–Water-its importance in Temple Rituals
Water has a variety of applications in temple ritual and is highly essential. One cannot think of worship and ritual in a temple without use of water in some form or other.
The Agama texts prescribe that water for use in worship is collected from a running stream, a spring, a natural lake or a well exposed to sunlight and fresh air. A temple therefore is necessarily built on a site that is well served by supply of fresh water. Even those temples situated away from a stream do have in their premises a natural or an artificial pond usually calledPushkarini, which serves exclusively as a source of water required fortemple rituals. It also serves as an arena for sporting the occasional Jala kelior the Teppam float festival.
Water used in the sanctum has to be ritualistically pure; and can be collected only by the priest when he is ready to commence the day’ service. While other people can bring in the other articles required for worship such as flowers, fruits etc., the priest alone should bring in water required for the temple rituals. All articles used in worship and brought into the sanctum are sanctified by sprinkling water brought in by priest.
Water has several applications in temple worship apart from cleaning the sanctum.
Concerning the main image in the sanctum, water has four principle applications. The water designated for each purpose is stored in a separate vessel. Those vessels, five in number, are arranged in a specified order on a circular plate, on a tripod stand placed in front of the image within the sanctum. These waters are sanctified by recitation of appropriate mantras. The other articles used in worship and the platform on which the worship is conducted are purified by sprinkling the sanctified water.
It is customary in the temples to keep a set of five large vessels (Pancha-patra) , placed on a circular tripod. The water meant for oblations (Arghya) is placed on the South-East corner ; the water meant for washing the feet (Padya) is placed on the South-West ; the water meant for sipping (Achamana) is on the North-West; and , the water meant for bath (Snana) is on the North-East.
At the center of the tripod is placed the fifth vessel containing water for general use (Sarvatra-toya).
The four main applications of water, during the worship, are:
(1) Paadya: Paadya is Water for washing the feet of the lord. The vessel containing water meant for this purpose is placed in the South-West corner of the circular plate. Paadya is mixed with four substances viz. khus khus (usira), Sandal wood paste (chandana), blades of durvaa grass and white mustard (siddha). This act of devotion and reverence is accompanied by recitation of hymns such as Purusha Suktha , Rudra Paata or other hymn as is appropriate.
(2) Aachamana: Water offered to the image for sipping or rinsing the mouth is Aachamana. During this process, water is also offered to clean teeth (danta dhavana) and to wash the tongue (jihva sodhana).The vessel containing water for Aachamana is placed on the North-West corner of the circular plate. Aachamana water is mixed with six substances viz. Cardamom (ela), cloves (lavanga), camphor (karpura), jambu fruit, jasmine flower (jati) and fruit called priyangu
(3) Arghya: Water offered to cleanse hands is Arghya. The Arghya-water vessel is placed on the South East corner of the circular plate. Arghya water is a mixture of eight substances viz. gingerly (tila) ,rice (vrihi), tips of kusha grass, milk, wheat, winnowed grains (tandula), mustard ( sarshapa) and water from the conch(shanka)
(4) Snana: The ritual bath is known as snana, abhishekha, or marjana.Abhisheka is an act od love,reverence and submission. It purifies the worshipper’s mind and fills with devotion.The water meant for ceremonial bath is placed on the North-East corner of the circular plate. Snana water is elaborately prepared with use of herbs, spices, flowers and creams/lotions.
The herbal bath is made up of herbal decoction (kashaya) of the barks of seven types of trees: palasha, oudumbara, ashvattha, madhuka, plaksha, patala, and jambu.
It is customary to use water sprinkled with sweet milk for the second round of bathing; after which the image is covered with turmeric paste and again washed with clean water (shuddodhaka)
Panchamrita is an amalgam of fruits such as banana, mango etc.mixwed with five substances : milk,curds,ghee,honey and sugar. This Snana follows a sequence.The bath in milk (dugdha) is followed by bath in curds(dadhi), in ghee(gritha), in honey(madhu) and in sugar(sharkara). This is followed by bath in tender coconot water(narikela).
With each of the five articles, a form of Vishnu is invoked; Govinda with milk, Vamana with curd, Vishnu with ghee, Madhusudana with honey and Achyuta with sugar. The snana is accompanied with recital of appropriate hymns.
Sometimes a shower bath with a silver plate having a thousand holes (sahasra dhara) is given to the idol.
Finally, another bath in fresh water is administered again before the deity is offered Vastra (clothing) and alankara (ornaments)
The fifth vessel placed at the center of the circular plate holds water meant for general purpose (sarvathra toya); and is mixed with Tulasi leaves, flowers, gingelly seeds and sandal paste.
An occasional purification bath is conducted on astrologically significant days such as ayana or vishva or on solar or lunar eclipses or on certain auspicious days. For purpose of purification, five products of cow (pancha-gavya) ghee)-ghrita (representing Rudra and regarded most adorable), curds-dadhi (representing Soma a symbol of progeny), milk-kshira(representing Sukra helpful in eliminating enemy), cow’s urine – go_ mutra(representing Nata and indicative of prosperity) and cow dung-go_maya (representing arka or sun, beneficial in warding off diseases. There is a standard method for preparing this concoction he cow dung is mixed with cow’s urine; and then this mixture is put into ghee which in turn is mixed with curds; and finally the whole mixture is put into milk.
Water is used at every stage of worship- before, during and after the worship. Apart from this, the priest performs certain rituals preliminary to worship and at the conclusion of the worship, for which sanctified water is essential.
The devotees , with reverence and devotion , in fulfillment of their worship, receive Thirtha or Charanmrit , a residue from the Snana offered to the idol .Prasad and Thirtha are most sacred and purifying. They are most sought after and one who receives them considers himself fortunate and blessed.
Read Next :
— Flowers – their importance in temple worship
Agama kosha by Prof. SK R Rao