Symbolism of Lake in Hinduism

lake symbolism

by Jayaram V

Apart from rivers and streams, lakes were an important source of food and water to many ancient communities. Lakes offered mystery and a tantalizing source of drama and adventure to the people with imagination as the life beneath the surface was invisible and not fully known. Hence, overtime a number of myths became associated with the water bodies. Find here the archetypal meaning, cultural significance and symbolism of lake (sarovar) in Hinduism

The placid waters of a lake (sarovar) or a pond is a world in itself. They are often doorways to other worlds that exist below the earth. In Hinduism many lakes and ponds are considered sacred and worshipped because of their divine origin and association with gods. Of the numerous lakes found in India, five (panch sarovar) are considered the most sacred, namely Mansarovar, Bindu Sarovar, Narayan Sarovar, Pampa Sarovar and Pushkar Sarovar. Of them the first and the last enjoy widespread popularity with a history that dates back to the Mahabharatha times. Especially, Pushkar Lake is known as the king of the lakes (thirtha-raj). Bathing in the lakes or making a pilgrimage to them said to wash away all sins and purify people.

A lake in Hinduism is not just a body of stagnant water, but manifestation of god. In the Bhagavadgita, Lord Krishna states that of the lakes he is the vast ocean. Lakes exist not only in the world of humans but also in the heaven of Indra and in the supreme heaven of Brahma or Vishnu or Shiva. The Kaushitaki Brahmana Upanishad mentions (1.4) the existence Lake Ara and Lake Vijara in the world of Brahma, which a liberated souls have to cross on their way to the immortal world. Lakes are also resting places for many gods such as Brahma, Saraswathi, Lakshmi, and several other gods and goddesses.

The placid waters of a lake represent tranquility, mystery, life, flowering of consciousness, purity, impurity, duality, and illusion. It is also a place where celestial nymphs often descend from heaven and take a bath. A lake may house water fairies, kind spirits as well demonic and evil spirits, besides serpents like Kaliya which Krishna slew. Lakes nourish life and take life. The lake also symbolizes existence with lotus flowers representing the souls that remain untouched by the impurities present.

Associated with every Hindu temple is a small water reservoir or a water tank (kovila) where devotees bathe before entering the temple. A lake may also act like a portal and open into another world to present a mystery or pose a challenge. In the Mahabharata the Pandavas were put to test by a Yaksha when they entered a lake that was filled with poison. To save them, Dharmaraja had to answer several questions. It was in a Lake that Bhima met the king of serpents and obtained boons from him. The lake was also the place where Duryodhana hid in the end when his brothers and his entire army was destroyed by Pandavas and he was left alone. Symbolically thus lakes represent life, consciousness, mind, tranquility, duality, illusion, impermanence, dream world, stagnation, impurity, divinity, abode, world, mystery, mother, nourisher, and spirit world.

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