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
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.
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.
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)