A river has dried up but relax! It’s not due to climate change | Bodh Gaya, India

“Have you been to Sujatha Stupa” enquired the gentleman who was sitting and chatting at the entrance of Myanmar Monastery with 4 others including the security person. Their initial suspicion about the South Indian visitor have vanished and have changed to curiosity
“No, I haven’t” My reply was short. I was absolutely unaware of the mentioned place’s importance
“It’s very near from here – just across the bridge-you should not miss it. Sujatha Stupa is an important place in the life of Buddha”
I thanked them and walked towards Bodh Gaya temple and took the left turn towards Sujatha Stupa. The road was straight and the sun was above my head with the tarmac radiating extra heat from the surface. The google maps showed that soon I’ll be crossing the long bridge across the river Phalgu. The river was blue in the G map. Maha Bodhi temple is situated on the banks of the river. Yesterday I had planned to visit the river bank but took a wrong turn and ended up somewhere else. Today I will spend rest of the day on the river bank and when the sun sets I’ll take some magnificent shots of the golden river. These cheery thoughts helped me forget about the heat and distance and I found myself at the head of the bridge. Maybe it was because of the heat, the shock was delayed and I walked feeling numb. But soon the reality hit me literally like a heat wave – i found myself walking across a dried up river bank where the sand acted as the catalyst for the sun’s heat. The mirages pierced my eyes which was expecting blue waters. It pierced my thoughts too and I almost got an idea where WE are heading. Similar thoughts had hit me when I saw the Garbage Hill in Delhi for the first and only time in 2013. The vast stretches of empty river bank convinced me that Facebook doesn’t pay $1 to environmentalists to save earth for each “save earth” post we share. So I guess $1 for treatment posts are also fake. I saw a funeral procession approaching the bank of the river on the left side of the bridge. There were drums and the beats were heavy which reminded me of Tamil Nadu where people dance to the beats during a person’s final journey. Comparing the funeral with Phalgu River’s condition will make me an ugly pseudo-environmentalist and pseudo-intellectual and so I refuse to compare.

Washermen drying cloths on the sandy river bed
Maha Bodhi temple is located on the banks of River Phalgu
No handrails for the bridge!!!

Just when I crossed halfway of the bridge, a cow coming from the opposite side accompanied by her master and his son got excited. I wonder whether she got scared on seeing a person from a land where beef is too popular. It bobbed suddenly and ran back only before hitting a cyclist and fell down from the bridge which didn’t have any handrails on both sides across its length. Another death? The river bank was just under 20 feet and with the sand acting as cushion the cow has survived the jump without any issues and she continued to show drama. I managed to shoot a video of the peril of father and son trying to catch the cow on my mobile phone. But her survival made me optimistic. Dams might have been constructed across the river which has altered its course and dams are good thing – I remember my social studies classes during my high school when I learned the benefits of a dam – source of pollution-free electricity, helps irrigation and control floods. I didn’t really mind this dried up river bank for it is a result of a “positive block” somewhere up in its course. A quick search in Wikipedia just after crossing the bridge to know more about this river gave the biggest surprise – the empty sand bank is not caused due to climate change nor due to a dam – in fact this was the result of a curse. Some days ago newly elected Tripura CM was trolled for mentioning about presence of internet in Hindu epic Mahabharata. Gujrat CM too scored a self goal for comparing Narada with Google. Well this is not an isolated case – we all have heard of people trying to make others believe that all the modern inventions and major present day incidents were mentioned in their holy book by interpreting the wordings of book for their own advantage. But I’ll have to tell you this – this river got dried up due a curse – yes a curse!!!
According to mythology, the soul of Dhashratha, the father of Rama appeared before Sita, wife of Rama at Gaya when Rama was away. Dhasharatha asked for Pinda, which are offered by men during ancestral worship but Sita went ahead and gave Pinda and this was witnessed by The Phalgu River, a cow, a Brahmin, a Tulsi plant and Akshayavat – the indestructible banyan tree. When Rama came back, Sita shared the happy news about the appearance of his father’s soul but out of 5 witnesses only the Banyan tree spoke the truth and the rest of the 4 of them lied fearing Rama may get angry because Sita, a female offered Pinda. In anger Sita cursed all 4 of them and the river Phalgu dried up.

River Phalgu is considered holy by Hindus and it does get flooded during rainy seasons. Though it has been cursed I wonder whether any steps can be taken to make it an all-weather river so that our future generation could add a new chapter to the mythos – about how their grandfathers and great grandfathers asked for forgiveness on behalf of Phalgu river and helped it free from the curse by bringing it back to life.

I have walked a long way from the bridge and I had a little more to walk to reach Sujatha Stupa. I made my pace quicker hoping that soon our children will be able to cross this river filled with water.

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