A river’s birthday

Why not celebrate it, if it leads to its conservation?

October 10, 2021 12:02 am | Updated 12:02 am IST

R ivers gave birth to civilisation. But their birthdays are unknown and seldom celebrated. Those such as the Ganga are exceptions, as mythological tales speak about their appearance on earth. People residing by a small river, the Thapana, in Haryana celebrate the last Sunday of September as its birthday.

Though COVID-19 has affected the grandeur of the celebration, people visit the river with great faith.

The Thapana is a 15-km tributary of the Yamuna. It’s a low-flow river. Small rivers in much of the country are facing an unfortunate end. Ignorance of responsible people initially converts them into a big drain and gradually they die. The Thapana was also moving in that direction. But people came to its rescue in 2012, when a drought created apprehensions.

At that hard time, farmers were asked to fetch water from only those points of the riverbed which were deeper and had sufficient water so that fish and other creatures in the shallow regions could be saved. The farmers agreed, considering that saving a life is a holy deed. They also wanted to contribute a little to save it as rivers are highly revered in India. It’s believed that the Thapana flows underground for a short stretch to nurture crops.

The river was rescued that year. A team of volunteers associated with the Yamuna Jiyo Abhiyaan (Live Yamuna Movement) came forward to help the people. Two committees of friends of river (Nadi Mitra Mandala) were constituted to save the river and to create awareness. These volunteers trained 500 workers from nearby villages to prevent its pollution and to plant saplings on its banks.

When the matter reached the Thames River Trust of London, it also came to help the people. Initiatives were made to increase the people’s association with the river. It worked and the Thapana was saved.

An inspiration

This tale may work as an inspiration for all concerned about the condition of small rivers. Unplanned development, irresponsible attitude of authorities and the greed of the land mafia have destroyed several small rivers across the country, which has a rich tradition of worshipping rivers. Even mighty rivers are shedding tears over their condition.

The Chambal river is mentioned in several ancient texts. The mythological King Rantideo had his kingdom by the river. Kalidasa gave it the epithet of Rantidevasya Kirtim , or flag-bearer of the glory of King Rantideo, in his most celebrated work Meghdootam . The Chambal is also addressed as Sadaa Salila (a river which always has a great flow) in ancient literature. But today, it’s struggling for its existence at several points during its journey between Mhow in Madhya Pradesh and Etawah in Uttar Pradesh, where it joins the Yamuna.

A recent survey found that the level of pollution at several points is so high that drinking its water is unsafe. If this is the tale of a Sadaa Salila river, the plight of low-flow rivers may be imagined.

But where there is a will, there is a way. The rejuvenation of the Thapana has proved it. The tale of the Kali Bein has also set an example. The river has a historic background. It flows into the confluence of the Beas and the Sutlej at Harike. It is believed that Guru Nanak performed holy bath in this river and wrote some shabdas on its banks. Some statements say he even attained enlightenment after taking bath in this river. However, in the wake of the Green Revolution, it became progressively polluted. Even it converted into a drain, when Saint Balbeer Singh Seechewal noticed its plight and committed himself to its rejuvenation. His efforts succeeded, and today, the Kali Bein is considered one of the most holy places of pilgrimage associated with Sikhism.

Almost 150 years ago, governments were not responsible for providing water supply. People had to arrange water on their own. Though this system led to several social collisions, to fulfil their personal interests, people used to be sensitive towards the care and maintenance of waterbodies. But when water became easily available, it pushed wells, step wells, lakes, tanks and even small rivers into a bad shape. Big buildings have been constructed on the path of rainwater and this is the reason that big cities face floods. Water is essential for life, and rivers are the big source of it. Small rivers, or tributaries, help major rivers maintain their flow throughout the year. They should be saved and the rejuvenation of rivers such as the Thapana and the Kali Bein shows that they can be saved by developing a feeling of belongingness in the masses. Even celebrating the birthday of a river may work in developing this association.


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