SAROVAR, a tank, pool or lake, especially at a sacred place or by a holy shrine used for sacramental ablutions and other religious ceremonies. Sanskrit synonyms are sar, sarvar, taṛāg and vāpī. Another word is puṣkar or puṣkarinī which usually means a pond full of lotus flowers. The lotus is a symbol of purity; water symbolizes fertility as well as purity. The primary association of sarovar is with the purificatory aspects of its water. In the Sikh sacred literature we find sarvar, sar, sarovar, and mānsar used in the sense of a lake or pool. The word sāgar is used in the sense of sea or ocean as a figure of speech to represent the circuit of transmigration (bhav-sāgar, bhav-jal). Mānsar as a nominative singular is a shortened form of Mānsarovar, a famous natural lake, believed to be the haunt of swans (haṅsa) on the mountain Kailās in the Himalayas. It is a holy lake, a tīrtha, and haṅsa is a type of bird associated with enlightenment and purity, which stays in and around the holy waters of Mānsarovar.
The sanctity of sarovar often related to that of the place where it exists. It is a bathing place where bathing has a religious significance. The word sarovar sums up a great deal of water symbolism documented in the religious history of India from the time of the Ṛgveda to that of the Gurū Granth Sāhib. Although the term sarovar generally means a holy tank situated at a sacred place where sacramental ablutions (snāna) and initiatory rituals (dīkṣā), are performed, in the Gurū Granth Sāhib it is quite often employed in a symbolic sense also -- meaning the teacher (gurū) or the society of sages (sādh-saṅgat), as for example, Gurū Nānak’s line, gurū sarvaru ham haṅsa piāre-- Gurū is sacred lake and we are his dear swans (GG. 1027), or Gurū Amar Dās' guru sarvaru mānsarovaru hai vaḍbhāgī purakh lahanni-- Gurū is the Mānsarovar Lake, but only the fortunate ones have access to it (GG. 757); and, further, Gurū Rām Dās', aṭhsaṭhi tīrath majanu kīā satsaṅgati pag nāe dhūri-- by bathing in the dust of the feet of sādh-saṅgat is as good as bathing at the sixty-eight sacred bathing places (GG,1198).
The Great Bath, 39' x 23' x 8', excavated around BC 2500 at the site of the prehistoric city of Mohenjo-daro, now in Pakistan, may be one of the most ancient tanks in human civilization. Since then the tradition of digging tanks at pilgrim centres and sacred spots has been carried on, and so has been the belief that a dip in a sacred sarovar, particularly on certain auspicious occasions, washes away one' sins. Traditionally, in India, there are sixty-eight bathing spots, some of them being near river-banks, some by the sea and many inland tanks or pools. A tank close to a temple is a common phenomenon all over India. The Sikhs have a number of sacred tanks or pools, mostly situated in the Punjab. The first bathing spot sacred to the Sikhs was the bāolī a well with eighty-four steps leading down to water level, got dug by Gurū Amar Dās (1479-1574) at Goindvāl where the Sikhs gathered annually on the Baisākhī day. Bathing here is believed to annul transmigration. There are numerous other sarovars, sacred to the memory of Sikh Gurūs, including the one at Amritsar which is considered the holiest of the holy Sikh places. The sarovar at Amritsar (the city itself received its name from the sarovar which was amrit-sar, the pool of ambrosia) was excavated by Gurū Rām Dās (1534-1581) and the Harimandar, the Temple of God, built in the middle of it by Gurū Arjan (1563-1606).
So important is the element of a sacred tank and a purificatory bath in the Sikh tradition that in the Sikh morning and evening prayer (ardās) one of the benedictions sought and injunctions laid on the faithful is Srī amritsar jīo ke darsan isnān-- may we be blessed with a glimpse of and a bath in the holy Amritsar sarovar. Bhai Gurdās includes purificatory bath in his list of three jewels of Sikhism----nām (meditating on His name), dān (giving charity to the needy) and isnān (bath in a sacred tank).
The sarovars are no doubt a part of the Sikh religious heritage and bathing in them an acknowledged religious practice, but the real sarovar in Sikhism is the Gurū's word (śabda) which alone can wash away one's sins. Contemplating God through Gurū's śabda, millions may have their sins burnt up (GG, 1175). At many places in Sikh scripture, the Gurū Granth Sāhib, the teacher and the disciple are likened to the pool (sarovar) and the swan (haṅsa) referring to the swan's search for food of gems and pearls in the pool-- the gems and pearls being the attributes of God. The pool is full of pearls but he alone reaches it who is so blest (GG, 685). The seeker seeks ever to arrive at the Gurū's sarovar to satisfy the thirst of his soul. He is pleased on seeing the Gurū just as the lotus in a pool blossoms touched by the ray of the sun. Around the Gurū's pool is the embankment of truth : those who are truthful and free from ego find this pool out and having bathed in it stand washed of all stain. It is the crows, i.e. the manmukhs, who cannot reach the pool.
L. M. Joshi