The river is waylaid by smaller streams and tributaries as it lingers and gushes towards its course to finally shoot and enter into the ocean or sea. River is a natural source of life for mankind. It is both friend and foe; friend because it keeps us alive with its water; foe because it angrily consumes all when it swells into a flood causing havoc and mayhem.
Some rivers simply flow underground and dry up along its course before reaching another water body, only to revive with the rainfall; such are called seasonal; whereas perennial rivers are such that always contain water and flow continuously; no matter what. Indian rivers are a pride of the nation because they provide water, irrigate land, river banks are a hustle bustle of small businesses and holy activities; monuments were built alongside or at a short distance; the banks of famous rivers pulsate with life that attracts domestic and foreign tourists.
Indian terrain is home to a numerous number of rivers and tributaries that are sketched across in a chequered pattern across its geographical land. They flow from highlands like the Himalayas in North; Western and Eastern Ghats in South. Their sources are icy mountains and glaciers that melt making small streams that join together from various points and places to form a course or direction towards the plains quite naturally. Some of them are enormous in volume and length. Are more popular and talked about in terms of their use, function, age and legend.
These rivers are more or less known for their historic and contemporary importance. Some of them are as old as Indian civilization such as Mohenjo-Daro and Indus Valley in North. Indians revere their rivers as holy gods and goddesses which are titled after them; each is associated and well known by the intriguing and colourful mythical legend attached to them.
Rivers Attached to Legends
There are four epochal holy gatherings or ‘melas’ at river junctions which lend worshippers with an epiphanic moment that smearing in their waters causes your sins to dissolve. Called ‘Kumbh Melas’ celebrated at Haridwar, on the banks of Ganga; Prayag in Allahabad at the confluence of two rapids rivers Ganga and Yamuna and one opined as invisible, Saraswati; in the city of Nashik on Godavari and river Shipra in the holy city of Ujjain, teeming with worshippers of Lord Shiva.
It will not be a fallacy to state that rivers have existed ever since human civilization. They are that element of nature man is undoubtedly blessed with. Therefore it is not surprising that rivers in the Indian terrain are revered as deities. Both rivers and deities are in innumerable numbers. Enough for our physical and religious or spiritual needs. The legend woven around each popular river is born out of its local region.
These are drafted by faith and belief in the river-deity combine, professed by powers of believers’ imagination, miracles handed out through each generation that takes the form of mythological story. The same mention finds honour of place in epic poetries, couplets, tales, and stories woven by historic and contemporary authors. To name a few ancient Indian poets are: Kalidas, Kabir, Sant Ravidas, sage Vyasa writing in Sanskrit and the local dialects; sitting on the ghats (river bank) of Ganga in Banaras and elsewhere.
River Ganga hails from the melting ice of Himalayas in North and empties itself into the belly of the Bay of Bengal. It represents a pure and pious river goddess, of a similar name. Ganga, threatened to flood the plains, in anger, when Shiva contained her furious flow in his high coiled hair. She represents the colour white. With a dip in the river is said to absolve all sins. The famous ‘Aarti’ or prayers at its ghat’ or bank, in Haridwar is famous the world over for its beauty and reverence. The dark night is lit brightly with color yellow of lights and sounds of repeated reverberations of prayers chanted with jangling bells.
Hindus exhume the dead on its Ghats and its sacred waters receive the ashes, which is said to transport the soul to heaven. Other than the piety, excessive stress is being laid on Ganga and Yamuna, by way of pollutants. The effulgences from industrial and man-made wastes deposited over the years have collectively rendered its water inconsumable and poisonous. The government seems to have risen from slumber to battle this threat. Both Yamuna and Ganga are finally being cleaned. Although it seems that Goddesses only know how much time it will take, speaking figuratively. Haridwar and Rishikesh are bustling townships built on the banks of Ganga, which attract the average and the spirituality seeking tourists. Adventure and sports fans test their spirits and stamina to take risks by river rafting on its cascading and unruly rapids.
Indian rivers are integrated into its life. They are arterial lifelines of its people. They crisscross through the Indian terrain as in a beautiful translucent blue chequered map, from an aerial view. River Beas rises through the Himalayas, near Himachal Pradesh. It is historically significant and known to run along the border of Alexander the Great’s kingdom in 326 BC.
River Brahmaputra emerges from a glacier in the Himalayas towards Tibet. Its name arises from Brahma, son of God, the creator. The story is that the enchanting Amodha lived in Mount Kailash with her husband saint Shantanu. Brahma was smitten by her beauty and proposed…the sage refused. However a son attributed to Brahma was born. And this river is named after him. This river is known to flood furiously every year during rainfalls.
River Tapti flows from Satpura Ranges in South Madhya Pradesh. She was the daughter of Surya, or Sun God, who created her to temper down his fiery temperament. River Krishna belongs to her home in the Western Ghats region of Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra. Its historic fame is in its witness of several kingdoms and their monuments in its vicinity – it was the southern stretch of the empire of Emperor Ashok; Vijayanagar and Peshwas – to highlight their conquest, might and power.
River Saraswati is said to have risen from the Saraswati – Rupin glacier in Uttarakhand. The name is quoted severally in the ancient Indian scripture, Rig Veda. She borrows her name from the goddess of knowledge and culture. Though the evidence of it’s existence is historically disputable. Some geologists depute the river to portions of the dry basin of Ghaggar – Habra River.
River Godavari also called Dakhin Ganga or Ganga of the South. The legend around it has it that: a cow was unknowingly killed by a sage who fed it with grass that turned out to be poisonous. He wanted to save his rice from being eaten by the cow, a holy animal. In a flurry he prayed hard to Shiva to send or direct the course of Ganges towards his hermitage, where the animal lay lifeless; in an attempt to revive it in its holy waters. Shiva happy with the sage’s penance, agreed and did so. The river is named Gautami, by the locals, after sage Gautam who resurrected the cow.
River Narmada was the result of Lord Shiva’s sweat during meditation. The pebbles in the riverline are drops that changed into ‘tiny Shivalingas’, signs of Shiva. It originates from Amarkantak hill in Madhya Pradesh and emerges as a major river in central Indian Territory. The water of Indian rivers are shared by multiple numbers of states that lay in the rivers course. Surrounded by controversies and disputes between government and Narmada Bachao Andolan activist Medha Patekar; against building a dam on the river that will submerge villages and displace thousands from ancestral homes. The battle continued for several years, finally a deal between the warring ends was clinched in that the dam’s usefulness weighed more. Affected population was compensated, the dam was built.
The Bhakra Nangal Dam was built over river Sutlej in Bilaspur, of Himachal Pradesh. It stands at a height of 226 m constructed in 1963. River Yamuna is known for Lord Krishna single-handedly slaying the mythical Kaliya Nag, habitating it and infesting its water with poison. The river’s holiness is closely connected to Krishna’s life there. Taj Mahal in Agra is built on an embankment of Yamuna.
South India is known mostly for its seasonal rivers. Buildings like dams and ‘bunds’ over a river’s course makes semi and perennial rivers seasonal. Their nature depends upon number of tributaries, streams; the regional geography – precipitation, catchment and basin it passes through.
South Indian perennial rivers are namely – Godavari, Krishna, Narmada, Tapti, and Cauvery – spouted from Vindhyachal Mountains, Western Ghats. Unlike their sisters in the North that cascade all the way down from melting snow of mountains and glaciers. In the North, Rajasthan is home to seasonal rivers, where it rains moderately too.
The potentiality of a river is adjudged by its capacity to flow constantly as its source is the snowy mountains and glaciers that provide the river its water and subsequently its length. Whereas during rainy seasons, which are itself a seasonal occurrence; the seasonal nature of rivers thrives upon. Coasts, deltas and estuaries are the meeting points where rivers culminate into seas and oceans; in India being the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea. A river travels across its route only to mix and meet with the expansive ocean. Symbolically speaking, quite like the festivals of goddess Durga and Lord Ganesha who remains on land for a time being and when it’s time for them to leave, their idols are immersed into the ocean by worshippers!
Nivedita Setu or second Vivekananda Bridge is 880m long six-lane Road Bridge, built over river Hooghly in Kolkata. It provides easy access to the famous Dakshineshwar Kali Temple.
Narmada Bridge is built over river Narmada in Gujarat. Kolia Bhomora Setu is 3 km long bridge built over river Brahmaputra, close to Tejpur, Assam. It shows of a proud view of Bhairabi temple. Mahanadi Road Bridge is built over the great Mahanadi River in Orissa. Sharavati Bridge in Karnataka over Sharavati River, along Western Ghats has an imposing view of Ghats and the cascading Jog Falls.
Kali River Bridge is located on the confluence of river Kali and Arabian Sea; stretching along the historic Sadashivagad Fort, where the granite rock hills in Karnataka are. Similarly Godavari and Krishna bridges are beholden upon the Godavari and Krishna rivers.
Rivers invoke symbolic inspiration in artists and filmmakers who induce their work with its representation. A popular classic Hindi melody preens around a river as its subject this way: Flow like a river. Do not stop. Or else you’ll be swept by the currents of life. So flow on…, sung by Manna Dey.