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Ravines, rivers, religion, & reverence: A sensitive & an appealing mix
By Dr. Javid Iqbal
Ravine defined as a deep narrow valley, especially one formed by running water has had a deep, a wide religious implication in the Indian subcontinent. Ravines in upper Himalayan ranges have formed the abode of the reshi, the muni, the yogi, and the jogi. The mountain top, the dancing and singing mountainous stream provide the ideal ground for feeling close to nature, and to the creator. Himalayan ranges with mountainous streams became a part of Hindu lore from earliest times, though with the passage of time, new realities came to fore, as the subcontinent diversified. In cinematic form, in serial after serial on television, the revered prophets in Hindu lore, the seers and the sages are seen on mountain tops with flowing stream, so entrenched is the background in Indian psyche. In what is called the ‘Dev Lok’ the entire universe remains in focus, as per the Hindu religious lore. And this ‘Dev Lok’ in popular Indian imagination remains high-up, watching and observing. The streams evolve the shape of rivers, as they rush into valleys of Himalayan ranges and the plains at the foot of Himalayas, further south—the Vindhyas.

The rivers—Ganga, Jamna, Saraswati provide life to the Indian land. These rivers are holy, Ganga—the Holy Ganges is called Mayai…the mother that feeds. It originates from Gangotri…a mountain top of reverence, a place of pilgrimage. These rivers are so intertwined with culture of the land that the Indian culture, especially of Indo-Gangetic plain is called Ganga-Jamni culture. In Middle East, Euphrates and Tigris and further west, as West Asia strides into African continent, Nile relates tales, akin to the tales of Ganga. Nile of yore was as sacred as Ganga. The land mass between Euphrates and Tigris harboured the Mesopotamian/Babylonian civilization. Arabs call it Algezera…the island. Religious practices of various hues flourished on banks of these rivers. Phenomenon of religion and reverence is not confined to Indian subcontinent; it has been prevalent in another fertile land for religious growth…Palestine.

Religion in Palestine has been as dominant a phenomenon as it has been in the Indian subcontinent. Abrahammic religions, taking name from Abraham [Hazrat Ibrahim (A.S)] Judaism, Christianity evolved in Palestine, while as another Abrahammic religion—Islam made an advent in Hejaz [present day Saudi Arabia] not far from Palestine. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism are as close in belief and practice, as are the Abrahammic religions. Sikhism came to fore later; Hindu and Muslim beliefs had a bearing on its growth. Islam is the only Abrahammic religion that made an entry into Indian subcontinent in a big way, and it spread widely. The spread had an effect on India’s societal ethos, and its cultural moorings. Apart from the traditional belief in religion and ritualistic practice of all major religions, another form took root. Retiring to ravines to pray and meditate, some religious cults amongst traditional mainstream religions evolved practices of their own, not consistent with traditional forms, yet owing allegiance to religion. The practices were consistent with public service. The earliest evidence of such a religious cult is the Essen amongst Jews in pre-Christian era.

Essens formed a significant sect of naturalists, the intricacies of which were hidden from public view. The sect had branches all over the civilized world of those times. However memberships could be attained only with an immense input of piety, prayer, and humanitarian service. The members would retire to dense forests, wild deserts, places of wilderness, in order to realise the self. To attain their objective, they would suffer depravity; explore minerals of benefit to humanity and herbs to treat the sick free of costs. In bygone ages, such practices by saintly characters were not unknown. They were well versed in pharmaceutical properties of herbs and in the art and practice of treating the sick. Indian Jogi could be quoted as an example, who reminds us of these travelers of wilderness. In the vale of Kashmir, rishis more or less tread the same path. The Essen, the Yogi, the Rishi could be labeled as a naturalist in service of humanity. Preservation of nature in its pristine form remained their goal. We may quote Hazrat Noor-ud-Din Noorani, Kashmir’s patron saint. “Unn Poshe Teli, Yele Waun Poshe” is his famous quote, subjecting supply of food grains to preservation of forest cover. Essen, the Yogi, the Reshi exhibited strength of character, moral uprightness, they led a life of prayer and piety, which stood admired and applauded by all, who realized the worth of their effort. Matter, whatever its form constituted the root of evil and material pleasure--a sin, hence refrain from things material became the norm.

Essens--recent discovery of scrolls in Palestine has thrown fresh light on the sect. The scrolls exhibit an intense religious devotion of its members and their belief in emergence of Messiah, for whom they remained in feverish wait. There are indications of Jesus Christ turning to this sect in his quest of truth and its path, prior to the period of becoming a Prophet. Egyptian archeological survey points to such an occurrence; traces of which were found in remains of an ancient dwelling of the sect. As revealed in ‘Encyclopedia of religions and ethics’ the records are preserved in German academic circles. John, the Baptist is also believed to have been associated with the sect. Some believe the nomenclature of the sect of Essens to be a derivative of ‘Aasi’ meaning a physician.

Like the Essen, Indian Jogi remain a known collector of Himalayan herbs to treat the sick, moreover in ages when seers and sages flourished the Himalayan ranges, the sanctity, the purity of the mountainous ranges and of the rivers emanating from these ranges was maintained. A time came when Raj Kapoor, the eminent film maker sensed that Holy Ganga is getting polluted, and a cry rent the skies ‘Ram Terey Ganga Maeli Hoo Gayi’. The appeal was made to Sri Ram, whose habitat the Himalayan ranges remained in the distant past, during his ‘vanvas’. As Raj Kapoor made out in his sensitive movie, the degradation was not only physical, but of morals, of moral values. In 2007, the Ganges was ranked among the five most polluted rivers in world. The fecal coliform levels near Varanasi—a sacred Hindu site was found to be 100 times more than the limit set by official Indian agencies. Not only the humans remain under the threat of pollution, fish—140 species, amphibian—90 species, and the Gangetic dolphin are threatened, too. Environmental preservation plans, preservation of flora and fauna, the ambitious schemes to restore the pristine glory of Ganga Mayai is held hostage by elements, who do not want to listen to voices of reason.

In the vale of Kashmir, taking route from famous Pahalgam resort, and passing through Chandanwari and Sheeshnag, high-up in the mountains is the abode of Shivlingam. Like Gangotri, the Holy Cave invested with Shivlingam is the revered site of pilgrimage. As is the habit of Ganga Maiya, Lidder too flows down the ravine, singing and dancing, the enthralling and soul captivating music lulls one to sleep. The feeling evolves of being in the lap of nature, the comfort levels goes up several notches. Lidder could be as sacred as Ganga Maiya, high up in Lidder valley is the abode of Shivlingam. Lidder needs to be dealt with as sensitively, as deftly as Ganga Maiya. Lower down it embraces Vitasta; call it Jhelum or Veeth, if you may. The sanctity of Ganga Maiya, of Lidder, of Vitasta, of Jamna, of Saraswati stands threatened, as misinterpretation of what the nature ordains rules the roost.

No amount of administrative and judicial intervention could be a substitute for self imposed discipline. Religion demands such a discipline, the sort of discipline sages and seers had, who maintained the sanctity of Himalayas and its mountainous streams forming the river basin of the subcontinent for ages. They maintained sanctity by a right mix of intuition and reason…the two ingredients that define Hinduism, as related by Dr. Radhakrishnan—India’s first Vice President and eminent theologian. Religion, whatever its form has to remain within the natural scheme of things, and preserve the natural pattern…it has to remain environment friendly. Ganga action plan—an ambitious venture cannot afford to fail, millions of human lives in Indo-Gangetic plain are tied to it, as is the flora and fauna. Pilgrim sites…Gangotri, Badrinath, and Amarnath need to be regulated on an equitable pattern. The regulations need support of citizen groups for mass education, mere administrative measures and judicial streamlining of sensitive issues may not suffice.

Yaar Zinda Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]

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News Updated at : Monday, November 5, 2012
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