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Athavale's followers bridge Narmada with boats


KADOD (BHARUCH), DEC 7: It's a family of millions, sharing a divine relationship that transcends all barriers of caste, creed, and language. Their is one common thread: Pandurang Shastri Athavale.Lakhs of them will descend on Kadod -- on the banks of the Narmada -- on Sunday to celebrate the 80th birthday of Athavale. The social reformer turned 80 on October 19, but the celebration was put off owing to his ill-health. Similar celebrations were held in Thane in Maharashtra when dada (elder brother) as the leader is popularly called by his followers, turned 70.

Thousands of Athavale's followers have already arrived and are fine-tuning things for the grand celebrations, expected to be attended by nearly 8 lakh people, including over 3,000 non-resident Indians (NRIs).

A bridge of 120 fishing boats lined across the Narmada is an added attraction. The structure is 2,000 feet across and draws hordes of the curious. Though the bridge is not exactly floatingit is supported by wooden polesit may lift up a feet during high tide.

The bridge has been barricaded from both sides. The hollow space in the boat has been levelled by using mundhas (footstools) and marine plywood, which is waterproof, has been laid across the boats. Organisers say the bridge is strong enough to allow 5,000 people to cross the Narmada at a time. The walk across takes some 20 minutes.

The idea behind constructing the boat bridge and having two separate entrances to the celebration venue is to avoid traffic jam on the highway, organisers say. The boats belong to fishermen who have sacrificed their income from fishing for nearly 10 days. As many as 1,100 fishermen toiled day and night for four days to construct the bridge.

The organisers expect three lakh devotees to come from Zhagadia side of the bridge and about five to six lakh from the Bharuch side. In fact, there will be two such bridges, separated by 100 metres. The work on the second bridge will be over by Friday.

About two lakh volunteers are directly or indirectly involved in the preparations. According to Naginbhai Machhi, the spot survey had started two years back. He said the entire planning was done by members of the Swadhya Parivar without taking any monetary or other help from the government.

This has always been the case with the movement. Even preparations of such grand order are managed with money donated by Parivar members. None of the volunteers will be paid anything. Even the boat bridge has not cost the movement anything. One of the organisers said the material used in making the bridge will be taken back by the suppliers and sold. Neither the boats nor the services required for building the bridge has cost anything.

The occasion has turned this religious place into a place buzzing with activity. More than 1,000 truckloads of material went into laying the approach road to the bridge. In fact, construction of small kuchha roads is going on at a fast space.

Most of the labourers are volunteers from neighbouring areas. Parking bays have been created near the function site. The main programme will be held on a huge podium which is nearing completion. The devotees on the other side of the river will have to cover some distance through the sand to reach the venue.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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