Our Rivers

NARMADA Revitalising drought-prone districts

One of India’s seven holy rivers, the Narmada is hugely popular among pilgrims. And with the massive Sardar Sarovar dam finally being developed, it promises to transform the lives of millions of farmers

WORDS: N.B. RAO

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It is a beautiful river and the stories behind its origin are even more fascinating. Legend has it that Lord Shiva was meditating intensely and was perspiring tremendously. The sweat then accumulated in a tank and began flowing as a river, which became Narmada.
The river has its origins in Narmada Kund on the Amarkantak plateau, which is located at a height of 1,000 m and nestles the Vindhya and Satpura ranges and Maikal hills. Besides the Naramada, the Sone and the Johila also have their source from Amarkantak.

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Naturally formed smooth stones – also known as ‘banalingas’ – are found along the banks of the Narmada and are considered extremely sacred and represent Shivalingas.

ONE OF SEVEN HOLY RIVERS
The Narmada is among India’s seven holy rivers (the others being the Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Saraswati, Sindhu and Kaveri).
It has been mentioned in ancient literature including the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Puranas and even in Greek literature, where Ptolemy described it as ‘Namade.’
After emerging from Amarkantak, the Narmada – India’s third-longest river – traverses across Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, before entering Gujarat, where it ends up in the Gulf of Cambay. The river runs for more than 1,300 km before entering the sea.
Narmada has nearly 100,000 sq km of basin area, the majority being in Madhya Pradesh (85,000 sq km) and Gujarat (about 10,000 sq km) Way back in 1946, the initial plans for

harnessing the river for irrigation and power generation were initiated.Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru laid the foundation stone for a dam in Gora in Gujarat in 1961.
The original height of less than 50 m for the dam was raised a few years later to more than 150 m to resolve differences between Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
But since the dispute continued, the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal was set up in 1969. Ten years later, it came out with its final award.
But over the past few decades, the Sardar Sarovar dam project got delayed – almost derailed – by controversies, many of them triggered by vested interests.

PM MODI DEDICATES DAM TO NATION
Last month, however, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an ardent proponent of the project, dedicated the Narmada dam to the nation on his birthday. He said many people had conspired to stop the construction of the dam to see that Gujarat did not make progress.

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WHEN GODS RULED AMARKANTAK
As per mythology Narmada descends from heaven, from Lord Shiva’s being and onto earth at the holy town of Amarkantak in Madhya Pradesh. From here the great river flows towards the Arabian Sea.
Situated near the ancient city of Kalinga, Amarkantak is a place where Gods, Gandharvas, Asuras and Rishis had achieved divinity and spiritual powers. This river has its own story to tell, one that is unique and particularly different from that of the Ganges.
Today Amarkantak is a pilgrim town and a Nagar Panchayat in Anuppur district and the region is a unique natural heritage. It is here that the Vindhya and the Satpura Ranges meet with the Maikal Hills being the fulcrum. The forests here are much richer than the thorn forests of the north-west part of Madhya Pradesh.
Kalidasa is known to have visited Amarkantak and names the place Amrakoot after the beautiful mango groves that dotted this sacred land. Adi Shankaracharya is known to have come and resided by the river side and consecrated its banks, he also founded the Pataleshwar temple at Amarkantak from a clump of bamboo trees. This place is called Surajkund today.
Amarkantak has found its place in the Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Vasishtasamhita and Shatapatha Brahmana.
Brahmins recite thrice daily a prayer on Narmada Devi while performing Sandhyavandanam ritual which translated means;
(Salutations to the Goddess Narmada, the river Goddess in the morning and in the evening. Oh Goddess I bow to you, I salute you, please protect me from the venomous serpents and purify my soul)

CHAMBAL From fearsome dacoits to wildlife

Chambal River was associated once with dacoits ruling over its ravines. Today the place is where rare birds and animals take sanctuary. It is also home to the critically endangered gharials

WORDS: N.B. RAO

Chmbal River, a tributary of Yamuna river, was for centuries been associated with ravines dominated by dacoits. Even today, the ‘notorious’ Chambal ravines is a dreaded place though many dacoits had laid down their arms or were eliminated in encounters.
But way back in ancient times, the river – which was also known as Charmanvati – was a water body where the ‘chamda’ (skin) of slaughtered animals, especially cows, were dried on its banks.
The river, which rises from the Singar Chouri peak on the northern slopes of the Vindhyas in

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Madhya Pradesh, turned red because of the constant slaughtering of animals on its banks. It is said a king, Rantideva, used to kill cattle and its blood would run into the river.
Charmanwati river also flowed in the kingdom of Shakuni, of Mahabharata fame. After attempt to disrobe Draupadi in open court, she cursed her tormentors that anyone who drank water from the Charmanwati river would end up in hell.
For centuries people abandoned the area and not many would dare

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use the water for agricultural purposes or for drinking. Consequently, no major cities or towns cropped up on the banks of the river.
The 960-km-long river originates from Singar Chouri peak – from a height of nearly 850 m –located near Mhow in MP. It flows north to Rajasthan, then turns east into Madhya Pradesh and finally heads south and meets the Yamuna in Uttar Pradesh. Some of its tributaries are the Banas, Mej, Parbati, Kali Sindh and Shipra.
The Chambal ravines was once notorious for dacoits who ruled supreme in the region. Many were ‘reformed’ through political initiatives and entered the national mainstream. Some like ‘bandit queen’ Phoolan Devi, surrendered and came into politics (she was in the Lok Sabha for a few years), but was killed in Delhi in 2001.
Though many raise doubts about the quality of the river water, the fact is the river is home to amazing range of water creatures including mugger crocodiles, the ‘gharials,’

freshwater turtles, otters, dolphins, skimmers, sarus cranes, black-necked storks and black-bellied terns.
The Turtle Conservation Union of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says the Chambal is the last known stronghold for the red-crowned roofed turtle.
The Turtle Survival Alliance, the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, and the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust have been jointly engaged in a conservation programme on the National Chambal (River) Sanctuary since 2005.
“This has had good success with series of riverside hatcheries, two head-starting rearing facilities, poacher conversion initiatives, and public awareness campaigns,” says the IUCN.
According to officials of the National Chambal Sanctuary project, there are more than 550 muggers, 1,250 gharials, 75 dolphins and 400 skimmers. With gharials — on the endangered list — more than 85%

of them live here in the Chambal region.Chambal river incidentally was declared a sanctuary in 1978 to provide a fully-protected habitat for conserving the gharial and other wildlife. The total length of the river inside the sanctuary is about 600 km.
However, the number of mugger crocodiles and gharials have increased thanks to preventive measures by the authorities as the sand mafia is quite active in the region.
Today the National Chambal Sanctuary (or the National Chambal gharial wildlife sanctuary) comprises 5,500-sq km area and falls near the tri-point where Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh meet on the banks of the Chambal.
The river also generates hydropower following the construction of dams such as the Gandhisagar, Rana Pratap Sagar, Jawahar Sagar and Kota barrage. This also helps in irrigating land in the neighbourhood.

JHELUM Amazingly beautiful, frightfully ferocious

The Jhelum is focus of a massive development plan in Kashmir to revive inland water transport

Words:N.B. RAO

It is one of the seven rivers (‘sapta sindhavah’ or ‘sapta sindhu’) mentioned in the Rig Veda. Known in Sanskrit as Vitasta, the Jhelum is a tributary of the Chenab and forms part of Punjab’s five renowned rivers.
According to Indian mythology, Goddess Parvati was asked by sage Kasyapa to come to Kashmir to purify the land from impurities. She assumed the form of a river and Lord Shiva used a spear to make a stroke near the abode of Nila, resulting in her emergence at Verinag spring.

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Originating from what is the one of the largest springs in the country, about 80 km south of Srinagar, the river flows northwards to Wular, once one of the largest fresh water lakes. It passes through Kashmir before Pakistan. The 725-km-long river has fascinated civilisations in the area for centuries.

The ancient Greeks, who considered it as a god, called it the Hydaspes. Alexander and his troops crossed the river in 326 BC.

He then struggled in a fight – known as the Battle of the Hydaspes – with king Porus of the Paurava kingdom and finally emerged victorious.

Mughal emperor Jahangir got the original Verinag spring (located at a height of nearly 1,900 m) renovated by getting an octagonal-shaped base built. His son Shah Jahan, who also loved nature, continued with the work of beautifying the spring.
The spring is located just below the Jawahar tunnel, the main highway that links Jammu to the Kashmir valley. The river emerges in beautiful surroundings in a trough formed between the Great Himalayan and the Pir Panjal ranges, and flows down through loops from Anantnag to Srinagar and Sopore.
The river, which is the westernmost of the five rivers of Punjab, drains off the Kashmir valley.

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But it has over the centuries triggered off floods that have done enormous damage in the Kashmir valley.
Hundreds of thousands of homes in Srinagar and other cities in the valley have been washed over hundreds of years after the swollen Jhelum wiped across the state, killing thousands of people.
Ashraf Fazili, a former chief engineer with the state PWD (between 1963 and 2003) recently highlighted the major floods that have destroyed the valley since 2000 BC.

“Kashmiris have faced floods since the very beginning of life in the valley,” he wrote in a piece on the Jhelum. “Over the years, many measures were adopted to confine floods, but it is unfortunate that the authorities never devised a serious strategy to safeguard the lives and property. The last deluge in September 2014 is one such instance that highlighted a lapse in state government’s preventive measures.”
The Jhelum is today the focus of a massive development plan that has been taken up by the state government of Jammu & Kashmir.

It aims to launch public water transport in the river and the Dal lake.
State chief minister Mehbooba Mufti wants to revive water transport in Srinagar, especially between the two large water bodies. The water bodies will not only ease travel within the Kashmiri capital, but hopefully encourage more tourists to visit the valley.
According to tour operators, the development would encourage ‘shikara’ rides in the Jhelum, which would be much better than the ones in the stagnant Dal lake.

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BENIGN BEAS Centre of controversy

As far as rivers go, the Beas is one of the most beautiful rivers, flowing down mountain valleys and providing rich nutrition to soil in the plains. Unfortunately, it has also been caught in a raging dispute between states

WORDS: N.B. RAO

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As a king, Alexander the Great would never shirk from pushing ahead aggressively with his forays into different parts of the world, overtaking foreign territories, mountains, deserts and water bodies. But for him, it was a river that would bring the virtual end of his worldly ambitions and destroy his career.
In 326 BC, Alexander and his troops were heading eastwards into India, defeating other kings and wiping out their armies. He had destroyed Sangala (also known as Sagala or Sakala), and his troops had reached the banks of the ‘Hyphasis,’ better known as the Beas in the sub-continent.

But the mighty river, in full flow during the 326 BC monsoon, spelt disaster for Alexander and his troops. “I observe gentlemen that when I would lead you on a new venture you no longer follow me with your old spirit,” he told his officers. “I have asked you to meet that we may come to a decision together: Are we, upon my advice, to go forward, or, upon yours, to turn back?”
With the ferocious river destroying their spirits, the demoralised officers and troops were vociferous opponents to the ambitious emperor’s desire to run over India. Also the fears of formidable

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defenders who included hundreds of thousands of soldiers and thousands of elephants were other factors that saw his plans go awry.The Beas (known as Vipasa in Sanskrit) brought an abrupt end to the over-ambitious Alexander, who retreated to Babylon and died less than three years later in his early 30s.

TRAVERSING MOUNTAINS
AND VALLEYS

Originating at a height of more than 14,000 ft from Beas Kund, a holy lake, the river passes from the Rohtang Pass – a path cut with his ‘trishul’ by Lord Shiva – and traverses through the mountains and valleys of Himachal Pradesh including the Kulu, Mandi and Kangra ranges, crosses the Sivalik hills in Punjab before joining the Sutlej. The Beas runs for about 470 km.
The river has been referred to as the Arjikuja in the Vedas and was also known as Bipasha. Many ancient sages were impressed by the river and are said to have performed penance by its side.

and hydroelectric power generation.
The perennial water supply from the Beas was seen as a potential to generate at least 1,000 MW of power in the 1950s. The project was approved in the early 1960s and completed by 1977.
However, controversies surrounding the river rage faster than the waters of the Beas.

Last November, the Supreme Court declared that Punjab had reneged on its promise to share the waters of the Ravi and Beas with Haryana by unilaterally enacting the controversial Punjab Termination of Water Agreements Act of 2004.

NATIONAL INTEREST

The apex court ruled that the enactment of the Punjab Satluj Yamuna Link Canal Land (transfer of proprietary rights) bill in 2016 by the state government was an unwarranted development as the Presidential reference of the controversy was still pending in the court.

It also decried the state government’s move as illegal, which was designed to terminate a 1981 agreement between Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan to reallocate the waters of the Ravi and Beas in “overall national interest and for optimum utilisation of the waters.”

But last month, Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh warned that if the final judgment went against his state, it would emerge as a national problem, leading to a revival of militancy in the region.

Unfortunately, river disputes in India have embroiled several states in the recent past, dragging top courts to try to settle simmering disputes.
The waters of the Beas – which over the centuries inspired sages, poets and writers to create wonderful ideas and stories – are tragically caught in a raging dispute that threatens to upset the quiet of the valleys.

Maharishi Vyas, author of the Mahabharata, meditated by the Arjikuja. So too did other sages including Narad, Vashisht, Vishwamitra and Parasuram.

Unfortunately, the Beas – which along with the Satluj and the Ravi forms the three eastern rivers of the Indus system has been at the centre of a raging, decades-old controversy between Punjab and Haryana over the sharing of its waters.
Dr A.N. Khosla, a brilliant engineer and a confidant of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, conceived of the Beas-Sutlej link project, which envisaged development of irrigation

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Periyar Roaring down the mountains

The Periyar rushes down from the mountains of Kerala and heading towards the sea, providing breathtaking scenes along the route. Unfortunately, the river is increasingly being choked by pollutants churned out along its route

WORDS: N.B. RAO

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It is one of the most memorable journeys you undertake while traversing through fascinating Kerala. Driving south-eastwards and up through the mountains and thick forests from Kochi, the commercial hub located by the side of the Arabian Sea, you come across this amazing sight of a furious river (especially during the post-monsoon phase), heading westwards.

Periyar (meaning big river) is a water body that flows through valleys, speeds down mountain ranges, bypasses villages and smaller towns and races towards the sea. For hundreds of years this river has been the lifeblood of Kerala, and thousands of farmers have survived and raised crops thanks to the perennial water supply that it provides.

The ‘lifeline’ of Kerala flows nearly 250 km westward from the mountains bordering Tamil Nadu, before heading into the Arabian Sea. It gained prominence in 1895, when the Mullaperiyar dam was built to develop a reservoir and an artificial lake.

For the past few decades the lake has emerged as the hub of the Periyar sanctuary, as it attracts elephants and other animals. These creatures bathe in the waters during the hot summer months and prefer to stay in its vicinity.

SUMMER RETREAT
The erstwhile royalty that ruled Travancore before Independence built the Edapalayam palace as a summer retreat in the middle of the lake. Later, British viceroys and governors-general would also retreat to the palace during the summer months.

Today, the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) operates three properties – including the Lake Palace – inside the Periyar tiger reserve. (For those keen on staying in the Lake Palace, it would be interesting to know that tariffs range from ?10,000 and ?15,000 a night – between June 1 and September 30 – and ?14,000 and ?25,000 a night – from the peak tourism season beginning October).
The Periyar lake area was declared a forest reserve in 1899 and about

35 years later, it was converted into a game sanctuary covering about 500 sq km. After Independence, the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary was set up; in the 1970s, it was covered under the central government’s Project Tiger initiative. In 1992, it became part of Project Elephant.

The Periyar reserve is known both for the tigers (about 40 are present there) and elephants, which number in the hundreds. The reserve, now adding up to nearly 800 sq km, is home to a wide range of flora and fauna.

The Idukki dam on the Periyar generates a huge amount of electricity, which is used both by industries and homes in Kerala. Estimates are that nearly a quarter of the industrial units in the state are based on the banks of the river.

Periyar also provides water for irrigating farms, and is flocked by fisher-folk, who get a lot of their stuff from the river. Importantly, the river is also the sole drinking water source for millions of residents of the state.

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According to official statistics, Periyar provides almost 300 million litres of water per day (mld) to Kochi, whose requirements add up to about 450 MLD.

RAMPANT POLLUTION
Unfortunately, rampant pollution of the river is leading to serious health problems in Kochi and other parts of the state. Anti-pollution activists point out that often the river churns out black and brown coloured water because of the pollutants that flow into it.

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Periyar flows through valleys, speeds down mountain ranges, bypasses villages and smaller towns and races towards the Arabian Sea. The ‘lifeline’ of Kerala unfortunately is facing serious pollution and if not checked could turn out to be ‘one of the worst polluted riverine ecosystems in India’

G.D. Martin, author and activist – who recently came out with a book on the river – says the Periyar is the source of drinking water for four million people, but it carries all kinds of toxins, chemicals, persistent organic pollutants and even radioactive material.

According to him, almost 70 scientific studies have proved the high levels of pollution in the river. “Estimates suggest that with 260 million litres of pollutants entering the river each day, it’s one of the worst polluted riverine ecosystems in India,” says Martin who is pursuing a post-doctoral course at the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies.

He cites a hydrographicmodeling done by the National Institute of Oceanography which revealed that

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pollutants entering the river settle down near the Kochi estuary and the Vembanandlake, killing fish and destroying aquatic life.
While environmentalists are raising concerns about the serious threat posed by pollutants, labour unions in the state are denying that the river is polluted, or that the units located on its banks are causing it.
Environmentalists and union leaders are now battling it out in Kerala, accusing each other of succumbing to pressures.
It remains to be seen whether the legendary Periyar will be able to clean up the mess that currently threatens life along its banks, or whether it will finally drain out into the sea as a highly polluted water body.

Indus One of the longest Asian rivers

One of the four ancient cradles of civilisation, the Indus continues to provide sustenance to millions of people in the Indian subcontinent. A look at the amazing water body that has survived calamities over hundreds of years

Words: N.B. Rao

IT is a river which nourished one of the four ancient cradles of civilisation in the world. The Indus nurtured the Harappan civilisation and along with rivers in Mesopotamia, Egypt and China, is considered to be the harbinger of human enlightenment.

The four civilisations thrived between 3300 BC and 1300 BC and included the Sumerians (in Mesopotamia, or modern Iraq), the Egyptians, the Harappans in Indus valley and the Shang or Yin dynasty that ruled along the Yellow river valley.

The Indus basin covers a vast area of over a million sq km, which includes China (accounting for eight per cent of the river basin), India (39 per cent), Pakistan (47 per cent) and Afghanistan (six per cent).

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The Indus is one of the longest rivers in Asia, running through four countries for a stretch of more than 3,200 km.

The river originates from the western part of Tibet close to two legendary and natural creations – mount Kailash and the Mansarovar lake. It winds its way through Ladakh and Kashmir before flowing through Punjab and many parts of Pakistan before ending up in the Arabian Sea near Karachi.
The Indus Valley civilisation flourished during the Harappan and Mohenjo-Daro era between 3300 BC and 1300 BC; recent studies have revealed that the river banks were home to more than a thousand cities and settlements in northern India, which stretched all the way to Afghanistan.

But some experts recently came out with details revealing that the Harappan civilisation is at least 8,000 years old, even more ancient than the Mesopotamian and Egyptian ones.

Importantly, before the strange disappearance of the Indus Valley townships – after 1300 BC – it was known as a vibrant centre, with a high degree of architectural planning. They were well-planned towns with excellent hygienic standards.

Many believe that the drying up of the Saraswati around 1900 BC resulted in the decline of the Indus Valley civilisation.

B.B. Lal, the former director-general of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), recently presented a research paper on ‘Manu’s flood’ at a seminar organised by the Indian Council of Historical Research.

Lal spoke of archaeological evidence to indicate the disappearance of the Saraswati, which had nurtured human settlements in Harappa.

According to Indian mythology, Manu was the first king on earth; he triggered a flood that destroyed the planet and also resulted in the disappearance of Saraswati.

“Archaeologically, the deluge of the Saraswati took place round 2000-1900 Before Common Era (BCE) or broadly, in the first quarter of the second millennium BCE,” he said in his presentation. “This was exactly the time of Manu’s flood, which occurred after the Rigveda, but before the beginning of the second millennium BCE. Should we still call Manu’s Flood a myth?”

While Manu’s Floods might have caused a disaster in an earlier era, today it is a far lesser incident that is damaging a large number of aquatic species including fish, turtles and even dolphins.

Officials from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Punjab Wildlife and Forest department are monitoring Indus dolphins and other creatures especially in the Harike wildlife sanctuary. This follows disruption at the sanctuary, which is at the confluence of the Sutlej and the Beas, with ongoing repair work of canal gates.

Indus river dolphin (Platanista gangetica minor) is one of the rarest mammals in the world and the second-most endangered freshwater river dolphin. According to a WWF India survey, a mere 18 to 35 mammals have survived in the stretch from Harike wildlife sanctuary to Beas town.

And with the current work being undertaken in Beas waters, it is feared that the situation will worsen over the coming weeks. Of course, the Indus has seen a lot more ‘action’ over the centuries and the river – and the creatures that survive and thrive on it – will hopefully not face decimation.

INDUS WATER TREATY HELD VALID BY SC

THE Supreme Court last month dismissed a PIL by lawyer M.L. Sharma, who wanted the Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan to be declared as illegal and unconstitutional.

The court declared that the 1960 treaty “has held good for more than half a century” and there was nothing unconstitutional about it. Sharma had in his writ petition, filed last year, claimed that the treaty was against India’s national interest and violated the fundamental rights of citizens.
The treaty was signed by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru with then Pakistan President Mohammed Ayub Khan and World Bank official W.A.B. Iliff. Nehru had not taken the approval of the then Indian President, claimed Sharma.

The agreement saw 80 per cent of the water from Indus being allocated to Pakistan, which – alleged Sharma – was “a serious injury to the fundamental right of the citizens of India coupled with further financial and natural injuries to national interest.”

AMBITAME, NADITAME, DEVITAME

THE Rig Veda described the Saraswati as the ‘Ambitame, Naditame, Devitame’ (O Saraswati, you are the best of mothers, the best of rivers and the best of goddesses).
The Rig Veda also referred to it as one of seven major rivers of Vedic times. They included the Shatadru (Sutlej), Vipasa (Beas), Askini (Chenab), Parsoni or Airavati (Ravi), Vitasta (Jhelum) and Sindhu (Indus), besides Saraswati.Named after goddess Saraswati, it was seen as a vibrant river that flowed between the Yamuna in the east and the Sutlej in the west and then merges with the Indus.
Many Hindus believe that the Saraswati is in a metaphysical form; it meets the Ganga and the Yamuna in a confluence at the Triveni Sangam. The Saraswati is also seen as an extension of the Ghaggar river in the Thar desert.

In fact, the Mahabharata says the Saraswati dried up in the deserts of Rajasthan. Many Indian historians believe that ancient Indian cities developed on the banks of the Indus and the Saraswati.