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The religious practical disconnect on our behaviour with water in India

August 31, 2013

The spirituality and prosaicness of water

Rivers are the birthplace of civilization and civilization the graveyard for rivers is a very famous quote which rings true in present day India. As the Ganesha festival approaches those who work on keeping water bodies clean are filled with a feeling of dread for the modern day reveler will bring large statues painted usually with toxic lead paint and immerse them in wells, tanks, lakes and rivers not to mention the sea.  Why is it that we have become so dissociated from our spiritual practice and our everyday life and refuse to see the links between what we believe in and what we end up doing is an exercise in sociology and human behaviour? 

The Vrishabhavati River is the only river that originates in Bangalore. One saying in Kannada says do not go hunting for the source of a river or the antecedents of a sage. As much as the Cauvery is supposed to originate at Talacauvery, the Ganga at Gangotri, the Vrishabhavati is said to originate at the famous Bull temple in Basavanagudi. That which originates from the mouth of a bull – Vrishabh being the bull – is a name given to the river on this belief. The temple and hence the river at its source is a place of worship. The desecration of the river begins almost immediately. Sewage and garbage are the components of the desecration of what was once a pristine river and this is the gift of urban Bangalore to the river. By the time it flows out of the city to a magnificently large reservoir at Bhairamangala it is dark, black foamy water polluted beyond redemption one would imagine. Yet nature tackles the river into its embrace as do thousands of farmers forced to use this water for their crops and for their livelihoods. A slow transformation of the waters begins and in about 20 kilometers the river is partially redeemed. The waters that flow then to join the Arkavathy are cleaner than what the city left it. This is called the absorption capacity or the cleaning capacity of nature.

The Cooum originates reputedly from a well close to Chennai.  Cooum- that which originates from a well- hence the name given to the river. It too faces an urban onslaught and is greatly polluted. Unlike the Vrishbhavati where it is land that cleans the river, it is the sea which has to redeem the river, receive its polluted waters, dilutes it and hence cleans it.

The construct of reverence, desecration and redemption runs right through our urban civilization. Efforts are on to put in place waste-water treatment plants and ensure that all sewage is collected and treated but for now it is a losing battle.

What can apartments do about this issue? For one many make arrangements for the Ganesha immersion. Make sure that with due sanctity and respect the whole event is conducted with no net negative impact on the environment.

In many tanks across Bangalore separate Kalyanis have been built to receive the idols and the flowers that come with it. These are then able to be kept clean and prevent pollution of the larger water body. Make use of these. Better still make small Ganesha without paint so that they dissolve in waters without much trace.

Many apartments are now mandated to have their own sewage treatment plants. Make sure that the ones you have are in working condition and treat the water to adequate levels as prescribed. In negotiations with the State Pollution Control Board the treated waste-water can perhaps be release into neighbouring lakes through a constructed wetland. This will not only clean the water up further but keep the lakes full and away from encroachment.

Engage with garbage including segregation. Clear collection and then transportation to the designated treatment sites.

Keeping the environment clean is everybody’s business as is reviving urban water bodies including lakes and rivers. The joy of clean flowing water or a full lake is an experience that all especially children deserve and making that happen in our times is the challenge. That challenge being addressed would be water wisdom. 

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