[Photo/Essay] Who Remembers the Temple Destructions in Narmada Valley?

On 5th August 2020 the Bhartiya Janta Party lived up to its promise of  ‘Mandir Vahin Banega’ as India’s Prime Minister laid the foundation stone of a temple at the place of a historical mosque demolished by the same party in 1992 in Ayodhya. While preparations of a grand temple in Ayodhya are on, it must be remembered that just a couple of years back in 2017, the Sardar Sarovar dam was inaugurated by the same Prime Minister with great fanfare in which large number of religious places of the Adivasis, Hindus, Jains and Muslims were drowned in the dam waters permanently.

Adivasis protest against the Sardar Sarovar dam on the banks of River Narmada in the now submerged village Hapeshwar, Photo: Shripad Dharmadhikary

It is in times like this that the words of Kevalsingh Vasave, a tribal leader of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), the powerful people’s movement against the gigantic Sardar Sarovar dam echo in my ears:

“There is lot of difference between Adivasi culture and other cultures. Whether it is the Gods or how one worships. There is no temple in Adivasi culture. Adivasis worship nature. If there is a tree and near the tree is a pile of stones, the stone palya itself is worshipped by Adivasis.

Before eating the new grain that we have grown ourselves, we worship the Goddess Nilowanwa, and if it is anything new procured from the forest, it is the God Nilpi who has to be worshipped. We worship rivers, streams, mountains. There is no idol of God in Adivasi culture. Adivasis worship Khatri (ancestors). It is only after offerings are given to them that we eat newly harvested grains.

Our gayanas (song recitals) mention the names of many mountains, many rivers, many valleys and many animals. Without the worship of Vagh dev (Tiger) there can be no protection of the village. Worship of animals, of calves and bullocks, is all nature worship. It is not as if, over there is an idol of the God and so we go and worship that idol. Foremost we worship Rani Kajal, which is worship of the rains…”

Kevalsingh’s relationship with River Narmada can be heard in his own voice in a three minute photo-video clip here, where he describes his reaction when his own home drowned in the dam. (Language Marathi, Subtitles in English):

 

Adivasi worship during the religious festival of Holi in the now submerged village Bhadal, Photo: Rehmat

Narmada River sand where Gayna, Adivasi religious recitals are often sung, now submerged, Photo: Shripad Dharmadhikary

Adivasi religious site, similar to many of those submerged in the Sardar Sarovar dam, Photo: Rohit Jain

Adivasi religious site, similar to many of those submerged in the Sardar Sarovar dam, Photo: Rohit Jain

The voice of a woman Adivasi leader of the NBA and Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangathan, Late Pervi bai too resonates with Kevalsingh as she speaks about the folly of the government that destroyed the River Narmada. In a three minute photo –video here, Pervi talks of the lives supported in the belly of the Narmada before it bloated like a carcass with the noose of a dam around her neck. (Language Bhilali, Subtitles in English):

While for the Adivasis, the River Narmada is a mother, the giver, for the Hindus, like the River Ganga the River Narmada is a Goddess. Considered to be the daughter of Shiva, every stone on the banks of the Narmada is considered a Shivlinga. As per the Hindu belief, while it is necessary to bathe in the Ganga to absolve oneself of all sins, the mere sight of the Narmada is enough to absolve one of all sins. It is therefore no surprise that there is a unique Hindu spiritual tradition, possibly the only one of its kind in the world, where thousands of Hindus undertake circumambulation of the River Narmada, the Goddess incarnate. During the Narmada Parikrama (circumambulation), people walk up to the place of the River’s origin at Amarkantak in Madhya Pradesh, walk to its mouth in Gulf of Khambhat, in Gujarat and back. This age old tradition of Narmada Parikrama, when done fully came to about 2600 kilometres. Not to carry any worldly possessions has been the rule followed by the Parikramavasis, and the villagers on the banks of the River considered providing for the Parikramavasis a pious deed. Thus there used to be an excellent system to cater to this age old Hindu tradition and provide for the thousands of Parikramavasis with just bare minimum luggage on their shoulders and hardly any money in their pockets camping on their way in these villages.

Narmada Parikramavasi resting on his spiritual journey, Photo: Pragna Patel

The signboard in the photo below gives directions to the Parikramavasis about the facilities of dharmashalas/vishram gruhas (free guest houses) in village Chikhalda and Nisarpur, both under water of the Sardar Sarovar dam now. Earlier, these villages and all the other 245 villages that submerged in the Sardar Sarovar dam provided free lodging and boarding arrangements for the Parikramavasis for a night before they embarked upon their religious journey the next morning, many even walking bare feet on the sands of the Narmada. This distinct Hindu arduous but spiritual Parikrama too has been defiled by the many dams 1 that have also destroyed the historic ghats and Hindu temples where the Parikramavasis from far and wide found their calling.

Sign board directing the Narmada Parikramavasis to free facilities in villages Nisarpur and Chikhalda now submerged in the Sardar Sarovar dam, Photo: Pragna Patel

Sign board for Parikramavasis that the path is now closed due to Sardar Sarovar dam waters, Photo: Pragna Patel

The Koteshwar Ghat near Nisarpur village, now submerged in the Sardar Sarovar dam, Photo: Pragna Patel

Parikramavasis bathe in the once free flowing unpolluted Narmada while on Parikrama, Photo: Ashish Kothari

The once pristine free flowing Narmada, now bloated with stagnant-polluted silt filled reservoir at most places due to series of mega dams, making it unapproachable, Photo: Anonymous

The people on the banks of this mighty River put up a great deal of resistance against these mega dams not just to save their livelihood but to protect one of the richest River Valley civilisations in the country. In 1992, around the same time as the Babri Masjid was demolished, the people of village Manibeli one of the first villages to submerge in the Sardar Sarovar dam, foiled several attempts by the police to dig out the Swayambhu (one which has emerged on its own) Shivlinga from the Shulpaneshwar temple as the temple was to drown in the dam waters. The Shivlinga along with the grand Shulpaneshwar temple has been under the dam waters since 1994.

People in village Manibeli resist police from digging out Swayambhu Shivlinga from Sulpaneshwar Temple, Photo: Ashish Kothari

Shulpaneshwar temple submerges in Sardar Sarovar dam in 1994, Photo: Anonymous

Countless temples with great historic and religious significance submerged one after another in the many dams in the Narmada. The photo below is of Hapeshwar temple near Chota-Updaipur in Gujarat that submerged in early 2000. As this temple does not drown fully, local people change its flag regularly. After being submerged for over a decade, when it emerged out of waters fully for the first time in 2018 as the Sardar Sarovar dam waters reduced drastically, the core structure of the old temple was found intact! Widely reported in Gujarat press, believers flocked to the temple for a glimpse before the temple submerged once again.

Hapeshwar Temple drowning in the Sardar Sarovar dam waters, Photo: NBA

Partially submerged Hapeshwar temple, Photo: NBA

While the government was supposed to relocate the religious sites, particularly the historical ones, before these submerged in the many dams on the Narmada, it did not have the resources or the will to do so. The government dismantled only those few temples where people’s resistance was most powerful and the temple at the centre of attention. For example, the over 200 year old Shiv temple at submergence village Kasravad where Padma Vibhushan Baba Amte resided for over ten years in solidarity with the Narmada Bachao Andolan, was dismantled in parts, relocated and rebuild at the Kasravad resettlement site. Of course, it was not possible to restore the temple in its original form and most of it remains under water today.

Baba Amte at Shiv temple in the submergence village Kasravad, parts of it are relocated and parts submerged, Photo: Ashish Kothari

The Kasravad temple on the banks of Narmada in its full glory, Photo: Shripad Dharmadhikary

The Kasravad temple, part of it now relocated at the Kasravad resettlement site, Photo: Rehmat

 

Relocated Kasravad temple, Photo: Rehmat

Ironically, hundreds of such historic and ancient temples that were not in spotlight and allowed to submerge in the Sardar Sarovar dam, emerged out of the dam waters as it receded in July 2020 reminding the people of this country of our heritage that we have allowed to be destroyed, even as arrangements were being geared up to lay the foundation of a Ram temple at Ayodhya on 5th August 2020.

Shiv temple at Submergence Village Chikhalda emerges out of Sardar Sarovar dam waters in 2020, Photo: Manthan Adhyayan Kendra

Shiv temple at Koteshwar emerges out of Sardar Sarovar dam waters in 2020, Photo: Pragna Patel

Ram temple at village Koteshwar emerges out of Sardar Sarovar dam waters in 2020, Photo: Pragna Patel.

Shiv temple at Chikhalda emerges out of Sardar Sarovar dam waters in 2020, Photo: Manthan Adhyayan Kendra

Shiv temple at Chikhalda, emerges out of Sardar Sarovar dam waters in July 2020, Photo: Manthan Adhyayan Kendra

It is clear that the laying of the foundation of a temple at Ayodhya  is not out of any regard for any religion, be it that of Adivasis or Hindus but  is part of the ongoing attempts to divide the people of this country on religious lines for mere political gains. By doing this we have disregarded the core Hindu Philosophy of  वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् – The World Is a Family.

(Note: Some of the photos are not of high quality/resolution as these have been taken over 30 year period.)

Nandini Oza was  an activist with Narmada Bachao Andolan, Nandini Oza has been working on the oral histories of the Narmada struggle and is currently the President of Oral History Association of India. https://oralhistorynarmada.in/

 

 

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Nandini Oza Written by:

Formerly an activist with Narmada Bachao Andolan, Nandini Oza has been working on the oral histories of the Narmada struggle and is currently the President of Oral History Association of India. https://oralhistorynarmada.in/ Contact: nandinikoza@gmail.com

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