Aapo Vaa Idam Sarvam, Verily all this is Water, It is Brahman
(DISCOURSE BY N.R. SRINIVASAN, NASHVILLE, TN, DECEMBER 2013)
Hinduism is often criticized by other faiths for its ritualistic practices without understanding their significance and makes fun of. An orthodox Hindu takes his food only after finishing his daily worship of the Lord and then consuming the sacred water used on the Lord for worship. With in-built purity consciousness (Aachaara) lot of care is taken to purify all the vessels used in worship. The sacred water contains many herbs of medicinal value many of which are disinfectant at the same time. This is a tradition that dates back to the days of Bhagavadgeeta where Lord Krishna mentions that he will be pleased with the mere offering of water when offered with devotion—Patram pushpam phalam toyam. Worship of visible forms of elements can be found in all religions of which water element occupies the prime position. Before going deep into the subject why Hindus worship water as Aapah Devataa (Water deity) we should understand how water is considered holy in many traditions and faiths. Probably such venerations come from Sanatana Dharma alone being the ancient and Eternal Tradition. Water is considered holy when blessed by the clergy in all Christian traditions. The rituals connected with water in Christianity are as elaborate as in Hinduism. This can be found in the appendix to this main discourse. Muslims like Christians who are more critical and hate Hindu worship are not free form such veneration of water.
Lot of information regarding praise and veneration of water can be found various internet sources which is briefly given here: “In Ancient Greek religion, a holy water called chernip was created when a torch from a religious shrine was extinguished in it. In Greek religion, purifying people and locations with water was part of the process of distinguishing the sacred from the profane. In Jewish law, the Torah mentions using holy water in a test for the purity of a wife accused of marital infidelity. A ritual would be performed involving the drinking of holy water. If she participated in the ritual, and she was guilty, she is supposedly cursed to miss any pregnancy. If she is still able to bear children, then she is presumed innocent. Sikhs use the Punjabi term amrita for the holy water used in the baptism ceremony known as Amrit Sanskar or Amrit Chhakhna. In Wicca and other ceremonial magic traditions, although the term holy water is not normally used, a similar substance is produced when salt is mixed with water. It is consecrated and used in many religious ceremonies and rituals. Although the term holy water is not used, the idea of "blessed water" is used among Buddhists. Water is put into a new pot and kept near a Paritrana ceremony, a blessing for protection. Thai 'Lustrous water' can be created in a ceremony in which the burning and extinction of a candle above the water represents the elements of earth, fire, and air. This water is later given to the people to be kept in their home. Not only water but also oil and strings are blessed in this ceremony. Most Chinese Buddhists typically recite various mantras (typically that of Avalokitesvara for example) numerous times over a glass of water, consuming the blessed water afterwards. Bumpa, a ritual object, is one of the Ashtamangala, used for storing sacred water sometimes, symbolizing wisdom and long life in Vajrayana Buddhism. The drinking of "healing water" (āb-i shifā) is a practice in various denominations of Shi’a Islam. In the tradition of the Twelver Shi’a, many dissolve the dust of sacred locations such as Karbala (khāk-i shifa) and Najaf and drink the water (āb-i shifā) as a cure for illness, both spiritual and physical. The Ismail tradition involves the practice of drinking water blessed by the Imam of the time. This water is taken in the name of the Imam and has a deep spiritual significance. This is evident from the names used to designate the water, including light (nūr) and ambrosia (amṛt, amī, amīras, amījal). This practice is recorded from the 13th and 14th centuries and continues to the present day. The ceremony is known as ghat-pat in South Asia. Holy water has also been believed to ward off or act as a weapon against mythical evil creatures, such as vampires. In Eastern Europe, one harboring this belief might sprinkle holy water onto the corpse of a suspected vampire in order to destroy it or render it inert. Thereafter, the concept proliferated into fiction about such creatures”. A detailed description of water use in Christian rituals from Wikipedia source is given in the appendix.
It is customary to chant Mantrapushpam from Vedas at the conclusion of sixteen steps worship (Shoedasa upachaara pooja) of the Lord in temples. The first mantra of Mantra Pushpam says that there was a universe destroyed by floods which came from Narayana. From that water came all life and creation for a new universe. The second mantra says that fire is source of water indicating that another time the existing universe was destroyed by fire, which also caused everything to become liquid, and gas, which gave rise to water after cooling. The third mantra says that water came from sun. That indicates that one universe was destroyed when sun exploded and gases formed and later the gases cooled to form water. The fifth mantra says that water came from moon. That indicates that one universe cooled off and died and later water formed from the elements and a new universe was born. Then the sixth mantra says that water came from the stars. That indicates that one universe got destroyed when the stars came closer to each other and collided. The resulting mass gave rise to water after cooling. The seventh mantra says that water came from clouds. That indicates that one universe got destroyed when god sent the clouds to rain incessantly and to flood the universe. The last mantra says that the water came from time.
While Hinduism is often blamed as idolatrous and pagan the five famous temples of Siva in South India clearly convey that all Hindu worship is directed towards Supreme Principal called Brahman who is worshiped as five natural elements in the form of Linga which elements the Rigveda glorifies as vyaahritis (aggregate) of Brahman alone. These temples stand as living examples to convey the basic philosophy and religion of Hinduism that Supreme Principal abides in all being, animate as well as inanimate. It also explains what a Hindu contemplates when he worships the image as his chosen deity for which he is blamed as idolatrous. In fact Linga itself is not an idol as is misunderstood by other cultures. It is a vykta-avyakta (visible-invisible) form of expression of Supreme Principal who manifests himself in all beings as Aatman or Self. As Aaakasa Lingam, i.e. space, the linga is worshiped at Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu. As Agni or fire the linga called Jyotirlinga is worshiped in Tiruvannaamalai temple in Tamil Nadu. In the famous temple of Kaalahasti on the banks of the river Swarnamukhi, in Andhra Pradesh the linga is worshiped as Vaayu linga, that is the Air. It is the Prithvee linga that is worshiped in Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu. In the sanctum sanctorum of the temple of Tiruvanaikoil in Tamil Nadu the linga is worshiped as Appu linga and so water is always present round the linga. In Amarnath the six foot of lingam of ice, resting on a platform of ice is worshiped. The natural phenomenon of drops of water shaping like a linga is remarkable and takes the devotees to divine heights. This linga is at its maximum on the full moon day in the Hindu month of Sraavan (sraavan Poornima) and dwindles in size till on the new moon day when only the outline of the base of the linga remains on the pedestal. It cannot be said to be a stalagmite, for in that freezing atmosphere the stalagmite must increase in size and not get reduced and vanish except for the platform. This is the divine mystery that abounds Amarnath.
Hinduism teaches that the universe is created from nothing except natural forces like water (liquid) fire(heat), wind (gas) space (Aakaasa), earth (solid matter) including fundamental particles like electron etc., and the universe thus created will be destroyed and be created again. That is called cyclic theory of creation. Now the scientists are coming to the conclusion that the cyclic theory of Hinduism about creation is correct. According to Hindu scriptures Brahmaanda (sun, moon, earth planet, the planetary system and all the celestial abodes were created 155.52 trillion years ago. Since then the earth and planet went through the partial dissolution thousands of times. The latest revival of the earth planet was 1972 million years ago, and since that time we have an uninterrupted continuation of Bharateeya (modern name Hindu) civilization up till today. We are in the Vaiwasmantra and Kali Yuga in this Mahaayuga about which I have talked in detail in my discourse onTime Measurement.
Water has always been looked upon with great reverence, being an important element in sustaining life. Around 70% of human body constitutes water. In Vedic tradition water is an object of worship. In Bhakti Marga water is not only worshipped but also used as a tool of worship as recommended in Geeta by the Lord Himself—patram pushpam phalam toyam yo mae bhaktya prayachchati. In the earliest revelation we visualize the Lord in his visible form surrounded by water supporting the flower rising from his navel or floating on a leaf as Puranas describe based on Vedic statements. This flower and leaf too needed the support of water. Fruit resulted in flower. These four things are used in worship today. Lord is invoked as Varuna Devataaa and glorified in the Vedic hymns such as Hiranyagarbha Sookta, Aghamarshana Sookta, and Varuna Sookta. Since it has an inherent quality of cleansing, water is also used for religious purification rituals. In many of the obligatory Vedic rituals prescribed for an individual, water is used either for purifying oneself and also the material used for worship, or as an ablution to the deities and ancestors. The rivers in India are worshipped with devotion. In the sanctum sanctorum of the temple at Tiruvaanaikoil in Tamil Nadu, the Linga (visible-invisible form) of Siva is worshipped as Aaapu Linga, and so water is always present round the Linga. Siva is worshipped here as water element, one of the Panchabhootas.
After deluge there was lull. Nothing stirred. Vishnu rested in perfect tranquility on the endless coils of Adiseshaa who was Ananta, the serpent of Time waiting the reawakening of the world. Around him, stretching into the infinity stood the still primeval Waters. In them lay dissolved all that once existed without any form or identity. He was in his Yoga-Nidra, cosmic slumber. He then opened his eye setting his next drama of creation. From his body part, navel a thousand petal lotus emerged; on it sat the Brahma the creator so say the Puraanas. Was that all a fantasy? Was it all water only? Then lotus and Brahmaa came from somewhere, who knows where from? Vedas say Aaapah jyoti-rasah Brahma bhoor bhuvah suvarom—He is water, light, flavor and ambrosia and also the three worlds. Aapah expresses the omnipresent imparity existence which is also the jyotis or self-luminous Pure Consciousness. The same Truth or Reality is rasah—original bliss and amritam—Immortality. It is Brahman because Brahma is not limited by time, space and causality. Brahman comes from the Sanskrit word of the root brih to grow which never stops growing. The same Reality is bhuh, bhuvah the substrate of all that exists and suvah the dissolver. We therefore come across water as a Vyaahriti or attribute of Brahman in Vedas often. It all started with water. So water is meditated upon as Supreme Being; and all gods are in it—aapah sarvaa devataa. Puranas project Vishnu lying as a child on a banyan leaf floating on water, Vatapatra Saayee before everything else that came into existence. Here again it was all water every- where!
Hiranyagarbha sookta of Rigveda Samhita says that creation started by water as per the will of the Supreme Being as expressed in the in the mantras below:
Aapo ha yanmahateer-viswamaayan daksham dadhaanaa janyanteer-agnim | tatoe devaanaam niravarta-tataasurekah kasmai devaaya havishaa vidhema || Yaaschid-aapo mahinaa paryapasyat daksham dadhaanaa janyantee-ragnim | Yo deveshvadhi deva eka aaseet kasmai devaaya havishaa vidhema ||
The vast causal waters capable of originating the four-faced Brahma, the first born and which were energetic in producing the cosmic egg pervaded all entities. He who created such waters first became the supporter of all entities being the one breath of all gods. May we offer our oblations to that Lord of all creatures! That Lord viewed the waters by virtue of his greatness in such a way that they would be able to create the cosmic egg and others. He, the creator of this universe was by his very nature the one god over all other gods. May we offer our oblations unto the Lord of all people! [It implies here that water is the Vyaahriti or attribute of Supreme Being that started creation, the first resulting creation being four-faced Brahmaa.]
More often than not Hindu places of pilgrimage are situated in places of natural scenery and beauty like mountain tops, valleys and banks of rivers, seashore and other places congenial to contemplation. Just like planets rivers are also personified. The rivers are venerated as goddesses giving water magnanimously like mother. When angry they punish children harshly as experienced in devastating floods. The rivers of a country are its life-line. Certain places on the banks of rives are called Teerthas. The etymological meaning of the word Teertha –teeryate anena iti teerthah—samsaara saagara-taranopaaya-bhootam; that by which it is crossed, that which helps in crossing the ocean of trans-migratory existence, is Teertha. A place where a river originates is called Teertha. A Teertha also refers to a confluence of holy rivers, such as Prayag or a place of worship on the banks of a river, such as Vaaraanasi. I have explained to you before the word Teerthankara in Jainism. A dip in these teerthas is believed to lead one to the real meaning of teertha that is liberation. Hindu India has always looked upon its rivers not as just physical or natural objects but as divinities, goddesses of prosperity. They identified seven rivers. Ganges is one of them. No river has captivated the minds and hearts of the people more than the river Gangaa. A bath in Gangaa is life time’s ambition for a religiously inclined Hindu. No religious act can ceremoniously complete without its water being used in some form or other. It is believed that a few drops of its water poured into the mouth of dying person will cleanse him of all sins. Immersion of the ashes of dead person’s body will give him liberation. Besides Ganga there are six other sacred rivers. These are Yamunaa, Godaavaree, Saraswatee, Narmadaa, Sindhu and Kaaveree. River Sarasvati is now extinct but in Allhabad it is believed to flow into the confluence of Gangaa and Yamunaa. Many holy pilgrimage places are located on their banks. A holy dip in them on specific days is believed to cleanse them of all sins. Hindu religious rites offered to the manes called Sraaddha and Tarpana during the stipulated holy periods like Kaartik Poornima, Pushkara period will save the manes from hell and may even give them liberation.
Manu-smriti explains the symbolism of Nara-Narayana thus: Nara means that which does not perish (na reeyate kshyate) and the word refers to the cosmic spirit or soul, which creates the endless stretch of primeval water (which therefore is called naaram); the supreme spirit that lies hidden in this watery mass is Narayana (meaning abiding in Naara). Vedas say tad Brahma tad aapah—that is Brahma that is water. Narayanopanishad says that Causal waters holding within it the power of unfoldment and the capacity to produce fire transformed itself into the form of the world and from whom the one breath of all gods came into existence. It thus says that even fire was produced from water due to the will of the Supreme. (Aapo ha yanmahateer-viswamaayam daksham dadhaanaa janyanteeragnim|tatoe devaanaa niravartutaasurekah kasmai devaaya havishaa vidhema). Vedas also mention Varuna as the King of Waters who is a Vedic deity and a vyaahriti (attribute) of Brahman.
Varuna, King of Waters effaces our sins and dwells in sources of waters like rivers, tanks and wells and purifies our sins as expressed in Aghamarshana Sookta:
Yat Prithivyaa(ga)m rajah swam-antarikshe virodasee | imaa(ga)ms-tadaapo varunah punaatu aghamarshanah ||
May these waters and Varuna, their presiding deity, the destroyer of sins, purify me of all my sins done in both the worlds, this earth, atmospheric region and in the space connected between the earth and heaven! [God Varuna is well-known as the destroyer of sins. Rajas may mean dirt as well as sins. Waters are purifiers of both. This mantra is for the destruction of sins]
Esha bhootasya madhye bhuvanasya goptaa | Esha punya-kritaan lokaanesha mrityor-hiranmayam ||
Dyaavaaprithivyo hiranmaya(ga)m Sa(ga)msrita(ga)m suvah | sa nah suvah sa(ga)m sisaadhi ||
This Varuna is the protector of the world that was in the past and that would be in the future. He is the protector of the worlds that are gained by those that have done meritorious deeds (punya). He protects the Golden World of the Dhyaavaprithavee. He grants to the doers of meritorious deeds the worlds which they deserve and to the sinful the world of death called Hiranmaya. Again Varuna, the supporter of Heaven and Earth, having become the Sun is wholesome and attractive. Being such blissful in nature, Oh Varuna, have mercy on us and purify us!
[These mantras are repeated while dipping oneself in water during bathing.]
Naraayanopanishad has more mantras to be uttered while taking a dip in water. These are:
Atyaasanaadateepaanaat, yaccha ugraat pratigrahaat|tanme varunoe raajaa paaninaa hyavamarsatu|| So-ahamapaapo virajo nirmukto muktakilbishah | naakasya prishthamaaruhya gachched-brahmasalokatam ||
May the King Varuna efface by his hand whatever sin I have incurred by unlawful eating, unlawful drinking and accepting gifts from an unlawful person! Thus being sinless, stainless and unbound by evil and bondage, May I ascend to the happy heaven and enjoy equality of status with Brahman!
The aim of the aspirant is to become god-like in the highest heaven. For him life on earth therefore must be an effort for freedom from sin and attainment of purity. Taking holy dip in sacred waters during pilgrimage is an important ritual for Hindus. Specific days and time are also earmarked as auspicious for this holy dip.
Rigveda contains mantras for the invocation of holy rivers in connection with purification rites. To the Vedic seers the great rivers mentioned in the mantra as well as the later verse represented divinity. They often expressed their devotion and gratitude to these life-sustaining and purifying rivers by appropriate invocation which practice is seen even today in all Hindu rituals. The holy waters are prayed to make their presence in the waters to purify one who takes a bath in it. This is expressively seen in the verse priests usually chant to consecrate the waters used in the worship of the lord By way of Kalasa: Gange cha Yamunaa chaiva Godavari Sarasawati Narmade Sindhu Kaveri jalesmin sannidhim kuru || Oh Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Sarasvati, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri please make your presence in these waters contained in the pot. This modern verse has its origin in the Rigvedic mantra:
Imam me gange yamune sarasvati sutudri stoma sachataa | asakniyaa marudvridhe vitastaya-arjakeeye srinuhyaa sushomayaa ||
Oh Gangaa, Oh Yamunaa, Oh Sarasvatee, Oh Sutudree, Oh Marudvridha, Oh Aarjakeeya, come together and listen to this hymn of mine along with Parusni, Asikni, Vitastaa and Sushomaa. Having come upon here please listen to this praise offered by me. Sushomaa is the river that flows through a region where soma creepers used in Vedic sacrifices grow. Vitastaa never dried up. Sutudree has a fast current.
It is obvious that these are the rivers on the banks of which Rigvedic people settled at a very remote period. Sushomaa is identified with Sohan, Vitastaa with Jhelum, Asaknee with Chinab, Marudvridhaa with Maruwaardwaaan, Purushni with Rabi and Sutudree with Sutlej.
There are mantras contained in Vedas which refer to water as a Deity. The Supreme Being is eulogized as Water. The Deity of water is supplicated to avert dryness and to cause rain.
Aapo vaa ida(ga)m sarvam viswaa bhootaany-aapah praanaa vaa aapah pasava aapo amritam-aapo -annam -aapah samraadaapo viraad-aapah svaraad-aapachchandaa(ga)s-yaapo jyotee(ga)mshi -aapah satyam-aapah sarvaa devataa aapo bhoor-bhuvahs-suvar-aapa om ||
All this is verily waters. All the entities are waters. Vital airs are waters. The animals are water. Waters are nectar. Food is water. Waters shine out brilliantly. Waters are self-luminous. Waters are not having any other one ruling over them. The Vedas are waters. The luminary bodies are waters. Truth is waters. All gods are waters. The three worlds Bhooh, Bhuvah and Suvah are Pranava or Om (Brahman).
Waters are praised here as everything. Samraat means Emperor. Water is the King of kings of the world such as the four-faced Brahmaa and others. Water is Viraat-Pursha described in Purushsookta and Vyooha of Vishnu as described in Pancharaatra Theology.
The two mantras given below 1 and 2 are used for purifying ceremoniously with a quantity of water taken through the mouth as a part of the Sandhyavandana ritual and also during Aachamana ritual during bath as explained in my discourses on Sandhyaavandanam. Intoning this mantra the twice-born (dwija) drinks a little water in the prescribed form with the following thought in mind: “May I become fit to enjoy the bliss of liberation in this life through the realization of the Supreme. For that may I receive instruction and practice reflection and contemplation upon the final teachings of the Vedas with my mind and body cleansed of all impurities and sins”. Water purifies the human body which is constantly rendered unclean by exudations. A clean body is an aid for pure mind:
Aapah punantu prithaveem prithavee pootaa punaatu maam | punantu brahmanaspatir-brahma-pootaa punaatu maam ||1|| yaducchishtam-abhojyam yadvaa duscharitam mama|sarvam punaatu maamaapo-asatam cha pratigraha(ga)m swaaha ||2||
May this water cleanse my physical body that is made of earthly substances! Thus purified, may the earthy body purify the soul within me! May the water purify the guardian of the Vedas, my preceptor! May the purified Vedas taught by the purified teacher purify me! May defilement repast on prohibited food and misconduct if any, and the sin accruing from the acceptance of gifts from persons disapproved by the scripture, may I be absolved from all these! May the Waters purify me! Obeisance to Water Deity! [Brahmanaspati here means the Lord of the Vedas or the four –faced Brahma. For those taking bath and chanting this Mantra the preceptor is replaced by Brahmaa—May the Supreme purify me! May the water purified by the Supreme purify me! Hindus We call the preceptor as Brahmaa normally]
Scrupulous avoidance of offences against the accepted code of religious conduct is possible only for the thoughtful and painstaking aspirant. Consciousness of the committed sin necessitates such a penitent prayer as above. Food defiled by others by intention or by contact is unfit for sacramental worship. Due to pangs of hunger one may be compelled to take unclean food. The man behind the gift exerts influence over the recipient of it often in an invisible manner. Hence religiously inclined who practice right living do not welcome gifts from discredited people. Human life is beset with these and many other offences against scriptural sanctions and so daily expiations and resolutions are insisted upon by these mantras in the routine of devotion.
In Praanaayaama Mantra the last section is called Gayatreesiras Mantra. This mantra glorifies water as a luminescent body and Brahman—Om-aapo-jyotee-rasah- amritam-brahma bhoor-bhuvas-suvaroem. [Water, light, the taste, the liberated self are all Brahman (Supreme Being). The three Worlds Bhooh, Bhuvah and Suvah alao denote Brahman only. He who is denoted by Pranava (om) is all these.]
Gaayatreesiras is enclosed by the pranavas (Om) in the beginning and the end in the italic portion above. Gaayatreesiras consisting of sixteen syllables is called so because it forms as if it were the head of the formula. Prajaapati is its Rishi. Anushtup is the meter and Brahma, Agni and Vaayu are the deities.
The syllable Om added to Gayatreeseersha represents Parabrahman in the three aspects of Brahmaa, Vishnu and Siva responsible for the creation, preservation and dissolution of the universe. Om consists of three letters A, U and M. For any sound one has to open his mouth with A (Creation), U continues the Sound (preservation) and M closes the sound (Dissolution) or ends. Aapah expresses the omnipresent existence which is also the jyoti self-luminous Consciousness. The same Reality is Rasa—original bliss and amritam immortality. It is Brahman because it is not limited by time, space and casualty. The same Reality is bhooh, being bhuvah, the substance of all that exists and suvah, the dissolver. The ending Om affirms that Parmaatman described above is the innermost Self or Pratyagaatman. Water and Light stand for all the other three elements also.
Holy Water in various traditional Christian Rituals
(as given in Wikipedia)
Holy water is water that has been blessed by a member of a clergy or religious figure. The use for cleansing prior to a baptism and spiritual cleansing is common among several religions, from Christianity to Sikhism. The use of holy water as a sacramental for protection against evil is common among Anglicans and Roman Catholics.
In Oriental Orthodoxy, and some other churches, holy water is water that has been sanctified by a priest for the purpose of baptism; the blessing of persons, places, and objects; or as a means of repelling evil. The use of holy water in the earliest days of Christianity is attested to only in somewhat later documents. The Apostolic constitutions which go back to about the year 400, attribute to the precept of using holy water to Apostle Matthew. Hence the first historical testimony goes back to the fifth century. However, it is plausible that, in the earliest Christian times, water was used for expiatory and purification purposes, in a way analogous to its employment under the Jewish Law. Yet, in many cases, the water used for the Sacrament of Baptism was flowing water, sea or river water, and it could not receive the same blessing as that contained in the baptisteries, Holy water is used as a sacramental in the baptismal ceremony. Holy water is kept in the font, which is typically located at the entrance to the church (or sometimes in a separate room or building called a baptistery); its location at the entrance serves as a reminder of the centrality of baptism as the primary rite of initiation into the Christian faith. Smaller vessels, called stoups, are usually placed at the entrances of the church. In recent years, with the concerns over influenza, new holy water machines that work like an automatic soap dispenser have become popular. In the Middle Ages the power of holy water was considered so great fonts had locked covers to prevent the theft of holy water for unauthorized magic practices: the Constitutions of Archbishop Edmund Rich (1236) prescribe that "Fonts are to be kept under lock and key, because of witchcraft (sortilege). Similarly the chrism and sacred oil are kept locked up”.
In Catholicism, holy water, as well as water used during the washing of the priest's hands at mass, is not allowed to be disposed of in regular plumbing. Roman Catholic churches will usually have a special basin (a Sanctum) that leads directly into the ground for the purpose of proper disposal. A hinged lid is kept over the holy water basin to distinguish it from a regular sink basin, which is often just beside it. Items that contain holy water are separated, drained of the holy water, and then washed in a regular manner in the adjacent sink. Holy water fonts have been identified as a potential source of bacterial and viral infection. In the late 19th century, bacteriologists found staphylococci, streptococci, coli bacilli and other bacteria in samples of holy water taken from a church in Sassari, Italy. More recently, in a study performed in 1995, thirteen samples were taken when a burn patient acquired a bacterial infection after exposure to holy water. The samples in that study were shown to have a "wide range of bacterial species," some of which could cause infection in humans. During the swine flu epidemic of 2009, Bishop John Steinbeck of Fresno, California recommended that "holy water should not be in the fonts" due to fear of spreading infections. Also in response to the swine flu, an automatic, motion-detecting holy water dispenser was invented and installed in an Italian church in 2009.
As a reminder of baptism, Catholics dip their fingers in the holy water and make the sign of the cross when entering the church. The liturgy may begin on Sundays with the Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling Holy Water, in which holy water is sprinkled upon the congregation; this is called aspersion, from the Latin, Asperger ("to sprinkle"). This ceremony dates back to the ninth century. An aspergilla or aspergillum is a brush or branch used to sprinkle the water. An aspersorium is the vessel which holds the holy water and into which the aspergillum is dipped, though elaborate Ottoman examples are known as situate. Blessed salt may be added to the water "where it is customary." Asperger is the name given to the rite of sprinkling a congregation with holy water. The name comes from the first word in the 9th verse of Psalm 51 in the Latin translation, the Vulgate, which is sung during the Traditional form of the rite, except during Eastertide.
This use of holy water and making a sign of the cross when entering a church reflects a renewal of baptism, a cleansing of venial sin, as well as providing protection against evil. It is sometimes accompanied by the following prayer: "By this Holy water and by your Precious Blood, wash away all my sins O Lord". Some Catholics believe that water from specific shrines such as the Lourdes Springs are means by which God chooses to bring healing. This water, technically, is not holy water in the same sense as traditional holy water since it has not been consecrated by a priest or bishop.
Catholic saints have written about the power of holy water as a force that repels evil. Saint Teresa of Avila, a Doctor of the Church who reported visions of Jesus and Mary, was a strong believer in the power of holy water and wrote that she used it with success to repel evil and temptations. She wrote: I know by frequent experience that there is nothing which puts the devils to flight like Holy water.
In Holy Water and Its Significance for Catholics Henry Theiler states that in addition to being a strong force in repelling evil, holy water has the twofold benefit of providing grace for both body and soul. The new Ritual Romano excludes the exorcism prayer on the water. Exorcized salt used to be added to the holy Water as well. Priests can now use the older form if they wish according to Summorum Pontificum, an apostolic letter by Pope Benedict XVI.
Among Eastern Orthodox and Eastern-Rite Catholic Christians, holy water is used frequently in rites of blessing and exorcism, and the water for baptism is always sanctified with a special blessing.
There are two rites for blessing holy water: the Great Blessing of Waters which is held on the Feast of Theophany, and the Lesser Blessing of Waters which is conducted according to need during the rest of the year. Both forms are based upon the Rite of Baptism. Certain feast days call for the blessing of Holy Water as part of their liturgical observance.
Although Eastern Orthodox do not normally bless themselves with holy water upon entering a church like Catholics do, a quantity of holy water is typically kept in a font placed in the narthex (entrance) of the church, where it is available for anyone who would like to take some of it home with them.
Often, when objects are blessed in the church (such as the palms on Palm Sunday, Icons or sacred vessels) the blessing is completed by a triple sprinkling with holy water using the words, "This (name of item) is blessed by the sprinkling of this holy water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
Throughout the centuries, there have been many springs of water that have been believed by members of the Orthodox Church to be miraculous. Some still flow to this day, such as the one at Pochaev Lavra in Ukraine, and the Life-Giving Spring of the Theotokos in Constantinople (commemorated on Bright Friday).
Holy water is not a term used in Church of England rites, although font water is sanctified in the Church of England baptism rite. In contrast, the Episcopal Church (United States) does expressly mention the optional use of holy water in some recent liturgies of blessing. More generally, the use of water within High Church Anglicanism or Anglo-Catholicism adheres closely to Roman Catholic practice. In many such Anglican churches baptismal water is used for the Asperger. Stoups with sanctified water are sometimes found near the doors of High Church Anglican churches for the faithful to use in making the sign of the cross upon entering the church.
The use of holy water within Methodism and some synods of Lutheranism is for the baptism of infants and new members of the church. The water is believed to be blessed by God, as it is used in a sacrament. The water is applied to the forehead of the laity being baptized and the clergyperson performs the sign of the cross. Lutherans tend to have holy water fonts at the entrance of the church. However, in the Lutheran church, the water is typically not distinguished as being "holy".
1. Anantarangacharya, Principal Upanishads, Volume I, Bangalore, India.
2. Swami Vimalananda, Mahaanaaraayana Upanishad, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India.
3. Mukundan T.K., A Concept of Hinduism, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.
4. Sunita Ramaswamy and Dr. Sundar Ramaswamy, Vedic Heritage Teaching Program, Volume 2 Gangadhareswara Trust, Rishikesh, India.
5. Swami Harshananda, Hindu Pilgrim Centers, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India.
6. Devdutt Pattanaik, Vishnu, Vakils, Feffer and Simons Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai, India.
7. BHajan Book, Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville, USA.
8. Wikipedia, Holy Water, Internet.
[This discourse material is a compilation from the reference materials above as well as other sources for a prepared lecture for delivering at Vedanta Class of Sri Ganeha Temple which is gratefully acknowledged I do not claim anything as original though I have included my explanations and comments elaborately suitably editing. Anybody is free to download partly or fully this discourse, modify and redistribute this as well as other discourses from the blog Hindu Reflections <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for spreading the wisdom of Vedas and scriptures further. These lectures are posted on the blog for the benefit of those who are not able to attend my lectures personally due to personal reasons or due to not living in Nashville or able to go through the various sources as I have done.]