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Water rituals belong to many faiths

Water rituals play a central role in the practice of many religions. Here are three traditions in addition to Christian baptism:


From Imam Talal Eid, Islamic Institute of Boston:

Muslims use water to cleanse themselves in preparation for their five daily prayers. The ritual ablution takes place in a special room inside the mosque; Muslims wash their feet, up to the ankles, and arms, up to the elbows, as well as their faces, before entering the prayer room. Mouths, noses, and ears are also rinsed, and water is smoothed over the hair and neck. The cleansing -- known as Wudu -- can be used for several prayers, but must be done again if a person goes to the bathroom, becomes otherwise unclean, or falls asleep. ''The prayer itself cleanses the spirit, and the water is to clean the body," Eid said.


From Aliza Kline, Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh and Education Center, Newton:

The mikveh, or immersion in a ''gathering of water," is a ritual traditionally required prior to conversion, marriage, the Sabbath, and before sexual relations can resume after a woman's menstrual cycle ends. Long considered an Orthodox or traditional practice, the ritual is also gaining popularity with less-traditional followers to mark various rites of passage: for celebrations, mourning periods, life transitions, pregnancy, and healing, Kline said. It can take place in any natural body of water, or in specially-constructed pools that incorporate natural waters. Traditionally, the focus of the mikveh was on achieving purity, but now, calm and healing are emphasized, she said. Considered the chronological precursor to baptism, ''It's sort of about starting over," she said.


From Swami Tyagananda, Ramakrishna Vedanta Society, Boston:

Hindus use water to cleanse themselves before prayer. Most traditional temples have an area for washing hands and feet before entering the main sanctum, Tyagananda said. Hindus also believe that water from the River Ganges in India is sacred, and that bathing in the river washes away sins, though there is no formal ceremony attached to the popular practice, Tyagananda said. Those who visit the river often collect its water in bottles for later use; believers sprinkle the river water on themselves before prayer and worship. ''It's considered a purifying thing," Tyagananda said.


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