Today, as we celebrate the auspicious occasion of ‘Avan Nu Parab’, Ruby demystifies and explains the significance of water in our lives and why Parsis and so many other communities worship this sacred element.
The first sign of life began in water due to molecular synthesis, ie., the interaction of extreme hot and cold temperatures within the thermal-vents of ocean-beds which gave birth to the first amoeba, generating a rich biodiversity right up to the giant whale. Later, great civilizations existed along river-banks like the Egyptian on the Nile, Babylonian on the Euphrates and Vedic on the Indus River. Thus rivers acted as a catalyst in the evolution of socio-economic, spiritual and cultural patterns of life. The role of the river as the shaper of people’s lives, as material sustainer and spiritual nourisher is celebrated in the myths that form the core of most ancient religious practices. Many modern day Hindu beliefs about rivers are inherited from the Indo-European or Aryan tribes, who are thought to have first settled beside the river Sindu. The beliefs, enshrined in the Vedic ‘samhitas’, are kept alive in the contemporary Hindu customs.
In the Vedas, rivers, seas, wells, oceans, lakes or any water-body were given extraordinary power or Shakti. The river Saraswati, the most celebrated river in the Vedas, is personified as the Goddess of all forms of art i.e., all forms of mental-creativity. The Rig Veda calls Saraswati, the ‘Celestial Cow’ that nourishes people with her milk because the cow denotes the feminine power that sustain life. Even the sacred element of Earth is alluded to the mystical, wish-fulfilling cow called ‘Kamadhenu’ and this combination of water and earth is life’s sustainer. The belief that water is the origin of life is shared by most ancient civilizations, including the Egyptian, the Mesopotamian and the Vedic. Since all these civilizations flourished on the banks of great rivers, their worship of water stemmed from the recognition of its significant role in human history. In each case, the river acted as a catalyst in the evolution of a particular socio-economic and cultural pattern.
Like all other sacred elements of nature, water is divine witness to all human deeds and hence, most religious rites and rituals represent water in a pitcher. Water also represents intellect and knowledge and hence the river Saraswati represents ‘Gyaan’. All the Upanishads confirm that without gyaan, especially ‘Atma–Gyaan’, it is impossible to reach God. Knowledge is more important than mere rituals and rites done by other people (intermediaries) on payment of money. The Bhagvad Gita says that knowledge helps even the most sinful person to change his life and cross the ocean (Bhav-Sagar) of existence.
Since knowledge and action based on knowledge, can destroy the accumulated karma of one’s thoughtless actions, nothing is more pure than knowledge. And since the metaphors of revelation and passage, and the values of sustenance and mystery meet in the image of the river, Saraswati is therefore worshipped both as a bestower of knowledge and as a guide who leads the devotee to ‘moksha.’ Again, in all religions, it is our duty to keep the sacred element of water pure and not defile it in any way but with the passage of time, the traditional relevance is lost and man-made rituals make people believe that it is okay to dirty the water.
Even an educated community like ours thinks it is alright to throw coconuts, flowers, rice and even Dar-ni-pori in the water and think we are doing something good. Also, while travelling to Udvada by train, some people throw coins into the river while passing the Vasai-Bridge – All this is neither religion nor spirituality since it only defiles the water. Rather, it’s a threat to our environment. If emissions due to misguided human activity continue to dirty our rivers, lakes and seas, it will completely damage our Earth’s eco-system causing disruptions in the food-chain, encouraging global-warming, upsetting the balance and reducing oxygen in the air.
As psychologist Carl Jung warned us, faith can easily degenerate into spiritual inertia and thoughtless compliance with dogma and cultural stagnation. After all, cultural consciousness must be characterised by the fluid energy of the river, not by the sluggishness of the swamp. Just imagine, in those days, Carl Jung was eco-conscious about keeping the sacred element of water clean and pure.
Water gave us life – let’s be grateful for this and not make it impure due to misguided religious sentiments!