NASHIK: The legend of Kumbh Mela goes like this: a few drops of nectar fell from a ‘kumbha’ or pitcher of gods into the rivers, purifying the waters and consequently, any person who bathed in it. These rivers were the Ganga at Haridwar, Saraswati at Allahabad, Shipra in Ujjain and the Godavari in Nashik, which form the four Sinhastha Kumbh Mela. Mythology has it that anyone who bathes in its waters is absolved of all sins.
At present, the Ganga is choking with corpses and sewage, the Saraswati has long vanished from its course, and the Godavari’s course is slowly changing irrevocably, thanks to the concreting of its banks, and its tributaries are seemingly dying a slow death. And these rivers are the sites of one of the largest religious congregations in the world.
“The confluence of the Aruna and the Godavari at Ramkund has stopped as the concrete slabs on the river banks have arrested the former’s flow completely. Not a single drop of water from the Aruna reaches Ramkund. Around 15 natural streams and ponds have been destroyed and a number of tributaries of the Godavari have been reduced to nullahs because of the concreting of the river,” says Devang Jani, founder member of the Goda Premi Nagri Seva Samiti.
The Godavari winds its way to the Bay of Bengal through one of the largest river basins in India and its drainage area is nearly one-tenth of the country. The various tributaries who join the Godavari are the Ahilya, Neelganga, Aruna, Nasardi, Varuna, Kapila and the Waldevi, forming confluences at various places. Godavari originates in Brahmagiri. Its tributaries however, instead of adding to the mighty flow, have been carrying increasing amounts of pollution and less water over the years.
“Confluences are considered sacred in our rituals, but the one of Ahilya and Godavari had been almost drowned under the flow of the nirmalya and other materials thrown into the water after the pooja. It took a litigation to stop that, but concrete will wreak damage worse than the harmless garlands,”says Lalita Shinde, who had approached the National Green Tribunal in Pune to stop the concretising of the river banks.
Activists have now begun focusing on the tributaries as well and have been insisting that the tributaries also be cleaned and done away with pollution. According to reports, the Neelganga has reduced to a trickle under cement, dumping of waste and over-growth of water-weeds like hyacinth, and the other tributaries are likely to suffer the same burial.
“Though Nasardi, Waldevi and Kapila have not been concretised, these have also become nullahs. The problem is with the sewage in these rivers and lack of awareness of the public. In Nasardi we also saw the outlets of the toilets released into the tributary,” says Rajesh Pandit, an environment activist.
Aruna river that comes from Ramshej via Indrakund to Ramkund receives thousands of sadhus and pilgrims wishing to take a holy dip. It has reportedly been completely concretised for making bathing ghats. Nasardi river that comes from Belgaon Dhaga off Trimbakeshwar road, was declared as the worst polluted by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board two years ago.