Water is the source of life on earth. Across cultures, water is revered, and we have Creation mythologies that talk of life emerging from primordial waters. We too are made of made of 70 per cent water. Even the planet we live in is 70 per cent water.
Rivers like the Tigris, Euphrates, Nile, Indus and Yellow River have nurtured civilisations along their banks, providing water for drinking irrigation and transportation. Human beings have always been in awe of water; it is the common denominator that binds us all – animals, plants, earth and humans. The movement of water, its power, forms and colours have fascinated us so much that we deify it.
Shrines have built at the source of rivers. We have water gods and goddesses. The Aztecs had Chalchiuhtlicue as their goddess of water, lakes, rivers, seas, streams; the uncreated God Nu personified the primordial waters for the Egyptians; Achelous was the Greek river god and Suijin is the Shinto god of water. In India, of course, we have several water deities – Varuna, the god of the water and the Celestial Ocean, as well as goddesses Ganga, Saraswati, Tapti and Yami (River Yamuna).
Water is said to have the power to wash away our sins and cleanse our souls.
It is the symbol of purity and fertility. Hence waterbodies are held sacred. Prayers and hymns have been composed in praise of water. The Ganga is said to purify the soul of all impurities.
Vedic and Puranic hymns describe rivers as life-bestowing, life-nurturing and life-protecting Divine Mothers. In her book, Hinduism and Nature, environmentalist Nandhita Krishna writes: The Rig Veda praises rivers in the Nadistuti Sukta (hymns in praise of rivers) (X.75). The ten rivers are listed beginning with the Ganga and moving westwards: ‘O Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Shutudri (Sutlej), Parushni (Iravati), Ravi), follow my praise! O Ahkini (Chenab), Marudvridha, Vitasta (Jhemum), with the Arjikiya (Haro) and Sushoma (Sohan), listen… First united with the Trishtama in order to flow, with the Susartu and Rasa, and with this Svetya (your flow), O Sindhu (Indus) with the Kubha (River Kabul) to the Gomati (Gomal), with the Mehatnu to the Kruma (Kurram), with whom you rush together on the same chariot’.
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