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Ainsley M. Cameron. Sacred Water, Sacred Vessel: The Use of Water in Hindu Ritual

The Indian subcontinent is home to followers of most of the major religions of the world. Devotion and religion permeate the land to the extent that the geographical area may be described as a vast system of sacred space interlaced with pilgrimage centres. Most of the Hindu sites of pilgrimage are associated with the great rivers that entwine the subcontinent: for example, Hardiwar on the bank of the Gangrotri, Allahabad, which sits at the confluence of the Ganga (Ganges) and the Yamuna, and Varanasi further downstream. The word used to define pilgrimage in Sanskrit is tirtha, translating both to ‘a place of pilgrimage’ and to ‘a ford or a crossing place at a river’. This double meaning is a metaphor for the spiritual crossing made by a pilgrim: the river is seen as the threshold between heaven and earth. The placement of these centres on riverbanks demonstrates the importance of water in ritual, and the objects associated with that act also resonate with the references to water. Ainsley Cameron discusses the highly decorated vessels used to contain sacred water, as well as the wider symbolism of water in Hindu ritual practice. 

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