Hinduism: A Holy Water Religion - 2

Continued from Previous Page

The word ‘patera’ has different meanings. The meaning of Patera given in The Free Dictionary is: A saucer-like vessel of earthenware or metal, used by the Greeks and Romans in libations and sacrifices. It is a broad, shallow dish used for drinking, primarily in a ritual context such as a libation. In the Spanish language, ‘patera’ refers to a type of boat. We have seen that arghya is also a boat shaped vessel. In Malayalam pathemaari (patamar) is a native vessel larger than a cargo boat. A bathing tub, watering trough, or basin tray for gold wash etc are known as paathi. A spout, drain, sluice, etc are paathi. Paathimaravi is a long trough. In traditional houses there are paathi maravi with four or five (naalu/ anchu kuzhiyan maravi) partitions. These wooden vessels were pressed in to service to store curries at times of communal feast. Paathuta is pa(l)tuta, that is milk vessel (paalpaatram). Paathrakam is a small vessel. Paatram is a drinking goblet. Can there be a common origin for the word ‘patera’?

Libation in Coastal Areas

On India’s east and west coasts, fishermen before launching their crafts to the coastline performed libation of water for a prosperous catch and harmonious return home. This came to the notice of James Hornell, Director of Fisheries, and Madras Government in 1918, who speaks about libation performed in a few places in coastal India, during his time in his study entitled The Origins and Ethnological Significance Of Indian Boat Designs.

Most of the padagu, from the little port of Valaveddithurai (Velvettithurai, in Sri Lanka), were owned/ manned by the devout Hindus. Their rig was that of a fore and aft two-masted schooner with enormously developed bowsprit and headsails. “Stem and stern are sharp and somewhat raked; the former ends in an inwardly coiled ornamental head, called surul, the bowsprit being placed on the starboard side.”

The surul in these Hindu dhonis bearing three horizontal white stripes painted on the aft edge represent the three ash lines smeared on the forehead of the followers of Saivism. There is a little shrine of the god, beneath the surul in a tiny recess in the bows. One of the crew, who officiates as the pujari, with the aid of an assistant, particularly before leaving port, performs daily worship. A blowing conch and other items of the ceremony are kept on a shelf in the recess. In the ritual followed, before a lamp kept alight on the shelf, “incense is burned, the conch is blown, a bell rung, a coconut broken, libation made, and plantains and betel offered to the god.”[47]

Majority of the crews of the fishing boats of the Bombay coast were Hindus and the remaining Roman Catholic Christians. Each time a boat manned by a Hindu crew leaves shore, with the nets taken aboard, one of the crew “empties a chatty (an earthen pot) of water over the prow,” just before move off from the landing place. It is one of the simplest of old time propitiatory ceremonies carried out upon appropriate occasions and the Roman Catholic fishermen of Tuticorin similarly splash water on the bow as the boat leaves the beach. Hornell compares this with their own custom of breaking a bottle of wine over the bow of a ship when being launched and assumes that this custom might probably has a common origin.

The Tamil word churul means to wind/ twist, curi means to be spiral as conch, whirl round, eddy (as water), and curl. A sectarian or ornamental mark made on the forehead or other parts of the body usually of sacred ashes, sandal pastes, saffron etc is kuri. Curly, spiral is churi. Churuluka is contract into a coil. The state of being rolled or coiled is churul (curl). The ornamental carving in coils at the prow and stern of country boats is churul. The curled head of a boat is churul, surul. The words surul and curl can be a word of common origin.

Hornell believes on a “theory of a cultural world drift from west to east.” But it seems that the trade between east and west had contributed a lot to the development of languages between the east and west and the flow of culture too followed the trade. To arrive at that point many secrets have to be cracked. Churul niavaruka / churul azhiyuka are Malayalam idioms. It means become clear, (truth/ secret) come out.

Kindi a symbol of the cosmos

We have seen kindi as a container of water with manifold uses through out the ages. It has plenty of significance, to Hindu, Saivaite and Buddhist priests who use this vessel for ritual purposes from ancient times. This religious factor seems to have a scientific basis.

Three fourth of planet earth is covered with water. This might appear that water is the most abundant substance on earth and that mankind will never run out of water. But in fact, usable fresh water is in a very limited quantity. Over 97 per cent of water on earth is in the ocean. Of the remaining, two per cent is stored as fresh water in glaciers, ice caps, and snowy mountain ranges. Water from these bodies cannot be used to meet any of our daily use. Fresh water found in the ponds, rivers, lakes that constitutes one per cent of the earth's water are the source of water for all living beings.

Water filled kindi is situating this scientific truth. The shortage of water has put everyone in the planet earth in a tight spot and kindi is a symbol of this tight spot. The water that the spout of the kindi holds is indicative of the one per cent of pure water available in the earth for human consumption.

If one analyzes the human body one finds that a normal adult has about 70 percent water. A human being requires between 25 and 30 litres per day to ensure the basic need for water for personal and domestic use. One cannot function beyond 3 days without water.[48]

The human body is constituted of panchabhuthas. We have seen that water; one of its components is 70 percent. Kindi, like the human body holds water in proportion to the human body. The other elements of the panchabhutas go to constitute the vessel itself. Here also kindi becomes a symbol of the cosmos.

obtained its shape in the hands of a potter. But when it changed hands it assumed importance with the change in time and with the material with which it was made. It did not remain in India alone. It crossed boundaries and reached all over Asia. The ancient symbolism of fertility associated with kindi and its myriad uses gave it an important part in the material culture of Asian countries and served as a unifier of cross-cultural elements. In Southeast Asia, the kindi has been used for pouring offerings to the gods and as an important object in religious rituals for many centuries. When reached Arabian countries it took the form of a hukka. In the Middle East the flowing well known as Qanat is in the shape of the kindi. Here the belly forms the mother well and the sluice a slowly descending water tunnel. Scottish word stroup means monda, kindi vaal. It shows that the distant Scotland too has knowledge about this vessel. Europeans conceived in it a perfect water seal, which in effect took the shape of a closet in the living room. But it became a symbol of wastage of fresh water.
In this saga, China and the Silk Road through which it reached that country remain to be explored. Among the innumerable vessels for water storage, the kindi is omnipresent throughout the entire South East Asian region. It holds the means to make the truth/ secret to come out, to many a question raised here.

Previous Page

[1] Nanditha Krishna, ‘Creations Grounded in wisdom,’ New Indian Express, 2 May 2006.
[2] Gunapatam, Cottayam, p. 72
[3] Prasanna Kumar Acharya, A Dictionary of Hindu Architecture, University of Allahabad, Oxford University Press, p. 209.
[4] Ulloor S. Parameswara Aiyar, Kerala Sahitya Charitram, vol. I, p.55.
[5] Prasanna Kumar Acharya, op.cit., p.140.
[6] Ttucci, Guiseppe, Tibetan Painted Scroll, I, Rome, 1949, p.327.
[7] Betty Heimann, Facets of Indian Thought, London, 1964, p.102.
[8] P. Samba Moorthy, Dictonary of South Indian Music and Musicians, Madras, vol. II. pp.343.
[9] Attur Krishna Pisharoti, Sangeetha Chandrika, Geetha Press, Trichur, 1954, p.127.
[10] K. Vasudevan Moothathu, Agneya Maha Puranam, B.V., 1929, p.539.
[11] Vallathol Narayana Menon, Sree Padma MahaPuranam, B.V., 1926, p.163.
[12] R.C Pathak, Bhargava’s Standard Illustrated Dictionary of the Hindi Language, Hindi- English, Ganga Pustakalay, Banares, 1946.
[13] T.A.G. Rao, Elements of Hindu Iconography, 1914-16, rep.1968, 4 vols.
[14] Vahatan (explained by Sreedasa Pandithar), Hridaya Bodhika, II, 1950, Appendix. 8, A bowl with a snout is also called galanthika.
[15] Chilapathikaram, 273, L 864.
[16] R.P.Chittezham, Agneya Puranam (Mal.), Union Press, Trivandrum, 1929, p. 423.
[17] Nagam Aiya, Travancore States Manual, III gl.i.
[18] see, Herman Gundert, Gundert Nighantu, p.725.
[19] T.K.Veluppillai, Travancore State Manual, vol.I, KGD, Trivandrum, 1960, p.414.
[20] Srimad Bhagavatam, 4.23.22.
[21] Ibid., 8.21.2-3.
[22] Ibid., 10.80.4.
[23] Ariyettuka; Avante ariyum tannirum ethiyittilla.
[24] Vakathanathu Edamana A. M. Krishna Sarma, Kriyaratna Mala, Panchangam Press, Kunnamkulam, 1957, pp.198-199.
[25] R.P.Chittezham, op.cit.,Union Press, Trivandrum, 1929, p. 445.
[26] Mathrubhumi, XXXIII, 33.22.
[27] K. Nilakantan Asari, Tanthra Samuchayam,V.V.Press, Kollam, 1.44.
[28] T.A.G. Rao, op.cit., vol. I. pt. ii, p.376.
[29] Eliade, Miriea, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, (tr.), W.R.Trask, London, p.349.
[30] Jill Mackley, Decorating with Flowers, Albany Books, Park Street, London, 1979, pp.38-41.
[31] K.K.Pillai, The Suchindram Temple, Kalakshetra, Adayar, Madras, 1953.
[32] pitaamahaanaam sarveSaam tvam atra manujaadhipa
kuruSva salilam raajan pratij~naam apavarjaya, (1-44); Book.I: Valmiki Ramayana, Bala Kanda - The Youthful Majesties, Chapter [Sarga] 44.
[33] Ulloor S. Parameswara Aiyar, Kerala Sahitya Charitram, vol. iv, p.116.
[34] Vyavahara Mala, op.cit.,p. 52.
[35] K. Vasudevan Moothathu, op.cit., 670.
[36] Vyavahara Mala, op.cit.,p.105.
[37] Vyavahaara Mala, Sreemoolam Malayalam Series, p.106.
[38] Ibid., p.108.
[39] Vallathol Narayana Menon, Grama Saubhaghyam (tr.),Vallathol Granthaalyam, 1952, p.150.
[40] T.K.Veluppillai, Travancore States Manual,II, appendix.,p.176.
[41] T.A.Gopinatha Rao, Travancore Archeological Series.II.p.139.
[42] Liebert Gosta, Iconographic Dictionary of the Indian Religions, Leiden, 1976, p.22.
[43] Srimad Bhagavatam, 7.3.22; “Ghalgavum panapatravum sira kapalavum khedayaum” says Devi Mahatmyam.
[44] See D. Prabha, ‘Arundhati, Vasishta Maharshiyude Priya Patni’, Vignana Kairali, vol. 37, April 2006.
[45] T.A.G. Rao, op.cit., I, pt.II, p.369.
[46] Genesis, 35:14.
[47] see James Hornell, The Origins and Ethnological Significance Of Indian Boat Designs, Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta, 1920, Re- issued by South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies, Trivandrum.
[48] see



More by :  Dr. V. Sankaran Nair

Top | History

Views: 3425      Comments: 0

Name *

Email ID

Comment *
Verification Code*

Can't read? Reload

Please fill the above code for verification.