for social and political battles for equal and egalitarian society.

Reclaiming the water source was an essential part of the fight against untouchability in India. If Dalits under the leadership of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar drink the water from Chavdar Tale on 20 March 1927 then it is not just a fight against untouchability and oppression but also for dignity and for life.

Recently in Maharashtra’s Kalambeshwar village a man named Bapurao Tajne, belonging to an untouchable caste, dug a well after his wife being denied by the upper caste people to draw water from the well belonging to the upper caste.

Water, we see here, is at the heart of life, love, liberty, equality, fraternity and denial of it is in the centre of hatred, oppression, discrimination and humiliation.

***

water as life sourceThe great Kannada writer Kuvempu in his autobiography speaks of his visit to Dakshineshwar in Calcutta to Ramakrishna ashram and Kali ghat. He explains in great detail how dirty the Hoogly River, a distributary of the holy Ganga, was.

He then goes on to say that on that very night he had written a poem which has remained unpublished and shares that poem with the readers. In that poem he write about a ‘pure’ Ganga which cleanses all sins.

This though looks ironic is essentially quite insightful because we realize that the mythic Ganga and the physical Ganga are different. At the same time we realize that Ganga, in specific and river/ water broadly, has been having not just physical existence in the collective consciousness but also mythical and thus an essential for the inner life too and not just physical life.

What I have tried to map in this article is also how water body has been the life source for the multiple dimensions of human life, essential for religious, narrative, historical, spiritual, physical, social, political life and has occupied space in out myths, metaphors and memories.

***

I would like to close this article by recollecting an overheard conversation. During my stay in Delhi I was a regular customer, in Pathpadganj, of Verma, who was affectionately called Verma ji by all, who owned a small tea stall. Verma ji hardly spoke but whenever he spoke one would realize that he was a master of words and hence did not waste much of words. Many auto drivers and cycle rickshaw riders came to him for tea.

One day as I kept sipping tea a rickshaw driver came to Verma ji and asked for water. Verma ji just pointed at the water can kept to his left. As the driver bent the can to take a glass of water Verma ji told him, “main do cheezein kabhi nahi bechta. Roti aur paani. Zindagi banti hai inn do cheezon sey,” to mean, “I do not sell two things- bread and water for they are the source of life.”

I had my jaws dropped. To actually think of it, tea is luxury so are biscuits. But bread and water aren’t. They are source of life. To realize that they are source of life and hence are not to be sold is great wisdom.

[Originally written for the Neervana campaign, for water conservation, by the web news portal News Karnataka. Published on 20 May 2016]

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1 Comment

  1. S. said,

    A delightful read after a long time.

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