In Nepal, the practice of cleansing and purifying oneself with water is an almost nationwide practice in religious and traditional rituals regardless of faith. Nepal has a total population of 27 million people . The majority of people (86%) are Hindus, 10% Buddhist, and the remaining 4% practice other religions. Most ceremonies involve some sort of cleansing rituals whereby the people bathe in sacred rivers and lakes prior to entering temples and partaking in religious ceremonies. Buddhists, who make up 10% of the population, also use water, particularly in funeral rituals where water is believed to purify the spirit of the deceased, easing the way of the departed into the next world. Small populations of Nepalese, who are practicing Muslims, like the faithful in well-known Islamic hubs, wash their hands before praying in the mosque or on their prayer mats at home. The approximate 1% who are Christians believe that holy water will wash away original sin and purify the soul of the person, infant or adult being baptized and many Catholic churches have a font of holy water at the entrance.
WATER & HINDUISM
Water is not only a purifier employed to elevate a believer to a state of being worthy of worshiping God, but the Nepalese people also regard water as a resource that must be protected from contamination. According to Hindu beliefs, the act of defecation must take place “beyond the distance of an arrow shot from their home, and never in a temple enclosure, at the borders of a river, pond or spring, or in a public place.” The sacred script, Bhagavad Gita, clarifies this reasoning, “Water symbolizes god’s presence, which is why Krishna says I am the taste of water.” (7:8) Since water related rituals are essentially linked to purification rituals, it seems logical to inquire whether cultural norms can be used to introduce World Health Organization (WHO) standards of hygiene.
The Kathmandu Valley has a population of approximately 4 million people with 1 million people relying on the sacred Bagmati River for their daily water use. According to UNICEF, 60% of the population in Nepal still defecates in the open and every year approximately 10,500 children die of diarrhea and similar conditions. Some 40% of school-aged children are infected with intestinal worms. The lack of infrastructure is partially to blame: only 40% of the population has access to toilet facilities.