Hinduism: A Holy Water Religion - 1

The five elements of nature (panchamahabhuta) include earth, water, fire, air and ether (sky). In the graphical depiction of panchamahabhuta, water represented by a circle, symbolises fullness. Primarily water is the building block of life and all the living beings are at the mercy of God, for the water. 

In India, water has been an object of worship from time immemorial. Prim(a)eval, primordial –water is aadi jalam, kaarana jalam, karana vaari. The sea of primeval water is kaaranavaaridhi. Water represents the non-manifested substratum from which all manifestations arise.

Images of Ganga on a crocodile and Yamuna on a tortoise flanked the doorways of early temples. In the Varaha cave at Udayagiri, of the 4th century A.D., the two goddesses meet in a wall of water, recreating Prayaga. The Pallavas at Mamallapuram, carved the story of the descent of the Ganga on an enormous rock. Later, Adi Shesha, the divine snake who forms the couch of Narayana, represented water. Indian art sanctified water as a giver of life.[1] 

 is imperishable. Water is Akshitham. In the matter of purity it is like eyes. Hence it is also known as Akshitharam. Water is a purifier, life-giver and destroyer of evil. It is life- preserving power par excellence.

Although Hinduism encompasses so many different beliefs, most Hindus do share the importance of striving to attain purity and avoiding pollution. This relates to both physical cleanliness and spiritual well being. Water cleanses, washes away impurities and pollutants, and enables an object look fresh. The belief that water have spiritually cleansing powers has given it a central place in the practices and beliefs of many a religious ritual. Physically and mentally clean person is enabled to focus on worship. 

Continuity of water as an element of belief system and culture makes Hinduism as a religion of holy water. The story of water can be narrated by examining the rituals in daily life in the past as well as in the present. We shall begin with water containers.


Earthenware is an excellent material for storing water. Its slight porosity allows a slight evaporation, thereby enabling water to remain cool. In Asian countries, a variety of earthenware containers to store water were in use from time immemorial. Their size varied from large ones, ten feet tall and as many feet in diameter to small sized. 

 is earthen pot. An earthen pot or plate is kaaruvacchatti. Karachhatti is an earthen pan. A receptacle for water (a pot, jug) is kutamKalam means earthen pot. This word also means boat and ship. A bronze vessel with a wide mouth is kalauruli.Karol means an earthen pot, a pitcher. An earthen pot with a spout is Kalasakkindi (Mankindi) in which holy water is collected. Karo(l)kkindi is an earthen jug with a spout. Dhaara is flow of water. Dhaarakam is a water pot. In fact, the wordsKudamkamandalu, kindi and kundi(ka) are the Indian water vessels.


Most of the drinking-water vessels of all shapes and kinds found in Asia are commonly called kindi and its long history begins from ancient India. The earliest kindifound in India dates back to the second millenium B.C. In the hot climate, kindiserved as a kind of travelling water jug, a container of drinking water and is calledvellakkindi. In tropical countries, the earthenware kindi is mainly used as a drinking vessel and for hand- washing in domestic circles. It is kept at the main entrance of the traditional houses. Visitors and inmates enter the house after washing their feet and face as well as quenching their thirst using the water from the kindi. Water can be poured directly into the mouth from the kindi. Many persons can drink water from a single kindi directly from the stream coming from its spout after tilting. It is believed that the tube of the vessel should not be kept southwards, because it will invite death to some one dear. 

This particular class of vessel, a more or less rounded body with a straight neck, mouth, a spout set at an angle on the belly, is conspicuous by the absence of a handle. The covered spout is for filling the vessel and the long erect spout attached to the vessel's flaring lip is for pouring and sprinkling. 

It has a mouth for filling; a spout for pouring and the neck serves the role of a handle, for holding on. Some kindi have long necks and others have short and stout ones. All have an opening at the top for pouring water in and a spout on the side for drinking. Apart from the form of kindi with the single neck, there are also many excellent multi- necked and spouted kindi vessels. Provision of a handle makes it a ewer, bottle, tea pot or some other form. (Persian) Ewer is a water carrier. 

In yoga, it is used to pour water through the nose to cure headaches and to cleanse the nose. Later on, it began to be used for medication, sacrificial blessing and remained as a symbol of purification and dispenser of compassion. There are dwarfing, at times even palm- sized, water vessels for purposes of religious ceremonies. In the puja rooms of all Hindu houses water-filled kindi is kept clean with a few tulasi leaves to please Lord Krishna. In sum, one can hardly find a Hindu house in Kerala without a kindi. In temples all over the world we see kindi in profuse use. The priest holds a kindi with milk or pure water with tulasi leaves, utters mantraand the sanctified water is then sprinkled on the heads of the devotees who drink some and pour the remaining onto the head. 

 was made out of clay initially in the primitive times. But with the advent of metal, earthenware relegated to the background. Various names for gold vessel or goblet, such as ponkinnam, pon kudam, ponkindi, bhringarakam, bhringam show the importance that the kindi achived with the march of time.

A lota is a water pot, used in Hindu puja or ceremony in Kerala, where a separate tradition of spare, utilitarian elegance flourished. Zebrowski refers to spouted lota of bell metal make, a bell metal kindi, vases and superbly refined oil lamps found in religious ceremonies in temples dedicated to Siva. Vellodu kindi is a remedy for the influence of evil eyes says Gunapatam.[2]

A water jar with small holes at the bottom as in sieve is muralulla kindi. Mural isJaladwara, a sluice a spout.[3] It is an outlet also, a shutter to stop the flow of the water.


A pit, a pool or a pond is kunti. This word includes a vessel with a spout, water pot of mendicants, as well as a bowl. The Dravidian word kindi / kinnam (Mal.), gindi(Tel), kinni (Tamil from v. kinu, ‘to be hollow’) refers to a pot/ vase usually of bell metal, curved outwards at the rim, with a flat circular bottom.

A bowl-shaped, round vessel with a wide mouth is kunta, a receptacle used for ghee, oil or fire during worship. A round hole in the ground for receiving and preserving water or sacred fire, a cavity or an altar, a pitcher, pot, a round basin is a kuntam. It is an emblem of Aghoramurti and Bhairava. The word also includes the bowl of a mendicant kunti. This word brings in its fold well, spring, holy bathing place, a pond, a pool etc. and is said to be a loan word from Dravidian language.[4] A kind of small pot is kunti. The generative organ of the female as well as penis is known as kunti. Kuntika is a basin, kindi. It is also known as kutam. 

Similar to Kamandalu, Kundika is to collect pure water. It is a water pot, pitcher[5], a pouring vessel with a spout on the side but without a handle.

It has a long neck, above which rises a slender tube-like mouth that functions as the spout. Another spout is attached to the shoulder, with a small removable lid. Water filled through the covered spout on the shoulder can be poured out through the tubular finial. Kundikas, made of bronze, celadon and unglazed stoneware are held around its neck while pouring. Unlike the kindi, it is filled through the wide spout at the side while the pouring is done through the neck. 

In Hindu iconography, the kundika appears as a godly attribute of Brahma and Siva. Lord Siva is Kamantaludharan. In Buddhism, kundika is one of the eighteen holy vessels held by a Buddhist monk. It is the attribute of Avalokiteswara.


A pitcher, jar or a water pot, also the churning pot is kalasam. Also known askalayappana, kalasappaatram, kalasakkutam, they are large water jugs with spout, usually of earthenware. Holy water is collected in kalasam, for use in temples. In ancient India, the kalasam symbolized the universe and became an integral part of themandalic liturgy, in the same way as it still forms a dispensable element of certainpuja of Hinduism. “The vase is the first mandala into which the deities descend and arrange themselves.”[6] Meaning of mandala develops from the center to the periphery, and hence ‘the wider circles of its application grow, the more divergent become its defined meanings’.[7] 

The Navarathri golu, set up with an odd number of steps for the placement of different idols of Gods, commences with the keeping of a kalasam on the first step. A brass or silver pot filled with water, this kalasam is adorned with either a coconut or a pomegranate amidst mango leaves. 

The sanctifying rite performed on the water-filled pots intended for consecrating the idol is kalasa puja. A purificatory ceremony of idols in temples is kalasasm. A pot filled with consecrated water intended for pouring over the idols is kalasam. The ceremony for the purification of an idol in Hindu temples is kalasam kazhippikkuka. Punyakalasam, suddhikalasam are purification by pouring water. Purificatory ceremonies differ with the difference in the volume of kalasam. Astrakalasam, tatvakalasam, vastukalasam, ashtabandhakalasam, anunjnanakalasam, dravyakalasam, kumbhakalasam, jeevakalasam, nidrakalasam, brahmakalasam, naveekaranakalasam, kumbhera kalasam are the other important purificatory ceremonies based on kalasam. Of these, kumbhera kalasam is an important one

A rounded pinnacle on the top of a temple, a dome, is kalasam. Kalasamuni, kalasa sambhavankalasajan are epithets of Agastya whose emblem is Hukka, a water pipe.

A particular propitiatory rite in performing teyyam is known as kalasam.Kalasamaatuka is the ablution of sanctified water in a kalasam on auspicious occasions. Kalasam vaippu is a ritual of the relatives to their mane on an auspicious day. Chaamuntikku kalasam vaykkuka is to sacrifice for injuring enemies.


Kamandalu is a small water pot of various shapes. It may be an earthen or wooden pot. The wooden pot is made out of kamandalu(taru) (Ficus venosa). Karakamindicates kindi, kamandalu as well as water jar. Karakakkindi (karakam + kindi), is an earthen kindi/ goblet, galanthiKarakajam is water. Karakapatrika iskamandalu. In Tamil muruda is kamandalu

A cup or vessel called karankam (Karankam cha Kamandalau), also meansKamandalu. Since Kara(n)kam refers to coconut shell, karakam also means a pot made out of coconut shell. Till half a century ago, it was a common sight to seesanyasins with such kamandalu made out of coconut shell. Kamandalam is a water pot. 

Gourd is a fleshy, three-celled, many-seeded fruit, as the melon, pumpkin, cucumber, etc., especially the bottle gourd (Lagenaria vulgaris) and occurs in a great variety of forms. When the interior part of the fruit of a ripe pumpkin is removed, it serves for bottles, dippers, cups, a drinking vessel, and other dishes. Its shell is cleaned for storing nectar. Gourd shell, used as a vessel is a churakudukka/ chorakudukka/ chora(nga)thondu. In olden days this vessel was used to preserve sacred ash. Toddy tapper’s vessel of gourd shell, used for collecting toddy is onda, konda. It is also known as chirappakkutty.

It is also used as a makati, a musical pipe used by snake charmers and jugglers. The resonant chamber (kutam) of stringed musical instruments like vina (Indian flute),tamburu etc., are made out of this vessel.[8] At the very bottom of vina is the kutam. It can be made out of the wood and covered with leather. The kutam is attached to get resonant sound. Kutam of the vina is Brahma, dandu is Siva says Attur Krishna Pisharoti.[9] Stringed instrument of the group including harps, lutes, lyres, and zithers is chordophone. The gourd functions to amplify the sound of the plucked string in the Indian vina. 

It is also known as marayodu, kamandalu. Carried by the ascetics they symbolize the ascetic’s simple, self-contained life.

Holy water

Water is one of the ashtabhogam. The ten kinds of dhenudanam in which nine articles and a dhenu (cow) are given away as gifts in lieu of ten cows[10] is known asdasadhenu danam. Jaladhenu is one among these articles. Offerings made to the deceased soul for ten days known as dasadahanam includes udakadanamAnnam(rice), vastram (cloth), jalam (water), kamyam (desirable) are known asdaanachatushtayam. They are nityam, naimithikam, kamyam, vimalam, saysPadmapuranam.[11] 

The ceremony performed in the worship of an idol by moving a lighted lamp or camphor circularly round the idol is aarathi/ aaraatrikam.[12] In Hindu temples, priests perform aarathi daily, in the morning, later in the morning, at lunchtime, in the evening and finally at sundown. On these occasions, the assembled devotees in the temple sing various types of prayers. Before performing aarati, the pujari purifies his hands with sacred water from the aachamanakam. Its shape is a conventional representation of the womb and is associated with fertility. Its large size suggests that its use is restricted to a temple. Milk and water are symbols of fertility, absence of which can cause barrenness, sterility leading to death. “Water also represents the non-manifested substratum from which all manifestations arise.” 

Cavity formed by hollowing the joined palms is kutanna. Water taken in this formation is offered to the god during twilights. Sandhyopasana is a prayer and worship offered to the Lord at the junction (Sandhi). There is three such sandhi. They are one between night and morning, forenoon and afternoon and at the junction of evening and night. The Arghyapradana to the sun and the meditation on and recitation of Gayatri, form the heart of the worship. On these occasions the Lord was earnestly prayed to forgive all sins committed, unknowingly and to bestow are repeated, touching the various parts of the body, viz., the eyes, the ears, the face, the navel, the head, etc. Achamana is sipping water three times, repeating the names of the Lord. One becomes pure by doing Achamana after he answers calls of nature, after walking in the streets, just before taking food and after food, and after a bath. This reminds the practitioner of the Lord now and then. Every act, every ritual, every symbol has a deep philosophical importance, helping one in changing the mental substance from Rajas and Tamas to Sattva, thus offering an opportunity to think of God frequently.

This sinuous vessel, known as aachamana(ka)m, is used exclusively to hold holy water during worship. The priest dips in this water flowers and leaves to purify them before offering to the gods. A small copper ladle of the same is used to pour water on the images when bathing the gods. Then, the priest sprinkles three spoonfuls of water over a conch, and blows it thrice. Then he lights an odd number of incense sticks from a ghee lamp, standing beside the altar, and waves around the deities seven times, and extends the same to the assembled devotees, while ringing a small bell. After sipping water thrice, chanting mantras, the pujari cleanses his face twice, and eyes, ears, nose, shoulder, chest and forehead once, with this holy water. 

Water, flowers, rice, etc., are offered to the Lord in worship. This denotes that the Lord is pleased with even the smallest offering. What is wanted is the heart of the devotee. The Lord says in the Gita: - Patram Pushpam Phalam Toyam Yo Me Bhaktya Prayacchati; Tadaham Bhaktyupahritamasnami Prayatatmanah - Whoever offers a leaf, a flower, a fruit or even water, with devotion, I accept that, as it is offered with a loving heart. 

In the temple, the pujari lights a five-wick ghee lamp from the large lamp and offers it in several circles to the deity’s feet, navel, face, and then around the deity’s whole body. This enables the devotee looking at the idol with folded hands, to focus on all parts of the deity. One of the devotees takes the lamp from the priest to offer the same to the devotees present, who touch the flame with their hands, and apply the hands to their foreheads. 

The pujari then fills a smaller conch with water and offers by waving it three times around the deity’s head and seven times around its body. Taking it out, a devotee shaking it, ensures everyone present there to receive a sprinkling of the sacred water. Sprinkling of water is jalasekam. Purification with water is jalasparsam.

A conch is jaladharam. Continuous pouring of water on Sivalinga, chanting mantras, is jaladhaara. Siva in the form of water is jalamurthi. He is also jaladhara. Some Siva sects also invoke Siva in vessels filled with water.[13] A small pitcher isgalanthi(ka). This vessel with small hole at the bottom, is used to dribble water on the idol of Siva or Sivalinga.[14] Vishnu is jalasayanan. Varuna, the presiding deity of water, is jalaadhidaivatam. God of water and rain is Varuna. Naram is water. Naradan is one who donates water. Cloud is also called naramNaradanam is Naradan.

 is a handful of water as an offering to the manes, gods, etc. A rite observed before an idol is installed is jaladhivaasam (submersion in water) andJalasthapanam is another rite.[15] Pouring water on the head in purificatory ceremony is jalaabhishekam

Saucham, aachamanam
 are purification with water. Aachamanam is to rinse the mouth, sipping water (before religious ceremonies, before and after meals etc.) thrice, repeating the names of the Lord, by priests/ devotees of water from the palm of the hand for purification. To perform Achamanam the devotee drinks water from the palm of his hand for purification. 

Living in water alone is jalaaharam. A religious austerity to be observed in water isjalavaasam. It is also abiding in water. One who lives by drinking water alone isjalaasi. Like a jeernaparnaasi he is a yogeendran. A religious vow or practice, one month long is jalakricchram. During this period one lives by drinking water only. Chanting of mantras standing in water is jalajapam. A kind of penance observed by standing under a continuous downpour of water is jaladhaara. Neernila is chanting hymns by standing in water.


In dhaara, a rite in temple worship, water, milk etc are poured on the idol, using a copper vessel hung right above the idol. Dhaarakitaram is the vessel used to perform dhaara ritual. Dhaara is one like ashtaabhishekam, Sankabhishekamperformed in temple worship, but superior to all abhishekam

A bath performed in the holy water for the achievement of some desire iskaamyasnanam.[16] Washing ablution as well as bathing is avanejanam. It includes water for hands and deeds. Prokshana is sprinkling water over one’s body to purify, when a bath is not possible. This is for internal as well as external purity. 

 is a river that begins its journey from a hill and normally ends at the sea. Arattuis a ceremony of bathing an idol at the end of a festival. The water used for the bathing of idols or kings is neerkappu. It refers to the ceremonial bathing also. Sprinkling, watering, wetting is abhishekam. Anointing, bathing the image isabhishekam.[17] The holy water used for bathing an idol is abhishekateertham. During installation of a King, anointing of the king is abhishekam. The holy water used for the installation of the King is abhishekajalam. Inauguration or consecration by pouring oil, ghee, rice, pearls, etc on the heads of the idols, kings etc isabhishekam. Coronation or investiture of kings is pattabhishekam.


In the life cycle rituals, marriage involves fertility and procreation. The kindi symbolizes married life and some rites are performed to ensure fertility. A collection of eight (ashta) auspicious objects submitted on great occasions such as coronation is known as ashtamangalyam. The items always included an overflowing vase, representing prosperity, etc. Ashtamangalyam to Ganapati includes a pair of chowrieskindivaal kannadi,[1] bull, srivatsa, svastika, conch and lamp, one each. Later, the eight lucky objects were a lion, bull elephant, water jar, fan, flag, trumpet, and lamp, or alternatively a Brahmin, cow, fire, gold, ghee, sun and water. Items for Durga, Vishnu, Sankaranarayanan and Skandan are different and all of them include a water jar. In south India, the eight objects are fan, full vase, mirror, gold, drum, lamp, and two fish. 

In Tibetan Buddhism, they are parasol, pair of fishes, treasure vase, lotus, white-spiralling conch shell, endless knot, victory banner and golden wheel.

In India, throne, swastika, handprint, hooked knot, vase of jewels, water libation flask, pair of fishes, lidded bowl were the early grouping of symbols at ceremonies such as an investiture or coronation of a king. The story of the great flood found in Hindu scriptures tells how a fish that Manu once saved from being eaten by a larger fish rescued him, when all creations were submerged in a great deluge. Inclusion of a pair of fishes is perhaps symbolic of this episode.

Child Birth

Immediately after childbirth, a close relative of the child pours a few drops of water on the body of the child using his right hand, which is called Nir talikkuka. It is said that the child will get the character of this person. As such, a close relative with good character does the ritual. Among vannan community a ceremony of sprinkling of water is performed on the 3rd day after the birth of a child and on 7th day of death and followed by change of raiment (ettu). 

The attainment of puberty is celebrated as an entry to womanhood all over the world. Among Nayars it is known as tirandukalyanam. On the fourth day of the first menstruation the ceremonial bath is held, followed by a feast to the relatives and neighbours. The tirandu kalyanam and kettu kalyanam are held on the same time provided the customary bridegroom exists on the spot. Otherwise tirandu kalyanamalone is held that day. Kettukalyanam is held at the age of 5 or 7 /12 years. 

After the menstruation is known, the girl is kept in isolation in an inside chamber for three days. The traditional houses had a separate house known as naduveedu, reserved for the purpose. In this chamber, a bunch of coconut flowers placed inside a bronze vessel filled with water would be kept in front of an oil lamp. Coconut flower is symbolic of blessing the girl with as many children as there were tender coconuts on the bunch of flowers. On the third day, the girl is fed with sweet rice prepared by her aunt. In fact this was the aunt’s presentation on the girl’s attaining of womanhood. Once the period of pollution is over, the flower bunch in the vessel would be thrown out.In continuation a ceremonial bath to the girl in the family pond amidst songs sung by the women folk, followed by the ritual songs of velan (the village sorcerer) invoking prosperity for the girl. The purification ritual continues on the next day also, when the girl is adorned with ornaments made of tender coconut leaves and songs are sung.

 is a ceremonial bath, peculiar to the 4th day of marriage among Brahman women. Also known as manjakkuli, maasakkuli of the 5th day of menstruation of the Brahmanichis. In imitation of this, Goddess for instance. 

Kodungallore for Parvati, Kodumbu for Walli is also given this purification bath on the 4th day of menstruation. [18]


Kettukalyanam, only a ritual marriage was found in practice among Nayars till 80 years ago. On those days, the young girl remained indoors and her elders seldom took her anywhere outside the house. The girl would not even go before theKaranavar, father and brother as well. Kettukalyanam, a four-day ceremony, offered an opportunity for the girl child to come out of the four folds of the house to become a cynosure of all eyes. 

Often, the child bride used to be found carried on the shoulders of her brother to the decorated venue, a thatched pandal, improvised for the purpose in the front courtyard of the traditional house behind the Poomukham

On the first day, the girl goes to the temple where the temple priest pours the sacred water from a kalasam on her head, known as kalasamaaduka. On the second day, there is a ceremony to tie kappola on both the wrists of the girl. After this, she will have to cross a kindi filled with water and a coconut, fibrous with tuft after the nut is husked, kept at the top, twice on both ways. On the third crossing, she will have to kick the water away with her foot backwards. There may be a boy who is customarily the girl’s bridegroom; her father’s niece is the person to tie the tali around the neck of the girl. When a sister or brother marries from another family, where there are unmarried brothers, they are considered as brothers-in-law, one of who becomes the bridegroom in the kettukalyanam ceremony, which covered two or three days and invited huge expenses, showed the status of the family. Otherwise, it is of no importance. Feast follows on an elaborate scale. Real marriage will follow later.

After the ritual, the child in her bridal attire is left to her parents’ care. The bridegroom washes his hands, symbolic of completion of the assigned task, leaves the venue never to meet the girl again before her real marriage. On the fourth day, the women of the village take a ceremonial bath along with the girl. The elephant accompanying on this occasion would be carrying two kalayappana tied at end of a rope and laid on at its neck. After the ceremonial bath they return to her home and rejoice. 

Usually, several girls of different age groups from the same tarawad had theirkettukalyanam conducted at the same place, at the same occasion, to the same adult male, known as machhambi, which means ‘my thampi’, brother-in-law. Here mai is a Tamil word which means ‘barren’. So, the word machambi holds the key to several questions on this ritual marriage.

While crossing the kindi filled with water the girl kicks the water away with her foot. This is symbolic of infertility. Kalayappana is an earthen kindi. Tying of two such vessels at both end of a rope and kept hanging around the neck of the elephant accompanying the procession is also symbolic. It is devoid of water that means impotent. Elephant, while on the move, will certainly break it into pieces. It is also symbolic of an impotent husband. 

Palmyra leaf (taalapatram) rolled up and placed in the ear is kaathola. The taali is also made out of palmyra leaf and taalikalyanam came to be known askettukalyanam and the tali remains in the child bride’s neck only for few days. The real marriage after the girl attains puberty, held in a very simple way, and it is known as pudavakodaKettukalyanam was more expensive, elaborate and festive than the real marriage ceremonies. The sumptuous feasts for four days consecutively attracted friends and relatives to come together.


During the annual feast of Bhagavati, virgin girls, circumambulating the Bhagavati temple in procession carry with them a taalam (brass plate) containing rice (ariyum tiriyum), flower cluster of the arecanut tree, small lamp, flowers and other pooja items and is known as taalappoli. They offer the contents to the goddess, in order to get husband of desired merits. A ceremony connected with a marriage proposal iskainana. It indicates washing the hands after the feast.

As soon as the auspicious hour of the marriage (muhurtham) arrives, the wicks of the brass oil lamp at the kathirmandapam[2] are lit. A procession of young virgin girls with taalappoli, and an aunt of the bride, who is not a widow, carrying the big lamp with a chain changalavatta, leads the bride. Six girls from the bride's family accompany her with the ashtamangalyam (thamboolam, rice, arecanut, arecanut peduncle (kamukin poonkula), vaal kanaadi (mirror), folded kasavu neriyadu,kumkuma cheppu, coconut halves)[3] to the accompaniment of nagaswara melam,move to greet the bridegroom, who has come at the doorstep. 

Led by the brother of the bride, the bride’s party follows the procession, carrying with them peedham, kindi filled with water, floral garland, bouquet, sandal plate, lemon fruit, rose water, etc. The prospective brother-in-law washes the groom’s feet extended to the peedham with the water from the kindi. Then he garlands, gives the bouquet and puts a thilakam on the groom’s forehead. Presents the lemon fruit, sprays the rose water (perfume), salutes each other with questions and leads the groom towards the kathirmandapam, in to the accompaniment of thalappoli andmelam.[4]

The ritual of young girls leading the bride around the kathirmandapam with lamps, called thalappoli, is more common in the southern districts of Kerala.

Like the reception of the bridegroom before the talikettu ceremony, after the marriage at the bridegroom’s house the bride is also given reception against the background ofululu (kurava), ashtamangalyam and arattam by the retinue of the village women. 

The newly wedded Nayar bride in ancient Kerala was gifted with seven vessels known as ezhurupaatram. They included one kindi, one lamp, and one platter for the mother-in law known as ammayittalika, three shallow plates made of metal, and one spitting pot called kolampi (cuspidor/e) with wide mouth and narrower base.

 is one of the items in the Namputhiri marriage customs, coming after mukha darsanam. The father of the bride pours a little water into the hands of the bridegroom through those of the bride, accompanied by the words ‘Sahadharmanam charitha’ (may you both tread the path of duty together) and gives to the bride the dowry which she in turn hands over to the bridegroom.[19] This is known as udakapuranamDattva-udakam is offering, oblations of water,”[20]arhana-udakam is oblation by water.[21]

In some places, wedding ceremony includes the bride washing the feet of the groom with water from the kindi. In one such rite, in Sinhala, known as ‘ata paen vakkaranava’ water is introduced ritualistically. Paadoudakam is the water, which has washed the feet.[22] In this ceremony the father of the bride pours water from a golden pitcher onto the little fingers of the couple’s right hands tied together with a white thread that cements the binding.


Arrival of rice, an idiom in Malayalam, means the termination of one’s life.[23] His water and rice has not arrived, is a saying that indicates he has not eaten his last, did not die. When the relatives adjudge a person’s last seconds have arrived he is given drops of sacred water through the mouth. It is one of the last rites just before breathing the last. After death, raw rice soaked in water is put respectfully by each kith and kin of the deceased and this is known as vayakkari. 

Among the Nayar communities in Travancore, it is the eldest daughter of the deceased who has to perform the religious rites to the deceased, whether it is her mother or father. She goes to the well or the river nearby and brings back, water in a kindi after wetting herself in the water, to the accompaniment of drum beating. With this water vessel kept on her head she circulates the dead body thrice weeping loudly. This will be followed by the funeral ceremony of placing rice in the mouth of the deceased body after soaking it with the water from the kindi

At the cremation ground, the dead body is covered with hay and clay. The eldest son or the male member carries on his head, a water-filled clay pot and goes around the body thrice. Other male members, intimate to the deceased, will follow him. They place a piece of sandalwood at three places, head, middle and feet, three times while circling. During each round, one brother-in-law makes a hole in the clay pot, from behind with a sharp edged knife, allowing the water to spill on the ground. When the third round is complete, the pot is thrown backwards over his head, allowing the pot to touch the tip of the edge of a spade and to break into pieces. The water that is spread on the ground is then splashed thrice indicating the end of the ritual. 

is funeral ceremonies for relations. A pot filled with water isneerkkudam/ poornakumbham. Cracking open of this earthen pot, filled with water at three locations, while circumambulating the corpse, and finally breaking it by dropping it down, just before flaming it, in the graveyard, is symbolic of saying that when the departed was alive, the body was brimming with life like a poornakumbham. With the lapse of water in the pot, the body becomes empty of life and joins the earth. 

Presentation/ offering a handful of water after death is Udakakriya/ udakaanjali. This is deprived to a man driven away from his caste or religion and is known asudakavicchedam. Giving water to the travellers is Udakadaanam. Performing libation of water to dead ancestors or manes is udakadaanam, udakakriya, udakakarmam, pitrutarppanam, jalatarppanam.[24] It is also jalakarmam, jalakriya.

King Mahabali’s annual visit to Kerala during Onam perpetuates the ties between this popular Maharaja and his countrymen forever onwards. This is likened with the funeral ceremony for the deceased relations and ancestors, the sraadham, which serves as a bridge between the living and the dead. Gingelly and water is tilodakam. It is funeral offering of gingelly seeds and water to the spirits of the dead ancestors. Libation of water mixed with honey and sesamum offered in sraadha ceremony is known as tripti jalam/ akhshayodayam. [25]


Prokshanam is punyaaham. Prokshaneeyam is punyaahajalam. It is sanctified, sacred, consecrated water. A vessel emblematic of Agni used, as a receptacle for holy water is Prokshanapaatra. Sprinkling of holy water on persons is prokhshanam. In order to purify places and persons, consecrated water or punyaaham is sprinkled. In purificatory rites, water is sprinkled on the object to be purified. 

 is in fact kudi-nir, any water suitable for drinking. Water, taken in the palm and sipped chanting mantras, at the beginning and end of meals, is known asKutikku-nir.[26]

Before sitting for food, the place is purified; in a leaf put nearby a seat articles of food are served. Before taking the food, a little water is sprinkled making a line all round the leaf repeating some Vedic Mantras. This repetition purifies the food. After sipping a little water, the food is offered to the five Pranas and Brahman seated in the heart, by repeating Om Pranaya Svaha, Apanaya Svaha, Vyanaya Svaha, Udanaya Svaha, Samanaya Svaha, and lastly, Brahmane Svaha. The person who takes the food offers it to the deities who dwell in the body in the form of Prana, Apana, etc. The physical body or the individual before the leaf is not the eater. It is the Pancha Pranathat takes the food. Thus, taking food also being converted into an act of yoga or sacrifice.

A meal of complete purification, after excommunicating a family member of clearing oneself from the charge of offence against caste is sudhyashti.

Holy water is sprinkled to remove asudhhi, which comes as a result of birth, death and menstruation. A woman in her course is udakya and deserves udakam to purify. Cleansing by sprinkling water is tali. A flat plate usually made of bronze is kinnam, thaalam, thalika. One who sprinkles holy water in purificatory rites is thalikkurup. Bathing after mourning as a rite completing the obsequies is thalicchukuli. Bathing is for purification after pollution. Anandikka (to rejoice) was a Nayar custom. Sprinkling every morning seven times the water of their tanks on to the face was the practice.


During solemn occasions like marriages, to fix the auspicious time for performing the ceremony, a kumbham (Ghata) is used. A 'full earthen pot’, with fresh mango leaves and a coconut placed atop, makes poornakumbham. It is an object symbolizing God and the pitcher also stands for Goddess Lakshmi. Before commencing a puja, the pitcher is placed as the chief deity or beside the deity. The pot symbolizes mother earth, the water the life-giver; the leaves life, and the coconut divine consciousness.

It is a symbol of fertility as well as death. A poornakalasam is frequently depicted on temple walls as a decorative motif. To honour someone, two water-filled kalasa(brass vessels) are set on either side in front of the door, with plates filled with flowers, etc on top of each kalasa. Purna ghata is a vase of plenty, a vase overflowing with fruit, flowers and foliage, a kind of cornucopia.

Pouring of water consecrated by mantras on the temple idols, and on the kings at the time of coronation is kumbhabhishekam. Water filled vessel, consecrated bymantras and kept on the heap of grains and used for auspicious ceremonies iskumbhakalasam. Before coronation a king in ancient times was sprinkled with water to ensure an auspicious beginning to his reign. Bhadrakumbha is the auspicious golden jar filled with consecrated water used solely for the consecration abhisheka of kings.

 is a religious festival held in select places like Hardwar, Prayag, Ujjain and Nasik, once in twelve years. The ceremony seems to have a link with the concept of Poornakumbham. 

 is a fat-bellied vessel with a short, slim neck. A large jewel at its opening at the top indicates it as a treasure vase. In Sanskrit nidhanakumbham means a vase of inexhaustible treasures and its symbolic meaning is associated with the ideas of storage and the satisfaction of material desires. In the sagas and fairytales of many different cultures, for example, there is the recurring idea of an inexhaustible vessel.Nidhikalasam/nidhikumbham is a pot in which treasure is kept. It is a jar fixed under the installation of an idol in which gold, gems, etc are kept.[27] Ornamental work at the top of temples etc in the shape of an inverted vase is taazhika. The inverted pot fixed over taazhika is taazhikakkudam

Wealth vases, sealed with precious and sacred substances, are commonly placed upon altars and on mountain passes, or buried at water springs, where their presence is believed to attract wealth and bring harmony to the environment. In relation to Buddhism it specifically means the spiritual abundance of the Buddha, a treasure that did not diminish; however, much of it is given away. 

Physically, the 'vase of inexhaustible treasures' is modelled on the traditional Indian clay water pot or kumbham with a flat base, round body, narrow neck and fluted upper rim. However much is removed from it, this vase remains perpetually full.

Mother Goddess

In India pots are all-important, and hence are used to represent divinity. A painted pot, placed in fields, is symbolic of the divine, the container of all blessings including food. The pot is a symbol of fertility. At the marriage ritual, a pile of pots is made. It is said the fertility deities reside there and the pot becomes an object of worship. 

Kannal (karakam)
 a pot, filled with water and decorated with mango leaves, represents the deity in village festivals, tutelary goddess of villages and towns.kumbhamaata is goddess of pots. The pot goddess is the tutelary divinity of a village, gramadevata and is represented by a pot. A bowl containing vegetables, known as sasypaatra, is symbolic of the earth goddess Bhu(mi)devi. Standing on a lotus plinth, she holds a pomegranate, water vessel and a bowl that contains curative herbs and another with vegetables.[28] Sometimes kuladevata is represented by a jar or pot (kumbha) and worshipped by members of a family (kula) on special occasions. Bhadraghata is a vase of fortune associated with Lakshmi, goddess of fortune. Eliades suggests that they are pre- Dravidian people.[29] 

Yoga, immortality and freedom and their association with a water vessel or jar indicate a close connection with the ubiquitous fertility cult. In their shrines, often situated under trees, they may be portrayed with 2, 4, 6, 8 arms (or occasionally none at all). But their usual icons are simple stone images of the yoni, female organ of generation. Words like puram, pooru, poolu, pooram denote upastham. Pooranam is filling.Poornakam means a 'full pitcher'. Poornakumbham, symbolic of overflowing life force, has also the same meaning. Water vessels represent the womb, the generative spot and are identified with mother goddess. 

 is enemy of Aquarius; Kumbhayoni is pot born. Tundila means pot bellied. It indicates prosperity and well-being, and is characteristic of Kubera, Ganesha, Varuna, Yakshas and others.


The Ganga is the most important of the sacred rivers. Its waters are used in puja(worship) and if possible a sip is given to the dyingA holy place, a place of pilgrimage is theertham. It includes sacred bathing ghats. Water of a sacred river ispunyateertham. Water, sanctified by chanting mantras or by bathing an idol istheertham. A water cistern by the side of a well is theertham. Menstrual flow istheertham. The female genital organ upastham is theertham. A crane is theerthasevi

Every temple has sacred wells and tanks. The devotees are expected to take a bath before entering the temple. Worship of water in the form of wells, tanks, and rivers is an ancient cult. A shrine, a place of pilgrimage or a sacred bathing ghat is a teertha.

Well dressing

The tradition of well dressing in the English country of Derby shire, intricate mosaics of leaves and flowers made around wells in the late spring, is considered to be an act of thanksgiving. Its roots traced in the Roman custom of venerating water. It was introduced to Britain by the occupying Roman forces.[30]


The current of a river changes constantly. But in the distinct body of the river, a spirit dwells and controls the flow of the water. As such they are deified as Goddess. Bathing ritually in their purifying water is considered sacred. The banks of rivers, coasts, seashores and mountains are the Hindu Pilgrim centers. Kumbhamela is held every three years at four different places in turn - Hardwar, Nasik, Prayaga and Ujjain is a pilgrimage of Hindu devotees. It is believed that on these places, drops of amrita- the nectar of immortality - fell during a heavenly conflict.

To the Hindus all water is sacred, especially of rivers. Of the seven sacred rivers, known as sapta nadikal, namely the Ganges, Yamuna, Godavari, Sarasvati, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri, Saraswati is not visible nowadays. Married women in Tamilnadu, celebrate fertility and reproduction by worshipping Goddess Kaveri, when they are supposed to be in the third month of pregnancy. Like all pregnant women, she has a craving for delicacies and as such offered baskets laden with food as treats. Lime rice, tamarind rice, coconut rice, curd rice, sweet jaggery rice, appam, friedkarudams, appalams and pickles are the traditional items. 

In the month of Adi, when the monsoon will be at its zenith, the season for planting seeds and vegetation begins. On this occasion chitrannam or rice cooked in different flavours, colours with ingredients is offered in honour of the river goddess and nature for bestowing with the life-giving water. 

or Padinettam perukku, is observed only in the Kaveri delta. On the 18th day of the Tamil month Aadi, the water level in the Kaveri River basin rises significantly. It is peculiar to the Kaveri delta that the rising of the river is expected to occur invariably on the 18th day of the solar month, Aadi (2- 3 August) every year.Padinettu means eighteen, and perukku denotes rising. This festival is observed as a water-ritual, celebrated as fertility and reproduction cult predominantly by women in Tamil Nadu, belonging to the rice cultivation tract along the Kaveri river basin districts of Tanjavur and Tiruchirapalli. Families often bathe in the river, wetting the head, wear new clothes and perform a consecration (abhishekam) for Kaveri amman. This ritual is associated with fertility, sex and reproduction. 

The myths of this ritual practice explain that the water is propitiated as Mother Goddess. It is found that water is metaphorically linked to the reproduction i.e., a significant medium of exchange as reflected in the water ritual. The association of this ritual practice with fertility, sex and reproduction is both natural and human. This Hindu religious practice is linked with the reproduction of the natural capacity of the earth and women. It is symbolic of associating fresh water with the fertility of the earth, a practice honouring water as Goddess. 

To allay fever sprinkling holy or consecrated water over a sick person chanting mantras is udakasaanthi. While, the water which being sprinkled muttering a curse, can effect a metamorphosis. Hindu saints are able to curse or bless (sapanugraha sakthan) using this sapodakam. They can either perfect anugraha or nigraha. At Suchindram Indra was freed from one such loathsome curse. Indra was directed to bathe in the tank at Suchindram and do oblation to the existing deity, the trinity in a single form. As the place cured and cleansed Indra, it came to be known as Suchi+Indra- Suchindram. The priests do not conduct the late night oblation even these days. It is belived that Indra himself is doing it. As such the priest who administered oblation on the previous night seldom arrive for the service for the morning service. Rational historians do not accept this story. [31]



More by :  Dr. V. Sankaran Nair

Top | History

Views: 4077      Comments: 7

Comment I like it, I'd like to read it carefully and I'd like a PDF of it.

Gavin Rowley
18-Mar-2022 23:09 PM

Comment Excellent information on Kindi, which is incidentally our India books Symbol
we will make it malayalam very shortly with ur permission

Sudhakaran TK
India books

India Books
10-Jan-2022 09:39 AM

Comment Can i keep a cracked and nicely repaired bronze vessel [kallam in malayalam] in my home?it is an antique piece of my grandmother. i don't feel like giving it off.kindly advice.

27-May-2013 01:41 AM

Comment thank you very much Dr.V.Shankaran nair for your info, hope to share more with you.

31-Jan-2013 09:07 AM

Comment very informative and knowledgeable site .congrates

17-Aug-2012 19:00 PM

Comment the details given are excellent. i would like to have audio or vedeo of other mantras if you have please.
i am from new zealand and i am a sri vidya upasagar
radhe radhe


raghu pandit
25-Apr-2012 04:12 AM

Comment Very good collection of information about KALASAM and others. Thank you

01-Nov-2011 20:57 PM

Name *

Email ID

Comment *
Verification Code*

Can't read? Reload

Please fill the above code for verification.