AsCon Articles

By Atreyee Bardhan Roy
Research and Program Intern,

 Introduction

The rivers Sarayu and Falgu, both rivers of mythological and religious importance, are a part of the Ganga Brahmaputra Meghna (GBM) Basin. The rivers are intrinsically associated with the major Hindu epic Ramayana. As in ancient times, they continue to be just as important in the present-day scenario as also their association with the cities of Ayodhya and Gaya respectively.

The reason for researching these two rivers is primarily because of the growing importance of the river Sarayu in the current day context associated with the building of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, and that of river Falgu which has always been important in Hinduism as it appears to open the door to the ultimate salvation of the soul (“pind-daan”) as it gently flows past the ancient city of Gaya.

 

As represented in the Ramayana both the rivers though holy have been cursed by Lord Shiva and Sita respectively hence making them Holy Yet Cursed.

 

The River Sarayu

 

The river Sarayu originates at Sarmool which is located in the Bageshwar district of Uttarakhand. After flowing through the Kumaon Himalayas it flows into the Sharda River at the Indo Nepal Border in Pancheshwar. It then flows through the state of Uttar Pradesh finally merging into the river Ghaghara which is a left-bank tributary of the Ganges. 

 

On the bank of the river Sarayu lies the holy city of Ayodhya with deep mythological and religious roots. The river also finds a mention in the ancient scripts of the Rigveda and the Atharvaveda.

 

As the capital of the Kosala Kingdom, Ayodhya, in ancient India, the river Sarayu witnessed many significant events that make up the body of the epic Ramayana. As the story goes King Dasharatha accidentally killed the Brahman Shravan Kumar on the banks while he was collecting water for his aged and blind parents from the river Sarayu. The king was cursed by the aggrieved parents that he would also suffer the tragic separation from his beloved son. As a witness to the birth of Prince Rama his departure for 14years of exile with Laxman and Sita subsequently returning victorious after slaying Ravana, establishing the Ram Rajya, to his final departure to Vaikunthadam (Heaven)-Sarayu saw it all.

 

However, the Jal Samadhi of Lord Rama in its water elicited Lord Shiva’s fury in a manner that he cursed Sarayu saying that no living being would bathe in its waters and neither would the water be used for any ceremonial or religious purposes. But when Sarayu explained her stand that she was not responsible for Ram’s decision, Lord Shiva calmed down and diluted his curse saying that people would bathe in its water but the water would never be used for any ceremonial or religious purposes and that is how it remains till date. According to Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu immersed himself in the river to return to his eternal Mahavishnu form.

 

Situated on the right bank of the river Sarayu are many temples many of which were built by Emperor Chandragupta II (Vikramaditya)Lakhs of people take bath in the river Sarayu on the auspicious occasion of Ram Navami.

 

 In modern fiction, Sarayu is also the name of the river that flows through the fictional town of Malgudi (Malgudi Days) created by the eminent Indian writer late Shri RK Narayan. During the rainy season, it causes flood in adjoining areas and so lots of families have to be evicted from their homes seasonally. They return to their homes once the water recedes. The reason for their seasonal return to the flood plain is the high fertility of the land.

 

The Sarayu is choking to death for a variety of reasons which should be taken cognizance of. Many emerging reports state that over 20 big and small drains flow untreated into the river thereby raising the levels of pollution hugely.

 

The main source of pollution comes from the city of Ayodhya and Faizabad due to the are waste discharged from small scale industries like rice mills petroleum workshops, dairies, whole grain markets, laundry outflow, hazardous wastes from hospitals and pathological labs also find their way into the river untreated. The plunging water level has also reduced the flow and has impacted agriculture negatively. The river which was once 1.5km wide has shrunk to 30-40 m only in width. Global warming, pollution, and the construction of the Pancheshwar dam in Nepal have also contributed substantially to the problem.

 

This perennial water source needs immediate attention as its clean-up program will also contribute to the improvement of the river Ganga’s health.

 

 The River Falgu

 

The story of Falgu is one of greed. Unlike most other rivers the Falgu is not just a victim of greed but an oppressor. She oppressed none other than Sita herself as she flowed through Gaya in Bihar.

 

Formed by the confluence of the rivers Lilajan and Mohana the river Phalgu or Falgu is of major religious significance to Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains. The portion of the river flowing past the holy city of Gaya the riverbank is the first stop for pilgrims who come with the intent of offering prayers to the souls of their departed ancestors. The river through most of the year runs underground except for the period over the monsoons. There are eleven ghats on the western bank of the river dedicated to bathing and performing religious rituals. There is much folklore associated with the river’s religious importance.

 

The river is important for Buddhists as well. It is on the banks of this river that Prince Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha practiced asceticism before attaining enlightenment under the banyan tree which later came to be known as the Bodhi Vriksha and is located in that part of the city of Gaya known as Bodh Gaya.

 

 The Falgu is subject to high floods during the monsoon but otherwise dwindles to a stream wandering through a wide expanse of sand. Due to the vast expanse of the sandy riverbed, the river-course has fallen prey to increasing and indiscriminate urbanization allowing their sewage to flow into the river untreated. This tends to increase the impact of floods in the surrounding area. 

Pollution abatement programs are underway in an attempt to contain it but have yielded few results.

 

The river is also considered to be important for the ritual of “pind daan”. This is the ritual when pilgrims go in remembrance of their forefathers, offer the river flowers praying for the peace of their ancestors. Legend has it that a demon named Gayasur who sought a boon that whosoever seeing him would get salvation (Moksha). Due to this event and despite his wrongdoing people started getting salvation after seeing him. Unable to withstand this and to save humanity, the Almighty, appeared before him and asked him to go to the world beneath, Lord Vishnu by putting his right foot on Gayasur’s head, send him to the netherworld, imprinting his footprint on the rock which is visible even today.

 

Gayasur implored the Lord for food and Vishnu said he would not die of hunger and whosoever would offer him food would gain salvation. This is the reason why people go there to do the “Pind-Daan” of their departed loved ones.

 On the other side of the river lies the Sujata Stupa which is dedicated to the milkmaid who is said to have given milk and rice to Gautama Buddha after he recuperated in a village near the river after meditating and practicing asceticism for seven years.

 

Both these rivers have played a significant role in upholding the religious significance of their respective regions and have an important role in promoting tourism. Bodh Gaya and Ayodhya have slowly become popular places to visit due to their cultural heritage.

 

As recent as last year the decision to create a Mandir-Masjid in Ayodhya has been seen as a way to promote religious harmony after decades of conflict between the two communities. The Ramayana Cruise which would give the tourists a perspective of the life during Rama’s lifespan would also commence on the river Sarayu to contribute to the promotion of tourism and an upcoming international airport there is designed to encourage visitors from other nations to visit and explore the life in the region.

 

The government needs to support the endeavors in both these regions and include local organizations to come together to clean and protect the rivers and make it eco-friendly for the visitors and the industries which would like to come and set up their businesses in these areas.

Both the rivers Sarayu and Falgu were cursed in ancient times but in the present-day context, they remain cursed because of the high levels of pollution which are gradually leading to their collapse.

 

Some recommendations on encouraging tourism in the region around both the rivers are as follows:

Ø It has now been established through ancient texts that Ayodhya and Bodh Gaya are both centers of significant importance not only in Hinduism, Buddhism but Jainism also.

1.    Social media could well become a medium to promote the aspects of cultural significance and tourism.

2.     Encouraging the local travel agents to organize tourist meets or melas in important metropolitan cities in alliance with organizations like INTACH, Centre for Studies in Civilizations, Indian Council of Historical Research, etc., and spread awareness about the significance of Ayodhya and Bodh Gaya. Use of visual aids as also through storytelling sessions would be able to make a positive impact on future visitors as also the school-goers

Ø The importance of Ayodhya in the modern-day context has been heightened by the fact that alongside the development of Ramjanmbhoomi and the building of the Ram Temple equal importance is being given to the Babri Masjid. This reflects on the beautiful coming together of both Hinduism and Islam. It could well become a place of tourist importance from tourists across religions.

Ø Ancient texts also say that the first Tirthankara Adinath who pioneered Jainism also lived on the banks of River Sarayu in the city of Ayodhya

3.     Promote the involvement of local people to entertain tourists with local folklores as also to introduce them to local produce like handicrafts, textiles, and cuisine. This would subsequently aid the economic growth in the region.

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