‘O Water, You are the Source of Our Lives’, Venerates the Apah Suktam

गङ्गेच यमुने चैव गोदावरी सरस्वति ।
नर्मदा सिन्धु कावेरी जलेऽस्मिन् संनिधिं कुरु ।।

(In this water, I invoke the presence of divine waters from the rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Saraswati, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri. These rivers are considered as goddesses and I pray to them for considering me for their blessings. ~ Snana sloka)

As summer approaches, the temperature is rising in India and it is time to get our matkas out to store water in them. Matkas are large pots made of clay that are used in many households to store water to keep it chilled. Matkas have been in existence in India since the Indus Valley Civilisation (2500 – 1500 BC) when the art of pottery began. In Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli’s district Kooniyoor, Smt Shanti A, a 52- year old potter has revived the ancient tradition of potter in her village thereby providing employment to a number of women in her village. Her pots have not only made it to the local market but has travelled to the United States where people have been fascinated by these pots that are made using wheel, wooden modelling tools, fettling knives and towels. Being environmentally friendly, a demand for them has emerged. So far, around 15 thousand clay pots have been shipped to the United States.

Cookware made out of clay was widely used in ancient India and is still used in rural India extensively. Earthen cookware not only adds to the flavour and aroma of the food but also provides tremendous health benefits. Food that is cooked in earthen pots are rich in calcium, iron, magnesium and sulphur all of which act as important factors in the proper functioning of the body. Due to the porous nature of clay, it allows moisture and heat to pass through the food, thus cooking the food slowly and uniformly while retaining the nutritive values of the food. This also allows for lower consumption of oil. Since clay is alkaline in nature, the acidity in the food that is being cooked is neutralised thus maintaining the pH of the body.

Mitti Cool refrigerator

Clay has a multitude of benefits to it, but with the advent of aluminum and stainless steel cookware in many urban kitchens, the use of earthen cookware is fading away. Mitti Cool, an initiative by Mansukhbhai Prajapati hailing from Gujarat, aims to revive this lost Indian tradition. They produce cookware and kitchen appliances such as a cooker, water filter and a mini refrigerator. The refrigerator can keep items chilled for up to two days.

Two Harvard graduates Kathy Ku and John Kye provided clay pots to the people of Uganda which faces a severe lack of access to clean water thus becoming prone to several water borne diseases. Due to this, they rely on boiling the water for long hours on charcoal that can otherwise be used for cooking. Clay pots and jugs when filled with water, the water seeps into the pores of the clay and evaporates from the surface thus keeping the water inside cool.

This theory of water-cooling was present in India for centuries. For example, the Lotus Mahal in Hampi had a natural air conditioning system. The monument was the Queens Palace and also the rest house for the Royal Family of the Vijayanagar empire. The walls of this Mahal had pipes inside that were lined with clay. Water was passed through these pipes that kept the entire Mahal cool even on the hottest summer days.

Mohenja-Daro great bath

Ancient India was extremely well versed in the field of Hydrology and it was clearly seen during the Harappan Civilisation. The city of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro had sophisticated systems of water supply and sewerage. They also had hydraulic structures such as dams, tanks, lined wells (lined with bentonite, limestone), water tanks and even flush tanks. The Vedas, Puranas, the many works of poets such as Kalidasa, Panini, Chanakya speak of the plethora of knowledge the Indians had on natural systems such as atmosphere, the water cycle. Devices such as the rain gauge was made during the Mauryan period (4th century BC).

Indians from time immemorial have attributed a spiritual significance to water. Every civilisation born in India was next to a river. The seven rivers- Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswathi, Narmada, Godavari, Krishna and Kaveri are considered the most holy by all Indians. People take a dip in these rivers to wash away their sins. Their waters are also used for the Abhisheka in many temples. The ashes of the departed are immersed in these holy waters.

The Kumbh mela is one of the mass pilgrimages in Hindus where people peacefully gather to take bathe in sacred rivers at Allahabad (Prayag- Ganga Yamuna Sangam), Haridwar (Ganga), Ujjain (Shipra) and Nashik (Godavari). It is based on the episode of Samudra Manthan and is mentioned in Bhagavata Purana, Vishnu Purana, Mahabharata and Ramayana. It is said that when the pot containing Amrita was received from the manthana, Devas and Asuras fought for the pot.  Lord Vishnu (incarnated as Mohini-Murti) flew away with the pot spilling drops of amrita at four places: Allahabad (Prayag), Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik.

The Great Bath of the Mohenjo-Daro was the earliest public water tank of the ancient world and according to many scholars was used for religious purposes mostly. Indians were always well adapted to face dry climates and water scarcity. They set up irrigation systems, wells, and water storage systems that were low cost and sustainable water harvesting techniques.

A reference to a cooling device known as Variyantra is given in the Arthashastra by Chanakya and a rain gauge can be found in the Ashtadhyayi. The knowledge of infiltration, interception, stream flow, and geomorphology was also well known in ancient India. If Modern India adopts half of the traditional practises that were followed in Ancient India, we will have clean water and a rich and healthy civilisation for many generations to come.

On this day, we at the Center for Soft Power wish everyone a Happy World Water Day. An excerpt from the Apah suktam that speaks of the importance and significance of water

आपो हि ष्ठा मयोभुवस्था न ऊर्जे दधातन । महे रणाथ चक्षसे ॥

यो वः शिवतमो रसस्तस्य भाजयतेह नः । उशतीरिव मातरः ॥

तस्मा अरं गमाम वो यस्य क्षयाय जिन्वथ । आपो जनयथा च नः ॥

(O water, because of your presence the atmosphere is so refreshing and imparts us with vigour and strength. We revere you who gladden us by your pure essence.

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, when your invigorating essence goes to one affected by weakness, it enlives him, O Water, you are the source of our lives.)