A sweet well for those who thirst in the desert;
It is closed to those who speak,
but it is open to those who are silent.
When the silent come, they find the well.
In many parts of the world, prayers like this one from ancient Egypt are spoken when newly drawn water is sprinkled on the ground. Water is revitalization, purification. In Buddhism, it is an embodiment of the principle of enlightenment. Baptisms of diverse forms, including libations of the garden take place everywhere–fertility poured over land or talismans or persons, effusions of divine grace.
In most of Europe and the United States, turn the faucet and there it is. We assume our right to water and are often indignant when droughts threaten or actually occur. We are even indignant when there is too much water. We’re unprepared to think of it as anything but a personal entitlement, which must function the way we want it to, thanks very much!
Oases were the first gardens, providing nomadic humans with rest and shade trees, as well as water: for drinking, for nurturing plants, for ablutions before worship.
Lake Titicaca is called the Womb of Humankind. Millions of pilgrims visit the Holy Waters of the Kami at the Shinto Ise Shrine and the Arike Pond in Japan. For the aboriginal peoples of Australia, Lake Wabby is holy. In New Zealand, the emerald lakes below Mounts Tongariro and Ngauruhoe were sacred to the Maori. A marriage ceremony is not complete among the Yaqui of Mexico until the bride fetches water from the nearest well or river and the couple shares the drink from the same gourd.
To share water is to establish an unbreakable bond. To withhold or steal water is an act of absolute hostility, guaranteeing an instant, everlasting enemy. Freshwater in our world is growing ever scarcer, and everlasting enemies are fast being made. Moreover, what does it mean when there are also those who would privatize water?
An Indian folk-rock band, Swarathma, describes this in a music-video, Pyaasi (The Thirsty). The band says Pyaasi is “inspired by the politicization of the South Indian river Cauvery, that flows through the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. For over 200 years a dispute has raged over its waters, over who should get how much. Much blood has been shed, as the wily ones in power have made it their personal political anvil. Dams have been stretched across her banks, and her sluices have streamed with tears that fall down the cheeks of those that live under her shadow. Pyaasi is a lament of the mother-river whose children have forgotten that they are brothers.”