In India, water takes on epic importance. For all of us, water is essential to life but somehow in India it is different. Water’s high estimation and place of honor and reverence is visible in India’s many great structures like the Golden Temple in Amritsar and the Mughal monuments such as the Taj Mahal where the central reflecting pool is the major design element. India’s great rivers and their banks, the shores of its coasts and the mountains from where these great rivers spring are all considered sacred by Hindus. Places of the convergence of two or more rivers are particularly celebrated by the Hindus.
Simply put, water equals cleanliness. Cleanliness is akin to purity. Purity is the avoidance of pollutants and contamination. Water has the power to heal, cleanse, absolve, give life and ultimately destroy evil. It is no wonder that water is at the core of so many religious rituals in India. Hindu priests are forever sprinkling water as they perform their blessings.
Hindu pilgrims collect water from these auspicious locations and bring it home with them, often saving it for an important ritual. Bathing in the holy water is known to have the power to absolve someone of a lifetime of sin. It is every Hindu’s
aspiration to bathe in the Ganges, the holiest river in all of India, at least once in their lifetime.
For all the reverence attributed to the Ganga, as the Ganges is known in India, today it is very polluted. The pilgrims still believe in its power. Many years ago, when I first visited Benares, I was frequently urged to drink the holy water. I was in love with India (just as I am today) and wanted all of India’s blessings. So when a smiling sage handed me a tumbler of Ganga water, I drank it. Although I have suffered through many of the ills that India has to give, I never got sick from that glass of Ganga water. I certainly wouldn’t suggest that anyone drink this water today, but the faith of the believer defies explanation.