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Water in Religious Scriptures and Civilisations

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By A Staff Writer

Bangalore: The Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC) here celebrated the World Water Day on March 22 by unveiling a study of water in the holy scriptures of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam and the popular practices with regards to access to water, its conservation, purification, storage, distribution, rights and ways to augment its supply.
The studies were conducted under a project “Ecology and Culture” by the ISEC over a period of eight months and will be published soon. While Dr. Sudhakar Sharma and Ms. Shruthi Shreenath presented the study of water under Hindu scriptures, the study with regard to Islam was jointly done by Mr. M. A. K. Tayab (IAS retd.) and journalist Mr. Maqbool Ahmed Siraj. The study on Christian viewpoint was presented by Dr. Y. Moses of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore. The study on Evolution of the Law on Water was presented by M. Subin Sunder Raj, a student of the NLSIU. The project was periodically reviewed by a panel comprising Prof. K. V. Raju, Head, Center for Environmental Economics under ISEC, Prof. Abdul Aziz, NLSIU (formerly with ISEC), Prof. M. K. Ramesh and Dr. S. Manasi. Here are the highlights of the three studies:
Water in Islamic scriptures and Civilisation
By M. A. K. Tayab and
M. A. Siraj

The Quran considers water to be a critical source for life as well as attributes the origin of life of man and animals to water. It refers to fertilizing impact of rain on the earth, cooling effect of water, and also describes it as source of food from aquatic animals and ornamentation. Since Islam came to a region which was deficient in water supply, there was emphasis on its frugal use. The Prophet himself would use not more than three-fourths of a litre of water for wuzu(ablution) and four litres for ghusl (bath). Muslims developed utensils with nozzle for pinpointed delivery of water and to avoid spillage. As Islam became a civilization, Muslims came in contact with Persian and Egyptian technologies such as Persian wheel and Shahduf and developed them further and took them to as far as Andalus (Modern Spain), Central Asia and India.
On a conceptual plain, Islam gave the trusteeship concept which meant Man was trustee of the Natural resources on the earth, not the owner or proprietor. It thereby makes him a custodian of a critical resource like water and provide the usufruct model of use. Islam recognised three basic rights to access of water, 1-to quench the thirst, 2-to water the animals and 3-to irrigation of crops. Beyond this, the nations and communities were left free to formulate rights, model of distribution, methods of conservation etc. As for conservation, the Prophet left two distinct instruments 1-Harims and 2-Hima which were for preservation of water bodies, protection against pollution, and preservation of plants, trees and wildlife.
Islamic civilization is known for evolution of newer technologies such as qanats or underground aqueducts in several dynasties, creation of interconnected wells, development of canal network as could be seen from a variety of systems that existed in Burhanpur, Aurangabad and under Adilshahis in Bijapur. Al-Jazri, Turkish hydraulic engineer is known to have developed nearly a hundred mechanical devices for dispensing of water, water clock, hand-washer, water-operated musical boats etc.
The paper suggested that water and water bodies should remain under state control and should not be given under the authority of corporate whose main objective was to maximize profits. It said however largescale urbanization required elaborate water works, storages, network of pipes, valves and scheduled supplies. While access and availability of water should remain a fundamental right, it should not be declared a basic need which will allow the corporate to enter the field ‘to service the needs”. Water should not be priced, but cost of water supply may be fixed by factoring into the capital expenditure and cost of maintenance and operation. It also suggested exploring rainwater harvesting and recycling of wastewater for augmentation of supplies.
Water in Hindu scriptures
By Sudhakar Sharma and Shruthi Shreenath

Water is one of the five basic elements called panchabhoothas with air, fire, earth and the ether being the other four. The origin of the universe has been traced in water in ancient text such as Taittiriya Samhita. It is described as sustainer of all creatures and plants. According to Manusmirthi, water gave birth to life. Bhagvad Geetha says all living beings are derived from food and food is a product of rain or water. Vedas describe water as “Devatha”, a synonym for God. In Sanskrit, water is also described as Jeevanam which links water to essence of life.
Ramayana stresses the importance of waterways and word navigation is derived from ‘nava” (boat) in Sanskrit. Water was used to compose music in ancient India as is evident from Jalatarang. There is also evidence of a type of water clock called Ghati Yantra used at auspicious occasions. In Ayurveda, water is the base of 90% of the medicines or concoctions of water. Hydrotherapy also has roots in Ayurveda. Drinking of water at the break of dawn is a routine cultural practice by Hindus. Water is recommended to be consumed in small quantity before taking meals and is ascribed digestive power. Intake of hot or cool water is suggested as remedy for various imbalances in the body. Sushrutha describes property of rainwater according to various terrains on which it falls. Scriptures prescribe several kinds of prayers around water. Water inside coconut is considered purest of waters. In traditional music tune, several ragas are attributed to the invoke rains, the most famous being Amruthavarshini in Carnatic stream.
In Hindu mythology, water runs entwined with several legendary figures and acts such as Bhagiratha’s tapasya (meditation) leading to flowing of Ganga river, Kavera’s daughter turning into Kaveri river etc. The study takes note of pollution of river by immersion of idols and half burnt bodies being consigned to rivers and says this has no sanction in the religious scriptures.
Hinduism prescribed joint family which stood for efficient use of natural resources and advised just one bath a day. Scriptures mention seven modes of purifying water and seven ways of cooling it. Stepwells typically characterized Hindu architecture. Similarly Kunds or covered underground tanks were developed for tackling drinking water problems. Harvesting of water in fortresses and in hillocks was also a common technique. In the medieval period, the rulers of Rajput dynasties built several reservoirs and lakes in Rajasthan to harvest rainwater and conserve the water.
Perspectives on Water and the Bible
By Dr. Y. Moses

The Bible has over 700 references to water. Water is used both literally and figuratively. Water and rain are referred as a blessing of God. Water is also rescuer as in the case of Moses when he was an infant. Similarly the splitting of sea for escape of Moses was also an act of rescue and liberation for Israelites. It also refers to covenants around water. Judaic law refers to spring water as ‘Living Water’. In biblical stories water has healing element. Water is also used as metaphor for depicting conflict between good and evil. Water is used for ritual cleansing and in baptism (immersion of person into deep water). There is mention of water festival called Sukkot, Jewish water festival. Bible too refers to water cycle. In the Biblical Palestine, underground cisterns, were used for storage of water. Aqueducts too were dug to tap underground water as well as to take it to habitations. In the Roman empire, water was brought to houses by channels through walled conduits, lead pipes or earthenware pipes. The Bible makes it mandatory to provide water to all the thirsty, even to the enemy. Pricing of water was described as an act of oppression.
The ISEC would be publishing the papers in a book shortly after editing.