Rivers of India is a pictorial journey that delves into the symbiosis between India's major rivers and the people who live along them and their intimate link with myth, belief and religion. Along with the narrative of the rivers are interesting asides looking at marvels of engineering, cultural and recreational events, as well as the deep-rooted symbolic relevance of the river in Indian music, art, religion and literature.
The authors narrowed their focus to eight rivers that flow through India-the Brahmaputra, Ganges, Godavari, Kaveri, Krishna, Mahanadi, Narmada and Yamuna. This selection was based on demographics, the decisive factor being the correlation between the most densely populated river valleys, and the challenges triggered by unchecked exploitation of natural resources.
While a river journey may seem romantic in an idyllic sense, for the authors, it was often a challenging experience. The environmental damage that has been caused by piety, industry and apathy is immense; sadly, these allegedly sacred water bodies are plagued by misuse and pollution. The authors hope that highlighting significant issues that affect the river will usher in a sense of collective responsibility that can help stem further ecological degradation.
Sunil Vaidyanathan is a Mumbai based photojournalist and writer with over a decade of experience. He has worked on several well- received books on photography, architecture and travel. His first published book in 2001-2002 was The Heritage Buildings of Bombay. The people and culture of his country being some of his primary areas of focus, this was followed by several others like Temples of South India, Ganesha- The God of India, Colorful India and Pilgrimage Places in India. Some of his recent work includes Portrait of Kerala and Portrait of Rajasthan. As Globetrotter's India consultant, he has co-authored and updated the Globetrotter Travel Guide to Delhi, Jaipur and Agra and Globetrotter's Best of Delhi. He has also compiled and designed map books, including a series of guides for the Government of India's department of tourism as part of the 'Incredible India' campaign. His work is regularly featured in several domestic and international magazines. Rivers of India is his eighth book.
Armed with a Masters degree in English literature and an eye for the unusual, Shayoni Mitra made a transition from a corporate communications specialist to a travel journalist in 2007. Her writing has since then been featured in various national and international travel magazines and guide books. Passionate about exploring and interpreting new cultures, her camera has been her constant companion. She has also compiled and edited guidebooks to India.
To follow the course of the great Indian rivers is a dream. We are fortunate that this dream manifested into the reality of this book. The central theme of this book delves into the importance of water, the important river systems of India, rivers as sustenance to communities and ecological systems and as a source of inspiration for these communities that live along them. Ironically, while following the course of India's major rivers, a substantial portion of our daily budget was spent towards buying bottled water
Working on this book was both an enlightening and frustrating experience. We journeyed for many years along the course of India's major rivers in a quest to explore the symbiosis between our rivers and the people who live along them.
Being a photojournalist and writer in India is like living simultaneously in the reality of many parallel universes. Similarly, you cannot separate religion from the river in India. While it is a known fact that the piety of Indians is legendary, one is often appalled at the lack of civic sense and insensitivity towards the environment. In India, places along the rivers suffer the most in terms of sanitation and cleanliness. Rivers have a self-cleansing ability, but if people choose to misuse them continuously, they can no longer support life and progress. When we travel along the rivers of India, we retrace the veins which sustained the great civilizations that were predecessors of modern India. Even today, rivers are the primary support systems of contemporary civilizations. In fact, every one of the 1.21 billion people who live in India are directly or indirectly dependent on rivers for their sustenance. It is thus our moral responsibility to treat these water bodies with the respect they deserve
. As concerned photojournalists and environmentalists, we hope our representation will help change the destiny of these magnificent water bodies. By rousing collective conscience and consciousness, we hope to spark a debate. To claim that our singular effort will result in cleaner rivers would be stretching the truth; however, we do hope that our efforts will contribute to a greater understanding of issues that affect the rivers of India.
Ever since human beings have lived in organized societies, rivers have played an important role in creating cohesive interdependent communities. Like all ancient civilizations, the origins of India were shaped many centuries ago, when ethnic groups from the far north settled in the more hospitable Indus Valley. The single decisive factor that has made it possible for man to settle in permanent communities is agriculture. In ancient Egypt, the practice of slave labor unknowingly created a unified agrarian society. Consequently, when farming developed in the Middle East as early as 6500 BC, people ceased to be nomadic. They could finally control the production of food and be assured of its perennial supply. However, agriculture has always depended on a reliable and continuous source of water, and this is where rivers played an essential role.
In the Indian subcontinent, the banks of perennial rivers like the Indus, Ganges, Yamuna and Brahmaputra were among the earliest to be inhabited. Even today, the Indus and Gangetic valleys are the most populated zones in the Indian subcontinent. The five rivers of Punjab, along with other snow-fed northern rivers, irrigate an area that stretches from northwestern India to eastern India and Bangladesh.
In spite of rapid urbanization the landscape along the rivers has retained its lyrical eternalness. Today with modernization making in roads into every little city and town the banks of India’s rivers are where you best see the symbiosis between man and nature Despite being the most important prerequisite for civilizations to thrive on modern man has conveniently forgotten the role that river play. This very lack of concern has of reduced our river to sewage and drainage system in most of the country little does one realize when a tap is opened in the big cities its source is perhaps a meandering river hundred of miles away.
Human bring can live without food for a month but will die in less then a week without water. However the trouble with water is that its supply does not increase proportionately to its demand Although there is no scarcity of water in the world we are rapidly running out of usable water and this trend keeps going from bad to worse. The amount of water available to us today has not increased since pre historic time. But the population of the world keeps growing by alarming proportions and all these people are completely dependent on water for there sustenance. There are 19 million new births in India every year. It is believed that by the Year 2025 There would be a tremendous strain on resources to feed such a large population. Farmers currently use 85 percent of India’s water resources. Irrigation is increasing the soil salinity while pesticides have poisoned an unsetting amount of land The nagging question is not whether we will run out of water but when .
The issue of water crises is related to matters of distribution rather than supply. Only one third of the water that drains into the sea annually is accessible to human being Although this proportion does not seem much of a threat now the demand for water will double in a couple of decades and it is important to note that much of the water available today is degraded by eroded silt, sewage and industrial pollutants. As a result of drinking contaminated water, a child dies every eight seconds. The sanitation trend is getting worse, due to the exodus of rural peasantry to urban areas in search of livelihood. Today, internal migration is the biggest cause for the collapse of infrastructure in most Indian cities.
A river is the most important force that shapes the land in the tropics. Rivers erode the land and transport worn-out rocks downstream to deposit them elsewhere, creating new landmasses. The course of a river can be divided into three significant stages: youthful, mature and old. The youthful stage is the steepest part of the course (usually the source and areas close to it) where the water flows briskly and pushes loose weathered rocks downstream. When a river descends from the watershed, it enters its mature stage where the slope is gentler. Here the river carries a much larger volume of water as several smaller tributaries join it. The maximum amount of suffering due to floods, erosion and silting happens in this stage. Eventually, the river reaches the old (final) stage where it becomes considerably calmer as it makes its final journey towards the sea.
Towns and cities situated downstream often feel the consequences of careless alterations made in the age-old hydrological cycle. The symptoms have become very visible today, with rivers suddenly raging out of control wetlands drying up, and contaminants entering the groundwater.
Rivers as cultural icons In India, rivers are the axis mundi of Hindu belief. The Ganges, for example, embodies the 'water of life.' Hindus believe that bathing in the sacred rivers will result in the remission of sin, and circumvent rebirth. This is not surprising, considering the importance of water and the dependence of human life on it. As a primordial element, water has inspired myths and legends throughout the world. Every culture and religion has a myth dedicated to water bodies. The Vedas and Puranas state that all inhabitants on earth emerged from the sea. Thus, prayers to Varuna (the god of water) were amongst the earliest composed. The change from Vedic Brahmanism to Hinduism diluted many ancient practices, but the sanctity of nature divinities was well preserved. In the west, with the end of paganism, spiritual connections with nature were largely severed, but in India, this link has endured.
Water divinities of various kinds appear in the mythologies of many cultures. The world abounds in sacred rivers, springs and lakes. Early Egyptian scrolls refer to Hapi, the presiding spirit of the Nile. The annual flooding of the river was said to herald his arrival. The Nile God who brought fertility to the land amidst periods of prolonged flooding was both benevolent and unkind. Although male, Hapi was usually depicted with full breasts, a large belly (a sign of fertility) and blue or green skin that symbolized water. The Babylonians worshipped the Euphrates and the Tigris as gods and the Greek and Roman renaissance, which placed human spirit above religion (virtually abolishing it), venerated water bodies.
Although the Judeo-Christian tradition generally avoids the adulation of natural phenomena, there are numerous examples of holy rivers, wells, and springs. The River Jordan is held sacred because it is believed that John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ in its waters. Islam may have a disdain for iconic imagery, but this did not prevent them from adopting the pre-Christian belief of water Being revered as a life force. The well of Zamzam is located within the Masjid al Haram in Mecca near the Kaaba.Mecca is located in a parched valley Muslims believe that the well was revealed to Hagar handmaiden to Abraham’s wife Sarah and Mother of Abraham’s Ishmael When Hagar learnt that God had ordered Abraham to abandon her in the desert She respected his decision However. The soon ran out of water and Baby Ishmael began to suffer Islamic legends state that Hagar ran several times in the blazing heat between the hills of Safaand Marwa in search of water for the child. God then sent the angel Gabriel who scraped the ground causing a spring to gush forth. Historians however believe that the oasis might have been of importance to the pre Islamic inhabitants of Mecca and is perhaps one of the primary reasons why Mecca become a Pilgrimage and trending Centre
While the existence of some rivers are preserved Only a myths in the minds of the devout most have survived the vicissitudes of time and the rise and fall of civilizations. In most cultures the Major rivers were conferred with the status of father figures and their tributaries as nymphs However Indian subcontinent the determinant has been topography ‘ the broader Indus Brahmaputra Sone Gogra and a few other are a male while the Ganges Yamuna Saraswati Narmada Kveri and Godavari are female.
Various Puranas proclaims the Ganges Yamuna Saraswati Brahmaputra Godavari Narmada Sindhu (Indus) and Kaveri to be among the most sacred But the Ganga still dominates the hierarchical order even thought there are legends about the Narmada and Godavari being holier Her perennial flow potent sin cleansing power and immense popularity has ensured this position . The Prayer rituals on the Ganges in Haridwar bear testimony to this. At sundown thousands of worshippers pray to the Ganga in a ritual that has been practiced for centuries Unfortunately this popularity has also led to the river’s decline and has made the Ganga and her tributary the Yamuna India’s most polluted rivers.
This book discusses the issues that plague India’s major rivers It aims to bridge the gap between the people along the rivers who are victims to their own avarice and the people of the cities for whom the hydrological cycle is just an alien term. The blame has to be shared equally. It is rather fashionable to place the responsibility for pollutant solely on industry. However statistics reveal that 80 percent of the pollution is domestic in nature and the biggest pollution is untreated sewage.
An attempt has been made to explore the symbiosis between the rivers and communities that live along them in a journey that is both magical and distressing. If the pundit and the pilgrim the politician and the bureaucrat and the millions who depend on the rivers for sustenance could be encouraged to treat these water bodies with greater respect it would perhaps manifest in their resurrection.
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