WATER AND RELIGION
Water is an intrinsic part of most spiritual beliefs and religious traditions. Its uses and symbolism in religion are many and varied; its spiritual and healing properties are seen in rites and rituals; and its representations are as numerous as they are
diverse. These different religious and cultural aspects of water reflect the vast array of civilizations that have made water the central element in their practices. The act of providing drinking water is seen by many cultures and religions to be one of the most charitable human acts.
Water is considered a purifier in most religions. Major faiths that incorporate ritual washing (ablution) include Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. Immersion of a person in water is a central sacrament of Christianity. It is called baptism. It is also a part of the practice of other religions, including Islam, Judaism and Sikhism. In addition, a ritual bath in pure water is performed for the dead in many religions including Islam and Judaism. In Islam, the five daily prayers can be done in most cases after completing washing certain parts of the body using clean water. Water is mentioned numerous times in the Bible, for example: ‘The earth was formed out of water and by water’. In the Koran it is stated that ‘Living things are made of water’ and it is often used to describe paradise.
The holy books of the Hindus explain that all the inhabitants of the earth emerged from the primordial sea. In the Vedas, water is referred to as the ‘most maternal.’ In India, the sacred River Ganges embodies the water of life for Hindus. Legend has it that the Ganges is the river that flows beyond its earthly bounds to Moksa, the realm of Nirvana. The lotus-stream of the Buddha rises up from the waters of the soul, in the same way the spirit, illumined by knowledge, frees itself from passive existence.
The Koran cites the words ‘We have created every living thing from water’. In ancient Greece, the souls of the dead were ferried to rest across the dark waters of the River Styx. This river separates the world of the living from the world of the dead. In the New Testament, 'living water' or 'water of life' represents the spirit of God, or eternal life. At the beginning of the Judeo-Christian story of creation, the spirit of God is described as ‘stirring above the waters,’ and later, God creates ‘a firmament in the midst of the waters to divide the waters". Here God is called ‘the fountain of living waters’. In Christianity, water is intrinsically linked to baptism, which in itself is a public declaration of faith and a sign of welcome into the church of God. In baptism, water symbolises purification and the cleansing of the original sin. Purity and pollution are central to Zoroastrian belief. Pollution is considered evil, whereas clean water is sacred. It is forbidden to spit, urinate or wash one's hands in rivers for fear of blemishing the water's sacredness.