Tuesday, November 21 (Narmada Valley):
On the occasion of Kartik Purnima, the first full moon after Diwali, the hundreds of ghats along the Narmada, an aarti to the river goddess is performed, which is perhaps the last time.
For centuries, people who have lived along and been sustained by the 1,300 km long river have undertaken a pilgrimage of thanksgiving to her. The source of the river lies in the Mikal ranges in Madhya Pradesh, from where it reaches Bharuch in Gujarat and stops at the innumerable shrines and memorial spots that signpost the ancient route.
A regular pilgrim said, "If goddess Narmada's natural flow is dammed and she is converted into small pools of water, how will the devotees circumambulate her? Sadly, a ritual practiced since the beginning of the river's existence will end."
When the waters of the Sardar Sarovar reservoir rise, it will not be just archaeological evidence and living temples that will be submerged, but a rich heritage of art and architecture. Beneath today's villages in the Narmada valley lies evidence of habitation that spirals back to pre-historic times. In the 1960s, excavations at the village of Navadatoli by the country's pioneering archaeologist HD Sankalia revealed the largest single Malwa culture site, dates back to around 1800 BC. But once the village was marked for submergence, the site was covered up again.
The late 18th century temple of Hapeshwar with its murals falling between folk and classical traditions depict one of the most beautiful raslilas of Krishna, ever painted. It also depicts other stories from Hindu mythology. The government has attempted to replace the old temple by building a brand new cement and marble replica of the Somnath temple, but not everyone is satisfied. "The adivasis have great faith in Hapeshwar. The new temple cannot replace the old one. This is part of our cultural heritage and while some pandits have accepted cash compensation for relocating temples, they are afraid that the new ones will lack the sanctity of the old. The sanctity is linked to the spot. It will be destroyed if temples are shifted. People will not come with the same feeling," complained a local resident.
The small village of Gangli was submerged in 1970 by a flood in the Narmada. After the waters receded, the people returned and appealed to the local government, politicians and religious leaders to restore the beautiful wooden temple of Mahavir that had been damaged, but the demand was never met. Expressing his sentiments on this, another villager said, "For one temple and one mosque in Ayodhya our politicians plunged the country into chaos and now when hundreds of living temples and mosques in the Narmada Valley will be drowned, they are silent. These are in small villages and nobody cares about the feelings of poor people."
The villagers say that those who pose as saviours of religion rush into the arena only for political gain or profit. "The VHP is against the construction of the Tehri Dam on the Ganges because she is sacred. Then why are they quiet about the Sardar Sarovar? Is the Narmada less sacred? The VHP is not opposing it because they are funded by the Gujarati community. It has nothing to do with religious sentiments," said the villagers.
The gods at Koteshwar will have to find another abode as sacred groves, ancient pilgrimage centres and archaeological sites that contain an uninterrupted account of human occupation in the Narmada Valley since the stone age get submerged. Only then can the dams that Nehru called the temples of modern India be built.