Friday 26 April 2024

The Water Story

Our life in this world is conditioned by several other existences—the most fundamental of which are elements of nature like water, soil, air, and sunlight. Our relationship with these natural forces is always delicately balanced. Today, this balance is being seriously impaired, especially in our relationship with water.

The Water Perspective

About 50% - 65 % of an adult human being's body is made up of water. It is the building block of cells, tissues, and organs; it regulates body temperature, aids in digestion, eliminates waste from the body, and performs a host of other vital functions. Again, 70% of our earth is covered with water. Of this, only 3 % is fresh water and again only 0.4% of this fresh water is accessible to us because the remaining 2.6% is locked in polar ice-caps, glaciers, or deep inside the earth.

 Traditional Engagement

The Vedic rishis recognised the central role of water in creating and sustaining life. Water was recognised as divine, and the rivers as personified goddesses with motherly love for mankind. The Vedic literature has a number of prayers reflecting this attitude towards water. Some lines in the Apah Suktam, or the Hymn for Water sing:

O Water, this auspicious sap of yours, please share with us,
Like a mother desiring (to share her best possession with her children).
O Water, may the auspicious divinity which is wished for
be present in you when we drink (water).
May the auspiciousness which supports you, flow to us.
O Water, may the divinity in Water dwell in the farm lands,

O Water, I implore you to give nutrition (to the crops).
O Water, you are abundantly filled with medicinal herbs;
Please protect my body, so that I can see the Sun for long (i.e., live long).
O Water, please wash away whatever wicked tendencies are in me,
And also wash away the treacheries burning me from within,
And any falsehood present in my mind.

Truly, water has this dual power – it nourishes and strengthens the material world outside starting from our own body, and it purifies and transforms the subtle inner dimensions of our personality. In traditional homes, even today, the seven sacred rivers are invoked into the water being used for worship, cooking, and even bathing. Sri Ramakrishna too had a deep devotion to Ganga. He called Her Brahma-vari, i.e., Brahman in the form of water. If anybody talked of worldly things for a long time or mixed with worldly people, he would ask that person to drink a little of Ganga water and purify himself.

In sharp contrast to this traditional filial attitude towards water, is the modern approach which commodifies water and all the other natural resources. It is an attitude born of the understanding that the world is created for man's enjoyment. This mercenary perspective is in a sense at the root of the imbalance in our relationship with Nature.

Mother Earth's Response

What happens when we exploit Nature? An interesting story from Srimad Bhagavata gives the answer.

A number of people reduced to skeletons due to starvation approached their newly crowned king Prithu who, born in the line of Dhruva, was a part of Mahavishnu. They asked him to alleviate their sufferings and provide them sustenance. Prithu found out that by withdrawing into herself all her vegetation, goddess Earth had created this suffering. In great anger when he sought to punish her, goddess Earth took the form of a cow and ran away. But Prithu followed her in all directions. Finally, goddess Earth took refuge with Prithu himself and explained her actions.

She told him, 'O King! I saw how bad men, devoid of self-restraint, ate up all the cereals that Brahma had created for the purpose of Yajna. When the whole world became full of thieves, I took into myself all these cereals in order to conserve them for the Yajna. Because of the long lapse of time, these are lying in me in a decayed condition. Find a suitable calf and a pot for milking, and then milk, in the form of all your wants, can be drawn from me. O King! Also level me in such a way that the water that the rainy season brings, may spread everywhere and be available even after the season is over.'

Accordingly, using Swayambhuva Manu as the calf, Prithu milked out all plants into his own palm. The rishis used Brihaspati as calf and milked the Vedas and other scriptures into the vessel of the senses. Then the devatas, asuras, gandharvas, animals etc., using their best representative milked whatever they wanted from Earth. Exceedingly pleased with Earth for providing all the requirements of his people, Prithu adopted goddess Earth as his daughter and she came to be known as

Two key points are to be noted here. Lack of self-restraint made men greedy and they ate up more than what they needed and thus disrupted the yajna-chakra or the cycle of sacrifice where each one contributes for the good of the other. The second point is that when approached with the love of a calf, Mother Nature will unlock all her treasures!

The Imbalance

Today, population growth, mismanagement of natural resources, and our selfishness are upsetting our relationship with Nature. We are witnessing heavy rainfalls leading to floods, and deficit or no rainfall creating famine-like conditions. Aggravating this is the pollution of rivers and water bodies by sewage and chemical effluents, excessive groundwater pumping and wasteful use of water. All these are seriously affecting our food security, health, energy generation, and economic growth. Water scarcity is also becoming a point of social tensions and regional conflicts.

The NITI Ayog's Composite Water Management Index released last year has some alarming statistics and predictions regarding water. It states that currently '600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress and about two lakh people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water.' In its assessment for future, it predicts that by 2020 the groundwater in 21 major Indian cities could be depleted, and by 2030 the water demand in our country could be twice the available supply. In the face of this dim prospect, it is disheartening to know that only 8% of the water received from rains in the entire year is harvested in our country. We have to now act on Mother Earth's advice to King Prithu and conserve water!

The Call

Recently, the Prime Minister called upon the nation to start a mass movement, as was done for Swachh Bharat, to create awareness about water conservation, and to share knowledge of traditional and innovative methods of water conservation.

Achieving water security is the responsibility of every Indian. This Independence Day, let us pledge to educate ourselves first and then create awareness in others about water conservation and water recycling. Let us work out ways to limit our daily water consumption. Indeed, a mind that wastes natural resources will also waste its mental and spiritual energies. Let frugality be our watchword. This is the duty of every awakened Indian. Virtues have to be first practised by awakened citizens. Only then will it grow and become national virtues.

(courtesy : Vedant Kesari 2019 Aug, Editorial)

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सिद्ध‌‌यसिद्धयोर्निर्विकार: कर्ता सात्त्विक उच्यते ॥१८.२६॥

Freed from attachment, non-egoistic, endowed with courage and enthusiasm and unperturbed by success or failure, the worker is known as a pure (Sattvika) one. Four outstanding and essential qualities of a worker. - Bhagwad Gita : XVIII-26

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