As we have often observed, purity is a foundation for good piety. By which we (also) mean – the acts of purification are a necessary predicate for engaging in proper formalized ritual worship.
After all, one would hardly seek to petition and to honour the rulers of the cosmos in a manner that might seem ‘lacking in effort’ – or, worse, outright offending.
Now there are multiple dimensions to purity – some ‘outer’ (for example, having a shower and removing your shoes before embarking upon a ritual), some ‘inner’ (like focusing your mind and leaving ‘at the door’ various distasteful thoughts or imprecations).
There are similarly many approaches toward that attainment of the necessary purity via active endeavours of purification. One frequent motif we encounter in various corners of the Indo-European sphere is the immersion in (or drinking of) particular liquids bestowing the requisite state. Which is fine if one just so happens to have one of the storied Sacred Rivers flowing through one’s back-garden, or a vial brought by some Emissary of the Gods on-hand … but less immediately useful if, like many of us, one is living far away from the traditional and sacred sites of the archaic past. Then we must turn to other mechanisms. Of a sort, anyway.
As part of our ongoing Ritual Manual series, we therefore present a relatively short Hindu purification operation. There are other ways one can do this (as with many things in the Hindusphere), but this combines both significant potency and versatility.
For example – the Seven Rivers Invocation we provide below is useful not only for producing Holy Waters that can be utilized to bless and hallow your hands and mouth before these engage in ritual acts and speech … but also to bless and empower water that is going to be used as part of your ritual offerings themselves – like in ShivLing Puja (the pouring of libations of water and milk upon the Shaivite Altar-Stone).
A more simplified approach would use just the ‘All-Purpose’ Purification mantra which comprises the second component to this pairing. Although as we say – for better results, it is advised to do both in succession. You’ll see why in a moment.
As with everything else in this series, when it comes to the ‘active components’ we have taken pains to try and render things as simply and as clearly as possible for a non-Indian / not-(necessarily-)Hindu audience – *without* compromising on the essence-tial content and the actual elements that are integral to making the whole thing (metaphysically) work.
However, because actual understanding of the processes rather than merely ‘going through the motions’ is key to both people grasping ‘why’ we do things (and if things are rendered intuitive, then they are more easy to actually stick to) as well as the successful empowerment of our actions in this ritualized context, we have also indulged in our customary depth in explaining some of the things *around* these simple, straightforward ‘operative phrases’ / actions.
Rest assured, we shall produce a quick-summary for actual day-to-day use which simply has the relevant bullet-points.
The Invocation Of The Seven Rivers
The first component to the pairing is the Invocation of the Seven Rivers. This is exactly what it sounds like. A swift mechanism for producing water which is ‘imprinted’ with the holiness of all Seven of the Sacred Rivers of Hinduism. Without necessarily having to source physical water from all of these in preparation first.
Now you will often see on Hindu ritual component lists an item called ‘GangaJal’ – ‘Ganges Water’. This is, again, exactly what it sounds like – actual water from the Ganges, a small amount of which is added to proceedings in order to provide the purity and sanctity which only She can confer. You can often buy this in certain Indian grocers. Although while it *is* necessary for the more complex and involved rites carried out at a Temple and by a presiding Priest due to the ‘higher energy’ entailed (and therefore, greater risks in things going sideways – hence why you have a competent professional involved, in a well-prepared and shielded setting), for the less ‘high-power’ household rites of the sort one might perform day-to-day it is more acceptable to use just such a substitute as we are going to prepare herein.
First, obtain a vessel of water. Then, pour said water into a clean ritual vessel (also referred to as an Achamani). This ritual vessel is traditionally metallic – made of copper or brass.
The next step is to make a particular pose with your right hand. With the palm facing downward, the fist is clenched, thumb on the outside pressing in … and the middle finger is straight out.
Except whereas if we were making a profane gesture at somebody in Western culture, the whole thing would be raised up ‘pointing’ to the sky … here, it is pointing out in front of us.
This is called Ankusha Mudra. (For those unaware, a Mudra – in this context, it is a hand-posing, a ‘Sign’)
Now ‘Ankusha’ is often translated in the modern era as ‘[Elephant-]Goad’ or ‘Hook’.
However, while we do not dispute that it has come to refer to these things, in the more archaic Vedic Sanskrit, it has a somewhat different understanding (and I am, as per usual, indebted to the modern sage Manasataramgini for his elucidations upon the matter – all of these immediately following citations are his).
There (in this case, RV X 44 9), we find it as a Weapon of the Divine Indra (and invoked by the Priest in mythic resonancy or emulation of He) – employed by a chariot-warrior or horseman to bring down his foeman so that he may be trampled under the horse’s hooves. However, we *also* find it spoken of as a tool in other contexts – utilized to draw in or draw down something that we want. Whether that be Wealth (obtained in the manner of pulling fruit off a tree per RV III 45 4), or the Woman we long to have as our Wife (per AV VI 82 2). As M. has further pointed out, there even appears to be mention for the utilization of an Ankusha as a surgical instrument to ‘draw out’ something in the body which should not be there and which causes us harmful disability.
The understanding of the term, then, is quite simple. It is a tool with which force is channeled to act upon another object or being. Whether that means ‘pulling down’ the foeman in front of your chariot, or whether that means ‘pulling in’ the woman you wish to wed, or whether that means ‘pulling out’ a cataract in order to overcome blindness.
It is an instrument, an implement of Will. Hence why it is also conceptually translated as ‘Restraint’ or ‘Control’ (or, we might suggest, contingent upon context – ‘Binding’).
It is not hard to see how a ‘Hook’ has become the standard interpretation for this concept – even though the actual device(s) in question may have been rather different in actual form than what we think of with the term today.
An elephant goad is, understandably, just such an instrument – it channels force into getting a very mighty creature indeed to move according to one’s will. It is therefore eminently appropriate for this style of metaphysical operation we are undertaking herein.
Why do I suggest that this is apt for our purposes ? Because what one *does* with the Ankusha that is comprised of one’s right hand in this particular posture – is a channeling of the immense force and energy of not just one but *seven* mighty rivers into the ritual vessel sitting there before you.
How is this done? First, the Ankush is steadied – or, if you like, ‘wielded’ – by placing one’s left hand on top of the right hand’s fist.
Then, the extended middle finger’s tip is lowered until it just barely grazes the surface of the water held within the ritual vessel. [N.b.: if you’re looking at the image that heads this piece … there’s a trick of the light going on – My finger isn’t actually immersed into the water. Rather, the lip of the vessel has blocked the light – so the shadow upon my finger makes it look like it’s a lot deeper than it is.]
We then recite the following verse:
Gangge Cha Yamune Chai-(e )va Godaavari Sarasvati |
Narmade Sindhu Kaaveri Jale-[A]smin Sannidhim Kuru ||
Some of these names ought look familiar.
They are the Seven Holy Rivers of Hinduism – what you are doing with this mantra and mudra is quite simple. You are asking the ‘Essences’ of the Seven Holy Rivers to ‘project’ and ’embody’ into the water in the ritual vessel in front of you; so that you may have the benefit of Their innately purifying essence for you and your rite.
To translate with reasonable directness:
‘Ganges and (Cha) Yamuna and (Cha) verily (Eva) Godavari [and] Saraswati [too]
Narmada, Sindhu, Kaveri – Please (Kuru) [let Your Holy Essence] be imparted (Sam-Nidhi – ‘Same Dwelling’) into this (Asmin) Water (Jala)’.
As you are doing this, with your fingertip upon the water in the ritual vessel and your mouth reciting the Sanskrit verse aforementioned, it is very useful to think of – to picture with one’s mind’s eye – the ‘essence’ of the operation which is unfolding through you.
This helps to potentiate and to actualize the process. Speech is grand, Speech plus Action is even more powerful – but it is Speech, Action, and active *Intent* along with *Understanding* which truly empowers the metaphysical operation. All together. The ‘envisioning’ being a focal for your will and channel for your intent.
What is it that you are picturing ? The Great Waters, Their Holiness flowing down into the ritual vessel which is in front of you. ‘Drawn down’ via the ‘Goad’ or ‘Hook’ or however one wishes to think of it that is your right hand in Ankusha Mudra – with the tip of your middle finger forming the focal of the stream, its director and channeler : working along with your mouth and its invocation which have carved the channels with all the plenipotentiary force of Words upon the Supernal.
Now, as we have just said – Understanding is important in terms of unlocking the greater empowerment and efficacy to what you are endeavouring to do here.
The way that this process works is, at its root, the incredible potency of Sanskrit as the ‘language of the universe’. Simply speaking the right words causes things to ‘resonate’ in tune with their concepts – more so if you actually know what these concepts are, and are engaging in their invocation with the appropriate ‘contextualizing’ ritual actions etc. Where something is ‘harmonious’ and conducive to the foundational, fundamental ‘purpose’ of the thing in question – it becomes like adding sparks to tinder-dry kindling.
The Names of the Sapta Sindhava (‘Seven Rivers’) speak, quite literally, to Their Essences and Essential Qualities. So, in just the similar manner to how the ‘Bear Taboo’ is supposed to have worked in Germanic languages (i.e. ‘don’t use the actual proper name for ‘Bear’, because you might attract the Bear’s attention and summon Him accordingly’), uttering the name of one of these Seven, particularly alongside the other Six, and especially when actively enjoining These to then impart an energy (again, utilizing the metaphysically Empowered Speech with which reality itself was originally sculpted) – well, it is going to have this kind of ‘summoning’ effect.
Once the Energies are Invoked via that vocalization – then as we have aforementioned, these are ‘directed’ via our utilization of the Ankusha Mudra alongside our utilization of a Sanskrit directive (‘Jale Asmin Samnidhi Kuru’ – ‘Please Co-Habit In This Water’, to render each of those Sanskrit words in reverse order for a more ‘natural’ English sentence). An operation made possible not only via the voicing of words or the holding of hands in particular postures – but via our Mind and our Will being given potent, powerful and active expression through these tools of ours.
Everything ‘fits together’. It is not truly us making some form of radical departure through what we are doing. We are just ‘opening the floodgates’ (and providing the channel) for something which already, effectively, ‘wants’ to happen as quite a natural thing.
‘Like’ can more easily cohabitate with ‘like’ – and so we are requesting that the ‘essences’ of several bodies of water come and invest in this other water. The Rivers in question are adroit at Purification – we are both conducting a purification of the contents of our ritual vessel, and producing a reservoir of ritual substance that shall, itself, be utilized to produce further purity. Hence, we are in essence simply asking these most mighty Rivers to act in accordance to Their natural character and disposition. It should prove quite different were we attempting to conjure the essences of the Rivers to somewhere They were *not* already ‘fitted’ to go. Much like getting a vast and powerful river to flow uphill – possible to do with phenomenal willpower and investiture of resources to ‘force’ it to happen .. but, really, why would you.
In any case, now that the water has become ‘imprinted’ with the essences of these Seven Holy Rivers, it is time for us to begin to make active use of it in the purification of *ourselves*.
This entails a ritualized ‘washing of hands’ first and foremost. We start in the order of what shall come into contact with the water that we are handling, first.
We take the ritual spoon (‘Udharani’) with our left forefinger and thumb, take water into the spoon’s head, and then we upend the spoon’s contents over our left hand – while holding the spoon only with our left hand. Don’t worry, it’s easier than it sounds.
Having purified the left hand, we then again pick up the ritual spoon between left forefinger and thumb, get water from the ritual vessel into the spoon’s head, and this time upend it over our right hand – specifically over the palm.
Now it is time to purify the mouth. This entails cupping your right hand, pouring empowered water into it using the ritual spoon, reciting a mantra, and then upending the palm of your right so that the water flows down across the central heel of your palm and into your mouth.
This is done three times in total, each mantra being said once.
The first time, with the mantra – oṃ keśavāya namaḥ .
The second time, with the mantra – oṃ nārāyaṇāya namaḥ .
The third time – oṃ mādhavāya namaḥ .
The next step is to now wash both hands. Water is once more placed within the cupped right palm, the ritual spoon is placed back down by the left hand, and the left and right hands are wrung together in a manner that spreads the water (or, at least, its residue – and the corresponding residue of purity and purification) all over the two hands. As this is being done, a fourth mantra is recited – oṃ govindāya namaḥ.
Now it may have occurred to some more experienced observers that all four of those mantras have a unifying characteristic – they’re each built around a Vishnu theonymic. Keshava, Narayana, Madhava, and Govinda.
This might at first appear to be a sectarian flourish – however it isn’t. It’s instead an entirely standard conceptual understanding found across denominations in the Hindusphere. Vishnu is invoked for Purification. We shall be seeing another example of this in the ‘All Conditions’ purification mantra later on.
In fact, it is to that most illustrious staging step that we shall now turn:
The All-Condition Purification Mantra:
This represents the actual ‘main’ Achmaniya itself – wherein, utilizing this Holy Water that we have thus created, the purified Hands that we have obtained and the purified Mouth with which we may speak the reverent utterances … we carry out the metaphysical operation via which not just brief and exterior ‘skin-deep’ cleansing, but more comprehensive cleanliness for ritual purposes may be obtained.
The formula for this is as follows:
oṃ apavitraḥ pavitro vā sarvāvasthāṃ gato’pi vā ।
yaḥ smaretpuṇḍarīkākṣaṃ sa bāhyābhyantaraḥ śuciḥ ॥
Aum, we have already met, and is an ‘energization’ and ‘source’. Pavitra means ‘Purity’ (with ‘Apavitrah’ being the opposite).
‘Sarva’, here, is ‘All’ – Avastham, ‘Conditions’; Gato and Api, together mean ‘Even [having] Gone Into / Fallen Into’.
Hence, the first line effectively reads:
“Whether Impure [Apavitrah] or Pure [Pavitro], or [Va] All [Sarva] Conditions [Avastham] Gone Into [Gato], Even [Api]”.
Within the next line, the key terms of focus are ‘Smaret’ and ‘Pundarikaksha’. The former, ‘Smara’, refers to the act of ‘Remembering’ (compare ‘Smriti’ – ‘That Which Is Remembered’) – what is being remembered, here, is Pundarikaksham … that is to say, Lord Vishnu as the (White) Lotus-Eyed One. Given the symbolic connotations of the Lotus, the reasoning for this particular theonym’s involvement ought be readily apparent – even afore we consider the array of Vedic and other, later sources wherein Vishnu acts as just such a Purifier.
This is followed up by what is bestowed via such Remembrance – Cleanliness or Purity (Shuchih) that is both Outer (Bahya) and Inner (Abhyantarah) in its tangible manifestation.
The second line therefore reads:
“He Who (Yah) Remembers (Smaret) [Lord Vishnu the White] Lotus-Eyed (Pundarikaksha) – He (Sa) [Becomes Both] Outer (Bahya) and Inner (Abhyantarah) Purified”.
Putting all together, and with slight re-ordering to ‘translate’ to English syntax:
“Whether Impure or Pure, or Even having fallen into Any [other – i.e. All] Conditions :
He Who Remembers The White Lotus-Eyed Lord (Vishnu) [Attains] Outer and Inner Purity.”
It is recited once we have placed water from our ritual vessel, once again, in our right cupped palm.
Once the above mantra is recited, we raise our right hand and throw the water, thrice, up and over our backs of the right shoulder. Whilst doing this, we recite “Aum śrī viṣṇu, śrī viṣṇu , śrī viṣṇu”. One ‘Sri Vishnu’ per throw.
Following all of this, the Purification stage of the rite – for us, our bodies, anyway – is complete. Another form of ‘purification’ is to follow via the Sankalpa stage of the rite – which helps to hone and focus the mind and its Purpose, as well as ‘tuning the antenna’ to get better ‘reception’ on our transmission as well as our receipt. But we shall cover that in a future installment of the Ritual Manual series.
Addendum & Concluding Remarks – For Now:
Now, of course, it is necessary to note that there are quite the broad array of purification processes and mini-rites out there in the Hindusphere. Some of them will use the above afore-outlined elements. Others will not.
Various of the ones which *do* employ at least some of what we have just outlined, may do so in ways which diverge from what we have set out – sometimes in small ways, other times in rather more overt fashion.
As always – understanding is key. If somebody who is a proper religious authority is telling you to do things a particular way – it is probably good to go along with what they are recommending.
Some symbolic actions are going to be meaningfully different – as in, the way of doing things being different actually has substantive impact upon what is being done. Others are just ‘generally equivalent’ and local regional variations.
It is not, strictly speaking, necessary to have *both* elements to this purification process – the Invocation of the Seven Rivers *and* the All-Conditions Purification Mantra – however, as per usual, ‘the more you put in, the more you get out’.
It is also good to recall that these each do ‘separate’ yet strongly coterminous and synergistic things.
The All-Conditions Purification Mantra is there to purify *you*, and it is more efficacious when it is also drawing from the incredible energy of the Holy Rivers in order to do so.
The Invocation of the Seven Rivers is there to purify the *water* in your ritual vessel.
And this is not only something positive for utilization in your own purification so that you may begin the rites – but, as we have briefly mentioned above, is importantly useful for those circumstances wherein water is being used in a rite which would benefit from being those of the Seven Holy Rivers (or one in particular thereof).
We may explore other forms of Purification rite in the not-too-distant future, and those utilized for more particular and specific applications. We shall also, as aforementioned, be producing a *much briefer* ‘summary / synopsis’ suitable for quick-referencing in your actual day-to-day ritual practice. We had felt that it was important to set out things more comprehensively first – and *then* move into the brief more ‘script’ like approach.
After all, if the Words of the Invocations are the Bricks – then the Knowledge and Understanding of what these do is the Mortar that Binds Them together. And it is the *both* rather than the *either* that enable something enduring to be congealed.
Will, too, is vitally important – with the ‘purification’ of mind and of intent presented via the Sankalpa stage of the rite continuing the ‘honing’ and ‘hallowing’ that we have begun here.
Various material actions and components may also contribute to the benediction of purity – the burning of Camphor being an excellent example due to its both spiritual and scientifically-attested saliencies in this regard (it’s a longstanding anti-microbial).
There is much more we can and must say upon all of this.
But for now, it is enough.
Hail to the Seven Rivers, and to the Purifiers of both Body and Spirit.