London: For the first time in British history, an interfaith Water Blessing Ceremony was performed on the lap of River Thames to give thanks for the ancient, life-giving river and to pray that all people, all over the world should have access to safe, sufficient water. The event also was organised to raise awareness of water scarcity across the globe which has reached unprecedented dangerous levels.
When Their Royal Highnesses Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla, came to India in November 2013, they visited the Parmarth Niketan ashram in Rishikesh (Himalayas), presided over by Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji and performed this sacred ‘Water Blessings Ceremony’ on the banks of the River Ganges, offering blessings to the river which is the lifeline for more than 500 million Indians and praying for improved access to water across the world.
Organized by the Ganga Action Parivar, Gurukul Parivar and Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, representatives of nine faiths addressed a distinguished gathering of 300 people including royalty, lords, Members of Parliament and prominent leaders, gathered in this historic city for a common purpose to have access to pure and fresh water globally.
The faith leaders gave inspiring, uplifting and compelling discourses on the importance of protection and preservation of water. They highlighted the fact that water is truly the giver of life, and therefore considered sacred in all the world’s religious traditions.
The event was hosted by Rt. Hon. Keith Vaz, MP, and graced by the presence of the following leaders:
Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, Founder of Ganga Action Parivar, Co-founder of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, and President of Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh (India)
Pujya Shastri Madhavpriyadas Swamiji, Head of the Gurukul Parivar and of the Swaminarayan Gurukul, Ahmedabad & Rajkot, Gujarat
Reverend Rose Hudson – Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons
Bhai Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia – Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha Birmingham
Dr. Rusi K Dalal – Zoroastrian Leader
Dr. Natubhai Shah – Jain Leader
Reverend Mark Poulson – Christian Leader
Venerable Dr Handupelpola Mahinda Nayaka – Buddhist Leader
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati – President of Divine Shakti Foundation
Smt. Kiran Bali – Chairman of the global United Religions Initiative
Additionally, Debbie Leach, the head of Thames21 and Kevin Reid, the Environmental Representative for the London Assembly as well as numerous other dignitaries and eminent guests.
Rt. Hon. Keith Vaz, MP, the host for the event said, “The time for preservation of one of the most essential commodities of life is now. Pure water is the birth right of every human being. God gave water to human beings in abundance, and He provided equal accessibility of it to everyone. Today, tragically, due to so many reasons, people are being deprived of their birth right. It is wonderful that this ceremony is taking place here today, I am so glad to be part of it. The next ceremony should be all together on the banks of the Ganga in Rishikesh, India, as it is so crucial to preserve and protect that national river, and I am so glad to know that the current government in India is so committed to that work of protecting the River Ganga. I look forward to coming there and being part of that movement.”
Explaining the essentials of intermingles of life and water, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati, Founder of Ganga Action Parivar and Co-founder of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, emphasized “Water is life and therefore it is sacred. Water not only irrigates our farms but also our lives and our hearts. In our culture and religion water is considered a devta, a Divine One (aapo devta). Therefore, wasting water or polluting water is an insult both to the Creator and also to the creation. I deeply appreciate the wonderful work done by the people and governmental organisations of Great Britain to restore the Thames river to a state of such cleanliness and health. As I perform this ceremony on the banks of the Thames I remember having TRH Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla with us in Rishikesh, India and I feel such a great connection to the people of England. I pray that we may achieve for our sacred river Ganga what you have achieved for the Thames. We pledge to work together to bring the vision of a clean and green Ganga to reality.”
Pujya Shastri Madhavpriyadas Swamiji, the head of Gurukul Parivar and the Swaminarayan Gurukul, Ahmedabad, shared: “Today, is the 18th of July. One plus eight (1+8) equals nine which, in our tradition, is a symbol of wholeness and completeness. We have 9 faith leaders here to perform the sacred Water Blessing Ceremony, to bless the Royal River Thames and to pray for the other rivers around the world. Water is a symbol of life, purity and love. Launching this great campaign of work and prayers for the rivers of our world, from the House of Commons, the seat of the Mother of democracy, will certainly ensure that our message is spread worldwide. I am confident that this campaign of cleaning the rivers, recharging our water and protecting/preserving our water bodies will blossom, flourish and grow, and I am committed to serving in whatever capacity I can. By the grace of Lord Swaminarayan and with the blessings of Swami Chidanand ji, we are able to fulfill this objective today. May God grace us with strength to continue and broaden the aims of this ceremony and to perform it worldwide every year.”
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, President of Divine Shakti Foundation appealed, “Throughout history, religious leaders have implored their congregations and followers to ‘love thy neighbour’ and to refrain from acts of violence. In our world today, however, that is no longer enough. Today, here on the banks of the Thames River, our religious leaders have come together to say that permitting our brothers and sisters across the world to suffer and perish due to lack of safe, clean, sufficient water is also violence, and it is our duty to work together to ensure access to water and sanitation for all people, of all religions and all cultures.”
Prince Mohsin Ali Khan, a member of the erstwhile ruling family of the princely state of Hyderabad, paid his tribute by stating, “Today we can understand that there is not a different God for different faiths but rather there is One God of all, even though the names and methods of worship may vary. Similarly, water may flow through different cities, in different countries, be used in different ways, accessed in different manners by people across the world, but water itself is the same for every society and every individual. Water, therefore, is both the symbol of life and also the symbol of unity.”
Mr. Shashikant Vekaria, businessman and philanthropist, inspired by the presence of the faith leaders, said, “Today even more than yesterday, as the world sees the adverse impact of the water crisis, it needs a guiding light from events like the Water Blessing Ceremony to sustain and give a purposeful direction to humanity.”
Mr Govind Patel, Trustee, Gurukul Parivar, said, “I have always respected water since I was a little boy. After the series of events that took place on the bank of Ganges River last year, I thought, why not replicate something similar in the River Thames which is equally important to UK. It should be regarded in the same light as the mighty river Ganges. So why not “Bless” the River Thames as was done to the River Ganges.”
About the Organisers: (please write directly to the organisations for more information)