Wednesday, August 13, 2014

India Wants to Find the Saraswati River and Bring It Back to Life 

India’s new government says it plans to find and possibly bring back to life a long-lost river mentioned in sacred Hindu texts.

In answer to a question in Parliament Tuesday, Uma Bharti, the water resources and river development minister said India wants to “detect and revive,” the Saraswati River, described in Vedic texts.
              India’s new government says it plans to find and possibly bring back to life a long-lost river mentioned in sacred Hindu texts.
“There are enough scientific evidences on the presence of the river Saraswati in some parts of the country through which it flowed about five to six thousand years ago,” she said on the floor of the lower house of Parliament. “Saraswati is not a myth.”

Geologists have known for more than 100 years about ancient river beds passing through northern India that could be the Saraswati, said the Times of India. But reviving the river by bringing any underground water to the surface is “an impossible task,” Umesh Chaube, professor emeritus of water resource development and hydrology at IIT –Roorkee told the Hindustan Times.

Critics were quick to suggest it would be a waste of government money and a potential wild goose chase aimed at strengthening the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s ties to its Hindu nationalist supporters.

A BJP spokesman did not respond to a request for the party response on Wednesday morning.

It wouldn’t be the first time that scientists have had to follow the hunches of politicians. Last year a team of government archaeologists had to excavate the ruins of an old palace in the state of Uttar Pradesh, after a famed Hindu holy man declared that there was 1,000 tons of gold buried under it. No gold was found.

Myth to reality: Sarasvati is set to flow again

Almost 13 km from Kurukshetra lies the ancient village of Bhoresaidan - named after the Kaurava hero Bhurisrava, who was one of Duryodhana's 11 distinguished senapatis during the Mahabharata war. A dusty road adjacent to the village leads to a yawning valley, flanked by rocks and covered with a soil that is a curious mix of various sedimentary deposits. Rajesh Purohit, deputy director of the Kurukshetra-based Sri Krishna Museum, bends to scoop up some of the soil. "This soil has a lot of history," he says gravely. "After all, the river Sarasvati used to once flow here."

Purohit's contention is that the 'valley' is actually the bed of the Sarasvati, a fact which finds mention in numerous ancient literary texts, but whose existence has often been questioned by historians. "The discovery of the river bed," he says, "proves beyond doubt that Sarasvati is not a myth."

That myth may now be laid to rest forever as plans are afoot to revive a part of the course taken by this ancient river. The Haryana government has acquired almost 20 acres of land and work is under way on a 50 km-long channel in Kurukshetra, through which the river will flow again.

"The revival of the Sarasvati will benefit countless people in the region as it will augment ground water resources," says Darshan Lal Jain of the Sarasvati Nadi Shodh Sansthan, which is working with the government on this project. The plan is not to line with the river's course with bricks so that water can permeate the ground. With ground water levels dipping to as low as 150 feet, the river's revival may be a boon for parched Haryana.

A boon that would not have been possible without the discovery of the river bed. "In 2004, an extraordinary phenomenon occurred," recalls Purohit. "Water started oozing out from a palaeochannel (a dried river bed) at the Kapil Muni temple sarovar at Kalayat. We carried out studies of this water. Simultaneously, a scientific team studied its mineral composition."

Scientists from ISRO also carried out studies using space imagery and discovered a number of fossil valleys in upper central Haryana. "Mapping images of the palaeo channels showed that they corresponded to the archaeological sites of Haryana," says Purohit. "This means that these settlements came up near the river, as was the norm in those times and gives further proof that the river Sarasvati indeed existed," he says.

Incidentally, the debate about the existence of the Sarasvati has been continuing for a long time although lately, most historians have begun to concede that the river perhaps did exist. However, they still continue to debate the name by which the river was known, the route that it took and the reasons for its disappearance. "There is no doubt that the Sarasvati river existed. However, opinion is divided on whether it was known as the Sarasvati or the Ghaggar," says S Kalyanraman of the Sarasvati Research and Education Trust (SRET).

The idea that the ancient Sarasvati might be the modern-day seasonal river, Ghaggar, is not new. It was first put forward over 100 years ago by CF Oldham, an English engineer who observed that the dry bed of the Ghaggar appeared too broad for a seasonal river. He believed that the Ghaggar was, in fact, flowing on the bed of a bigger river that existed before. Archaeological excavations of the Indus Valley sites have also revealed numerous settlements along the Ghaggar, lending further credence to this theory.

But then, how did this river disappear? "Primarily due to tectonic shifts," says K S Valdiya of the Bangalore-based Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research.

"Tectonic uplifts caused the deflection of the waters of the Yamuna and Sutlej, which contributed the bulk of the expanse of the river. In a way, it was a case of 'river piracy'," says Valdiya, who recently delivered the keynote address at a conference on the Sarasvati that was organised by SRET.

Whatever the reason for its disappearance, this river sutra is far from over. And when this ancient river does start to flow again, everyone will be watching. After all, it is not every day that a river is reborn.

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