The Apotheosis of Water and its Inevitability
in Indian Culture


Parjanya (One of the 12 forms of Lord Surya)

May 26, 2011 — CANADA (SUN) — A paper by Dr. Gauri Mahulikar, presented for a study on the ancient, traditional water and agricultural management systems of India, in three parts.

All great civilizations have flourished along the rivers. The Egyptian civilization along the Nile, the Babylonian near Euphrates and the Tigris, and the Indian civilization along the rivers Sindhu and Sarasvati. In all these cases, water became the life-line of the people; but nowhere do we find the apotheosis, the deification of water as is found in the Indian Tradition.

The physical form of water in various reservoirs like the ponds, lakes, streams, rivers and oceans was first venerated, then the guardian principle got personified and then deified by Indians. Rivers yielding sweet, milk-like water were considered to be life bestowing mothers. Because of their constant flow, they were regarded as purifiers. All dirt, dust and impurity is supposed to be washed away by the flowing waters. Hence the apotheosis!

On account of this purifying nature, water became an inevitable part of the samskaras in Indian Culture. Samskara, i.e., refining, polishing, cultivating a thing/person and making it perfect. This can be done in two ways: 1) by removing the blemishes and 2) by adding/depositing qualities, virtues in it. Water sanctifies one in both ways. It physically washes off the dirt part and because of the divinity attached to it, it heightens the quality too!

This paper will deal with the apotheosis, giving illustrations mainly from the Sriti texts. It will also underline its inevitability in the samskaras, (a special feature of Indian Culture), quoting the Smritis.


Water in all its forms, be it the pure form of rain or the stored water in pools, ponds, wells, lakes, rivers and oceans, deserves the veneration and profound respect of mankind. The Sanskrit word for water is apah, derived from root ap, to obtain, and is explained as Aapanaa: savaRvyaapanaa: obtainable, all-encompassing, all-pervading element. Its universality can be explained thus: on this terrain, this earth, it is the flowing water of brooks, streams, etc. In the atmospheric region it is the rain water, and in the celestial world it is the water stored in the solar orb.

Characteristics of Water

Water in its different forms has always been a source of wonder, curiosity and practical concern for human beings. The most noteworthy trait of water is its ability to cleanse, purify and because of this, the water places, the lakes, ponds etc. got prominence in man's social and religious life. In addition to this, it is also endowed with the healing and curative power. It is for this reason that water is worshipped. Such glorification is seen not only in India but all the world over.

Its sacredness and efficacy as a curative fluid is widely believed in. (Hastings, 1977, 706) As water is a purifying agent, it is invoked to remove sins and evils. (Rigveda I.23.22, X.9.8) The holiness attached to bath at particular places on auspicious occasions gave rise to the concept of tirtha. This word, derived from the root ta to get across and means a fordable place, or a ghat on a river or some water reservoir.

The Jain concept of Tirthankar is based on this meaning. One who makes a fordable place to cross the ocean of transmigration is Tirthankar. Since water cleanses both body and mind, it is regarded as an eternal source of peace. (Taitt. Br. I.7.6.3) It is powerful agent that it purifies even the impurities in sacrifice. (Sat. Br. XI.4.1.15) Magically charged water is used to kill the enemy. This water is termed as udavajra, water-thunderbolt. (Atharva Veda X.5.15,22,50) Water, thus becomes a secret missile.

Waters are said to bestow long life, health, wealth and immortality. Brahma Purana (II.67.2-40) narrates a story of Laksmi and Daridra and concludes that a bath in the river removes poverty.

Waters have the germs of creation. Unfathomable water existed prior to creation, says the Rigveda (X.129.3) At another place, it says that gods were dancing in the waters before creation (Rigveda X.72.6) Modern science also endorses this view that primary creation took place in water.

Divination of Water

Water is thus precious, comprised of many properties and therefore needs to be guarded. As a result, waters are associated with many divinities. In the Rigveda we have many deities linked with water. Aja Ekpad, one who is unborn and has one leg, is the Sun who traverses the vault of sky everyday. Then there is Ahirbudhnya, the gigantic serpent, the dragon, holding the waters captive. In the Puranas, it is the limitless Ananta, the cosmic serpent guarding the waters. He is at times called Vrtra. Basically it is the rain-cloud. There is a unique god associated with water and that is Apam Napat, the son or grandson of water. This is an old deity and is found in the Avesta (holy scripture of Zoroastrians) also. Besides these special gods, the primary Vedic deities like Indra, Varuna, Agni and Brhaspati are associated with waters in one way or the other. When we speak of the association with the gods, this necessarily brings in added holiness and divinity to the elemental waters.


Rain water is considered to be the purest form of water. Right from the Vedic times, man regarded rain water as the boon. This nectar from the vast blue sky astonished him and inspired words of praise from him. The Rigveda glorifies Parjanya as a mighty male deity, the divine seeder or fructifier of this naked earth. He causes the green sprouts and vegetation and thus announces the fertility of earth. (Rigveda 83.1) Rain, thus is the semen, life-bestowing principle, the first visible incarnation of the divinity of water.

Rain water is useful for agriculture, no doubt, but it is essential for survival. It is called jivan, life. Storage of water in wells, pools, ponds, lakes etc. is therefore necessary, so as to make provision of drinking water for men as well as cattle all through the year. (Ibid.8) Parjanya is treated as father by the Vedic seers. (Ibid.6) The thundering during showers is supposed to kill the evils and sins. (Ibid. 2,9) Agriculture dependent upon rains has a special term, devamatrka. Sanskrit literature has references to adevamatrka agriculture, that which is not dependent upon rain water. (Kiratarjuniya I.17) This in other words, is called Nadimatrka, dependent upon rivers.

(To be continued...)


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