Guest Blog by Dr. Ruchi Shree (TMBU, Bhagalpur)
The title of this paper is influenced by Anupam Mishra’s writing ‘Yamuna ki Dilli’[i] which narrates the significance of river for a city and how the equation between the two keeps changing along the passage of time. As mentioned in the previous part of the story, my writing is an attempt to explore the history of Bhagalpur around its one water body named Champa river.
To continue from where we left, during the days of Mahabharata, Karna is said to have ruled this region called Angpradesh, some artefacts[ii] have been found in this region by the archaeologists. However, not going into the details of that let me just focus on the historical significance of this river. I would like to highlight three points – first, the fortification around the river was used to safeguard Karna’s kingdom so partly the security was ensured by the river; second, navigation was an important component in those days as boats were used as means of transportation; and, third, even for commercial purposes, rivers were used as trade route. I am told[iii] that the history of silk production in Bhagalpur goes back to many centuries and it used to be exported to other countries. Even the reports in Dainik Jagran had such reflection.
In this region, a local deity named Vishahri Mata (a goddess with power of taking away the poison of snake if someone gets a snake-bite, she is said to be the daughter of Lord Shiva) is very famous and a festival named Vishahri Pooja is celebrated. Let me share the story of Bala-Bihula[iv] and its intrinsic link with this goddess and Champa river. Once upon a time[v], there were two friends named Chando saudagar (merchant) and Basu saudagar. Chando was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva but Vishahri mata wanted him to worship her for which Chando was not ready. As a result, the goddess got furious and his seven sons died due to snake-bite. His one son named Bala was left and Bihula was the daughter of his friend Basu. The friends got their son and daughter married and to save his son Bala from snake-bite, Chando got a house of iron and bamboo constructed near the Champa river and did not leave any hole in the same. However, somehow in the form of an insect, a snake entered in that house and Bala also died due to snake-bite. Then, Bihula went to Lord Shiva and Vishahri mata to save her husband’s life. Champanagar is said to be the area where Chando saudagar used to live. The significance of this fable is also related to the revival of Manjusha art in this region.
Manjusha as a folk art form is considered a heritage of this region. Bhagalpur and its adjacent areas are sometimes referred as Angpradesh even today (to recall its glorious past). The language of this region is Angika and many civil society organizations promote the language. I also came across some local magazines in Hindi named as Angchampa, Angmahima, etc. In last few years, Manjusha Mahotsav is organized every year in Bhagalpur with the help of Upendra Maharathi Shilp Anusandhan Sansthan Udyog Vibhag (a unit of Govt. of Bihar). In February 2020, it was organized in Sandis Compound[vi] and I had a chance to visit the festival which had components such as fashion show, sale of handicraft products, etc. However, I feel that such platforms could also be used for raising awareness among the local people about the sorry state of its water bodies in general and the dying river Champa in particular.
It reminds me of the huge premises of Bhagalpur University[vii] and it is interesting to note that it has three ponds of different sizes. A pond named Bhairavan Talaab[viii] is quite big in size and I cross it six days a week while walking to my workplace. One may see the buffaloes taking bath and the cranes swimming in the pond. Two other ponds are not that big in size but do add to the greenery and biodiversity of the campus. I have seen numerous kinds of birds and butterflies during the walk and bird-watching as my newly acquired hobby in last 3-4 years along with my daughter during our days in Dwarka (New Delhi) is continuing in Bhagalpur. To have seen the new birds adds an element of awe to our being together with nature but at the same time the curiosity to learn/know their names becomes a homework for me.
During my research on the river Champa, I came across many interesting anecdotes viz. this area was earlier called Champapuri i.e. the area around the river, Champa is also the name of a flower which has pleasant fragrance, the quality of water of this river added fragrance to Katarni chooda (poha), katarni rice (other than its silk production, Bhagalpur is also famous for katarni chooda and Jardalu mango) and many more. The story of a river also involves the narratives and myths. As mentioned in the part-1 of this series, I intend to weave the narrative around making of the city leading to unmaking of its waterbodies, let me try to substantiate.
The degradation of Champa did not take place overnight. In the span of last few decades, when the city of Bhagalpur was taking steps towards ‘being modern’[ix], its river Champa was slowly turning into a drain. I am reminded of Ishteyaque[x] Bhai’s words, ‘pahle nadi ki aatma mar jati hai, phir dheere dheere uska shareer’ (first the soul of the river dies and then gradually its body disappears). In contrast to that, Kashinath Trivedi said, ‘nadi ka dharm hai ki wah bahti rahe’[xi] (it is the religion of the river to keep flowing). Jane Jacobs in her book The Life and Death of Great American Cities writes, ‘the economic rationale of current city building is a hoax…..the means to planned city building are as deplorable as the ends’.[xii] Bhagalpur no exception. Next and last part of this story will focus on prospects of river rejuvenation.
Ruchi Shree (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Note: This is part of 3-part series of articles on Champa River by the author. Other two articles in the series can be seen: 1. https://sandrp.in/2020/04/05/how-did-champa-nadi-river-in-bhagalpur-bihar-become-nala-drain/
[i] Mishra, Anupam (2012), ‘Yamuna ki Dilli’, Landscape, No. 35, April-June, pp. 30-34; This writing in Hindi is a photo essay and one-page translation in English is done by Sopan Joshi, ‘Yamuna’s Delhi’ on p. 35.
[ii] As I was told by Mr. Subir Acharya, a local resident of Champanagar (details in the last part).
[iii] This point was highlighted by Rani Sahay, who is actively working for the rejuvenation of River Champa through her organization named Peepal. I will write more about it in the next part on Prospects of River Rejuvenation.
[iv] Some people also call it the story of Bihula-Vishahri.
[v] I am not sure about the time period of this narrative. It is a very long story and not possible for me to go into the details but those interested may read http://www.manjushakala.in/manjusha-art/story-of-bihula-bishari/
[vii] Myself as part of the University as a teacher of Political Science with a multidisciplinary interest often feel sad about the current status of the campus. It is ‘a green campus but certainly not clean campus’. I have floated the idea of making a Nature Club in the University in a programme organized by Dainik Jagran in Gandhian Studies Centre of TMBU in January, 2020. I was told that it came in the newspaper on 30th Jan, 2020 though I did not get a chance to see the same.
[viii] I have to explore its history. I was told by a student that this pond is part of TNB College, a unit of TMBU. The university has many mango trees and also a large tract of land which is leased to the farmers for the production of vegetables and wheat.
[ix] ‘Modern’ is a ubiquitous word and has different context-specific meanings. ‘Modernity’ is one of the most researched themes in social sciences and the arrival of concepts such as multiple modernities and alternative modernity have added nuances to it.
[x] Ishteyaque Ahmad is a civil society activist based in Patna and works with an organization named Pravah.
[xi] I read this line more than a decade back on the first page of Amita Baviskar’s book In the Belly of the River: Tribal Conflicts over Development in Narmada Valley (Oxford University Press, 1995). Somehow this line has stayed in my deep consciousness.
[xii] Sopan Joshi (2013), Sheila ki Dilli, available at https://in.news.yahoo.com/sheila-ki-dilli-054110650.html. For those interested in learning about the flaws in urban planning in India, this writing could be very useful.