For Hindus, maya -- illusion -- covers and permeates life and prevents souls from attaining moksha -- liberation in God. Hindus strive for bodily cleanliness and for spiritual purification. Water plays a central role in Hindu purification and holds a scared status in the spiritual traditions residing under the umbrella popularly known as "Hinduism." Hindus practice ritual purification of their bodies and homes during their many sacred festivals.
Sacred flowing bodies of water course through India and through Hindu beliefs about purity and spiritual liberation. The most sacred of India's rivers is the Ganga -- also called the Ganges -- which rushes out of the Himalayas and through dozens of towns and cities into the Bengal Gulf in Bangladesh. Along its course, Hindus perform puja -- worship -- daily and during festivals. Hindus regard the river's sacred powers with such reverence they try to give those who are dying a final sip of the holy Ganga. According to Hindu tradition, the river flows from the toe of Vishnu, the Creator, and through the hair of Shiva, the Destroyer. The Ganga exemplifies the Hindu emphasis on purification. The Ganga, the Allahabad and the Yamuna rivers are the sites of the largest Hindu festival, Kumbh Mela.
Hindus display their emphasis on physical and spiritual cleanliness during sacred festivals, including Kumbha Mela and Diwali. Kumha Mela is held every four years in different Indian regions along the Ganga. Hindus make pilgrimages to the Ganga sites in Hardwar, Nasik, Prayaga and Ujjain. During the central Kumbha Mela event pilgrims participate in a sacred bath in one of the three rivers honored by the festival or, even better, at the point where the three rivers converge. The Diwali festival is held annually throughout India. Diwali celebrants make their homes and bodies clean for the god or goddess of their devotion. They scrub their homes with blessed brooms in preparation for a visit from the goddess, Lakshmi. Diwali worshippers bathe in scented oils and water.
Purification of Body and Spirit
Hindus prepare themselves for religious ceremonies and festivals because they believe the body, mind and spirit benefit from cleanliness. When a Hindu's home and physical body are clean, his mind and his spirit are healthy. Hindus incorporate their cleanliness rituals with worship of the deities. They may bathe in the morning surrounded by images of the gods and goddesses to whom they are devoted.
The Hindu practice of ritual cleanliness during religious festivals continues throughout the year. Hindus are obligated to bathe every morning and before morning worship in front of images of the deities. Hindu holy men, sadhus, engage in elaborate daily purification rituals. Hindu temples are situated near ponds or other bodies of water in which devotees bathe before entering the temple.
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