Dams · Rivers

Rivers of Stories

Above: Sohni in Chenab, painitng by Manjit Bawa

To say that rivers hold great cultural significance for South Asia is stating the obvious. Also obvious is that the cultural legacy of rivers overpowers the religious narrative… which too, is not tied only to Vedic Hinduism. All faiths in the subcontinent have a deep connection with rivers which manifests in stories, lore, songs and poetry. While Suktas in Rigveda eulogizing rivers are known, actually breathtaking is the lyrical beauty of the verses which describe Sindhu or Indus as a “wild, magnificent white stallion, roaring and galloping through the Himalayas into the plains” or sometimes as a “loving mother cow, its calves following her from the steep mountain paths”. Continue reading “Rivers of Stories”

Dams · Rivers

Kirtinasha to Vidrupa: The Lesser River Goddesses of South Asia

Above: Narmada at Khalghat Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

“Ahalya, you will be an eternal dry river. Your path will be rocky and parched. You will receive water only when you meet the pious Godavari. That will be your only redemption”.

ahalya-1_072315084754
Ahalya by Raja Ravi Varma Source: Wikimedia Commons

Thus spoke Sage Gautam, pushing his wife Ahalya into a quagmire of dark desperation for ages. Ironically, it was Indra who, driven by lust, impersonated Sage Gautam and met Ahalya. In some versions of the story Gautam curses Ahalya into a stone slab, in some she becomes uncultivable, barren land. Till date, there exists a marriage custom in certain communities where the newly wed girl touches a dry stone by her feet.. it should remind her of her fate if she “strays” like Ahalya. But that is another story.

In the Western Ghats of Maharashtra where the Godavari rises, there is a tiny river called Ahalya meeting Godavari at the Trimbakeshwar Temple. If women and even Goddesses were made to suffer at the hands of patriarchy, how can rivers, the sacred feminine, be far behind?

Ahalya is “redeemed” now by her children. Sewage of Trimbakeshwar temple town flows in her. And she is covered under concrete. Ahilya Teerth Sangam is a holy place: it is unbearably filthy. Continue reading “Kirtinasha to Vidrupa: The Lesser River Goddesses of South Asia”