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Sophia De Quattro
Dr. Leslie Ross
Art & Religion
7 May 2013
Waters Role in Interfaith
Each and every day, I begin my morning by grabbing a Nalgene water bottle from the
fridge. It contains chilled, fresh, and filtered water. I would not know what to do if there were a
day where I could not have a drink a glass of water or use water to shower. It is a life source,
cleanses a person, and washes away impurities. No life can exist without the presence of water, it
is an essence of life, and without it we die. Water holds the key to life. Humans heavily rely on
water for a multitude of reasons, and water is used as a sacred symbol in many world religions. It
is especially sacred and highly praised in the religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism.
Prayer, healing, salvation, and purification are all aspects of Christianity. Furthermore,
each involves water in the process. Christians will bring water for devotional services, special
services, or other prayer rituals. This is blessed by a shepherd, prophet, or designated elder,
transforming the water into holy water. Holy water is then used for a multitude of purposes, such
as prayer,bathing, restoring spiritual powers, and healing physical ailments for christianity. Dr.
Afe Adogame of Lagos State University in Nigeria provides perspective Christianity has on
water. He states,Water symbolizes life and power for the church and its members. As a
concrete object, water represents the most frequently used symbol for purificatory rituals
(1998). Life and water become synonymous with each other because specific uses of water act as
a way to help ensure a good life for a Christian. For example, Baptisms in Christianity use water
to cleanse a persons soul. In Baptisms, a person is tipped in water by a preacher or priest to

establish that one is saved from sin. This purification process is powerful and is done as a tribute
to a Christians belief in living as pure a life as possible (see figure 1). In Alice Camilles article
Come to The Water, she explains Subdued and domesticated by God, water becomes the holy
weapon of choice against original sin. The waters of Baptism banish original sin to its primordial
home in the abyss. Chaos learns its limits once more (2006). Once baptised, a person is initiated
into the religion. This example of use of water in Christianity shows the complex relationship a
Christian has with water. Without the ceremony, they are not able to be apart of the religion.
However, a devout Christian, except those within a Catholic Church, knows that the baptism is
not the only requirement to cleanse on from a sin. Baptisms simply declare the belief in Christ
(Abrams). For the Catholic Church, however, it is believed baptisms are more than just
symbolism and sin is eradicated by the baptism process. These differing beliefs within a religion
are fascinating because it shows how versatile and meaningful water is. Any involvement of
water in religious practice is taken extremely seriously, and not just Christianity reflects this.
The role of water is also important in Judaism. In Exodus 14:16, it reads But lift up your
rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on
dry ground through the midst of the sea. God has told Moses to part the Red Sea in this verse. In
the tale of Moses, water plays a significant role. By dividing the Red Sea, Moses and his
followers are able to cross over onto a dry ground mass that God has provided for them in order
to escape from the Egyptians. As soon as the Israelites are safe from the Egyptians, Moses is able
to then close the gap he has made to kill the Egyptians that are trying to execute them. This
miraculous event has been passed down from each Jewish generation to the next. With it the
story, the historical event idolizes water. As the story goes, Moses and the Israelites are able to
escape enslavement from the Egyptians with the use of water. Water is used here to punish the

Egyptians and to bless and save the Israelites. This is key because it represents Gods promise to
the Jewish to protect their safety. Ritual washing also occurs in Judaism. It is intended to restore
purity to a Jew and includes washing the hands, the hands and feet, or total immersion into
natural water body, such as the sea, river, or a spring (see figure 2). Interestingly, it is required of
Orthodox Jewish women to cleanse and purify themselves after each menstrual period. This is
known as a mikveh, and originates to Ancient times when people had to be purified in a mikveh
before they could enter the Temple Area. The cleansing echoes the importance of maintaining
purity in Judaism. If not, God will punish. Judaism perceives water slightly differently than
Christianity or Hinduism because it can be used as a threat for Jewish people. One Jewish story
that represents Gods willingness to punish is the Great Flood from Genesis 6-8 (see figure 3). In
a flurry, God sent a great flood to destroy humanity and only a man named Noah, his family, and
a pair of each animal on earth were saved. Because Noah proved his worthiness to God, he
survives. As a result, the Flood rids the world of sins to restart fresh. These ideas are all
cultivated around the superior properties of water.
Water in Hinduism has a special significance because it is believed to have spiritual,
cleansing powers. To Hindus all water is sacred, especially the seven sacred rivers (see figure 4).
They are known as the Ganges, Yamuna, Godavari, Sarasvati, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri.
Hindus strive for purity and avoiding chance for any impurities to be vested upon them. Both
physical cleanliness and spiritual well-being are restored when bathing in the rivers. The Ganges
river is the most important of the sacred rivers. Its waters are used in puja, or worship, and if
possible a sip is given to the dying. It is believed that those who bathe in the Ganges and those
who leave some part of themselves (hair, bone etc.) on the left bank will attain Svarga, the
paradise of Indra. In 2007, the Weekly Reporter advertised the Kumbh Mela festival. At this

ritual, Hindus bathe in the Ganges and Yamuna river to wash away their sins. An estimated 70
million Hindus participate in the 45-day festival (see figure 5). Pratap Garh, a participant of the
festival, explains that, "I have come here to get a new life, to wash away the sins I have
committed in the last few years," (qtd in Millions at Holy Festival Bathe in Ganges.). By going
and attending the festival at this sacred river, Hindus exponentially improve their connection
with water and its purification abilities. The bathing acts a renewal process. This particular
festival is a tribute to the battle of gods and demons over a pitcher of divine nectar, which grants
immortality. The Kumbh Mela festival only happens every 12 years, but bathing in the sacred
rivers can be a daily venture for many Hindus living in the region. The holy city of Varanasi, in
particular, is an ideal place to visit in India. For some, the Ganges is a place of death because it is
believe that if one dies there they will reach eternity. The Ghats, or staircases that lead to the
waters edge, are used for bathing bodies and washing clothes. Some sections hold special duties.
For example, the Tulsi Ghat is believed to be a sector that can rid a person of leprosy if they
bathe in that area. There are many beliefs related to water in the Hindu religion, and cleansing is
highly focused on.
The main theme running throughout all of Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism is its
ability to purify, cleanse, and safe an individual. Time and time again, the importance of
cleansing is expressed. Waters sanctity has always been recognized in religions, and continues
to present day. However, with the incline in pollution in this world, it is testing the entire
foundations of water in religion. The environmental factors interplay in religion because without
clean and safe bodies of water, there is no place for people to bathe and cleanse. This is an
unnerving fact for many who hold strong faith in these three world religions. Imagining a world
without a place for Hindus to wash away their sins or to even die is heartbreaking. The same

goes for people who must be baptised in order to officially gain membership in the Christian
religion. The key to life, water, must be sustained so that future generations can traditionally
practice the valued rituals of Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism.

Sources Cited
Abram, Paula. Water in Religion The African Water Page (2003). Web. 7 May 2013.
Adogame, Afe. "Doing Things With Water: Water As A Symbol Of 'Life' And 'Power' In The
Celestial Church Of Christ" Studies In World Christianity 6.1 (2000): 59. Academic Search
Complete. Web. 7 May 2013.
Camille, Alice. "Come To The Water." U.S. Catholic 71.4 (2006): 43-45. Academic Search
Complete. Web. 7 May 2013.
Haber, Susan & Reinhartz, Adele. They Shall Purify Themselves: Essays on Purity in Early
Judaism. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2008. (pp 181-201.) Print. 11 April 2013.
Millions at Holy Festival Bathe in Ganges. nytimes.com 10 Jan. 2001: A8. Academic
Search Complete. Web. 7 May 2013.