WATER SYMBOLISM IN THE RGVEDA

MICHAEL WILLIAM MINTER, Fordham University

Abstract

The Rgveda is one of the most important sacred scriptures in the history of religions. Although the language and meaning of many of the Vedic hymns have become obscured through the ages, these hynms are a major foundation of the Indo-European religious tradition.^ Part One of this study looks at the various roles of water in the^Rgveda. Water was particularly important in the Vedic world. It was^seen as the raw material in the creation of the cosmos. The account^of the release by Indra of the waters which were captured by the^demon Vrtra is one of the most important myths in the Rgveda. The^Rivers of the Panjab were the primary geographic feature of the Vedic^world and gave the Aryans a protective boundary from their enemies.^Rain was a major factor in determining the quality of their lives. The^Waters (Apah) and several rivers were personified as goddesses. In(' )^particular, the Sarasvat(')i River was personified as best of rivers, best^of mothers, and best of goddesses.^ Analysis is also given of the lesser aquatic deities in the Rgveda,^such as Trita Aptya, Apam Napat, and Sarasvan, and of the(' )^relationships of the major Vedic deities to water. The importance^of the role of water in the Soma ritual, a cornerstone of the Vedic^religion, is discussed. In addition, three specific Vedic hymns (7, 47;^7, 49; and 6, 61) are looked at in detail to see how water deities are portrayed in the Rgveda.^ Part Two of this study deals with water as symbolic, as pointing toward higher realities which human beings can experience. Suggestions are made for organizing the vast array of details delineated from the Rgveda in the first part of this study. A taxonomy is presented for the various aspects of Vedic water symbolism based on four symbolic chains or strands: those of fluidity, creation, fertility, and purification. A brief summary is given of how these four chains are germane to water symbolism in other religious traditions. There is also a discussion of the unique elements of Vedic water symbolism, in particular the postitive, beneficient quality of water symbols in the Rgveda. Primary focus in this regard is again put on the figure of Sarasvat(')i.^ The experience of water is a primal encounter of human beings with the natural world. However, it is appreciated less and less by people generally and studied insufficiently by investigators in the field of myth and symbol. Although there has been a large amount of scholarly work done on the Rgveda in the last century, very little of it has dealt with the role of water. It is hoped that this study will shed new light on the diverse area of Vedic symbolism and mythology in general and especially on the importance of its water symbolism.^

Subject Area

Religious history

Recommended Citation

MINTER, MICHAEL WILLIAM, "WATER SYMBOLISM IN THE RGVEDA" (1981). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8123560.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8123560

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