Water in India: Spiritual and Technical Aspects

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The subject of water has been treated spiritually, philosophically, cosmologically, medically, and poetically in the ancient Indian literature comprising the Veda(s), Brāhmaṇa(s), Upaniṣad(s), Purāṇa(s), and Smṛti(s). Water is regarded as the primordial substance from which the universe came into being. Water occupies the highest place amongst the five basic elements of nature, called pañcamahābhūta. These are: ākāśa (ether, substratum, space), vāyu (air), teja or agni (radiation, energy, or fire), āpa (water), and pṛthivī (Earth). These five bhūta constitute the physical universe. Air is said to have been generated from space, fire from space, water from fire, and earth from water. Fire and water, which are said to pervade the entire universe, have a close nexus and are believed to possess procreative powers (Narayana, 1995). The tripartite nature of agni has been connected with the three forms of water – celestial, atmospheric, and terrestrial, called by different synonyms in Sanskri