In one of my travels, a few years before, I had a chance encounter with an interesting old man, who advised me not to visit good places anymore. He was of the view that those good places cast a spell on the tourists. Visitors get attracted to them. The attachment so generated does not augur well. As bound by the spell the visitors lose all their peace and balance when they return back to their respective homes. The power of the spell will then force them to keep returning to the good places more often till it becomes a habit. The men turn to become traveloholic. But, then, some advises are not to be taken seriously. On the other hand, I really wanted to turn traveloholic, at least for some years of my life. And, nobody was to question me to get attracted to different attributes of any city. What’s wrong with such attraction? In fact, the more I mature on my travels, the more I love those natural beauties that get unfolded before my eyes. In fact, I did not give any importance to the advice of the old man at all.
Some years later, in 2014, the destiny had brought me to Jabalpur, situated on the banks of Narmada. On the first day of my arrival, I had gone to the Gwari Ghat in the evening and got enchanted under the spell cast by the Goddess, where she stood in her spiritual form. Then, I had also gone to the Bargi Dam, where, she was adventurous but calm and peaceful. In the normal sense, there was no reason to go near her anymore. After all, the river is a river only, a form of the waterbody. But, what a man under a strong spell can do? And, so, I could not say no to a visit to Dhuandhar Falls, when the Goddess Narmada beckoned to me to spend an afternoon with her again.
It is said that many years ago a great famine took place, which put all the living beings into great suffering and misery. The earth crust crumbled and all the water bodies dried up. When men could not worship the Gods, even the kingdom of Indra got disturbed. Agitated they approached the Lord Shiva. On request of the Gods about resolving that crisis, the Lord Shiva mediated long and hard for many years. During such meditation, a drop of sweat fell to the ground on earth. From that drop, a very beautiful maiden emerged. All the Gods were smitten by her beauty and started pursuing her. Watching this, the Lord Shiva named that maiden as “Narmada”, one who stimulates tender feelings in the heart of men. The Lord also commanded her to flow for the benefits of mankind on earth. And, smitten by her beauty and under her strong spell, I was pursuing her in Jabalpur.
It is also said to be the holiest of the rivers in the country. An old saying goes like this, “गंगा स्नाने, यमुना पाने, नर्मदा ध्याने ”. It means that only by thinking about her, a man gets purified and can attain salvation. Her origin is said to be from the time universe was created and earth was being formed. There is also a story on her geographical position in which she flows in the rift valley flanked on the north by Vindhya Mountain and on the south by Satpura plateau. It says that Lord Shiva appeared in the form of a linga in her waves, when she was wreaking havoc through her course. The Lord admonished her for her ego, advised to learn humility and confined her in the rift valley by the Vindhya Mountain and the Satpura.
I do not know the reasons behind the British naming the river as Narbada or Nerbudda. I consider it as an attempt to taunt the Indian names. But, who cares now! My beloved river has so many beautiful names to flaunt. Since she was born of the Lord Shiva’s sweat, she is named as “Shiv suta” and “Jatashankari”. One of her names is also “Reva”, derived from the Sanskrit roots indicating its nature of hopping and leaping down on the rocky bed. She is also called “Dakshin Ganga” denoting her pious nature. Another name of my beloved river is “Mekalkanya”, being the daughter of Mount Mekal at Amarkantak.
There are many more stories connected with the birth of my beloved. In one of her births, she was a beautiful daughter of a shepherd, named Narmada, living near Amarkantaka. Every day she used to visit a Yogi, who resided near her father’s fields. One day, the girl killed herself for some unknown reasons. When the Yogi came to know of the untimely death of that young girl, his vocal cord got choked with the piece of Bhang that he was taking at that time. A stream of water sprang out from his throat and flew downwards and became a river of the same name. In her another story, that girl, finding herself pregnant with a child, committed suicide by throwing herself over the falls of Kapiladhara. Thereafter, the river was named after her.
Whatever may be the truth, I have fallen in love with her. Under her strong spell, I have decided to spend an afternoon with her, where she was flowing with abundance and might. It was my greatest desire to see her dancing on her waves. And, what a sight she presented from a distance. The students of geology and geography would be thrilled to see the fall from the view point constructed at a little distance. The incoming river was flowing on a bed higher and raised above the rest of the land. Those students can understand the plate tectonics theories better. But for me, it was a pleasant occasion when I was going to meet the river of my deepest likings at one of her best known places at broad daylight and in full view of one and all.
Sometimes, when you are too passionate about something, one gets a shock when the reality strikes suddenly. Deeply enamoured in love with the river, when I was approaching it, the reality of people struck me with deep sense of sorrow. I saw the poor children standing in the waves and searching for the coins which devotees throw in the water. I stood there for a while and wanted to ask those children about their reasons to do the same and to convince them about the risks that are generally associated with such activities in the middle of a raving water flow. However, after pondering over the situation, I desisted from entering into any kind of dialogue with those children, numbering around fifty. It was the example of extreme penury striking me with a reality check and shaking my conscience. All recent events of displacement of tribals during Bargi Dam and Sardar Sarovar Project revolved around my memory and I stood there dumbstruck. The modern day reality was mean and much beyond the well-meaning words of “Dakshin Ganga” and “mekal-kanya” etc.
I was sorry for those children and their fate. I was also sorry for my beloved, who had to see such modern developments and its fall-outs every day. I have already experience in Gwari Ghat that Narmada often reads into the minds of the passionate visitors. She often senses what such sensitive visitors would be thinking at the banks. It happened again at the Dhuandhar Falls. She somehow sensed my thoughts and led me to a small market that has been established to cater to tourists. There I saw small petty traders selling their wares, artisans crafting name-plates on the marble slabs and tribals selling the forest produces. One of such salesmen was selling a unique edible item called “Kand-mool”. I had seen that root during Ramayan Days of my childhood when I had started reading the stories of Rama and Ravana. I was wondering how the time had passed from those days till the present times. Have I grown bigger and much nasty? Or, I still have some benevolent childhood left in me? Shrouded with those intriguing and mind-boggling thoughts, I took its picture and proceeded ahead.
Thoughts on spent childhood and its innocence, now lost, can put someone into the realm of detachment. Imagine my situation on the banks of the Dhuandhar Falls, where I was heading to under the princely thoughts of meeting my beloved river. What should one do when caught into the myriads of emotions lurking in the minds at the same time? In my opinion, the best way is to trust someone and confide into her or him in blind faith. But, how can I confide with a river with whom I had fallen in love? How will she communicate in return? Thinking that unnecessary gibberish, I went ahead and saw another modern development at that site. It was the ropeway built across the stream connecting the two sides of the river. It helps people to see the fall from a height to give a bird’s eye view besides transporting them to the other side, where some tourism facility existed. I had the opportunity to ride that box hanging in the air. But, I declined to do so. The reason was simple. It is difficult to court one’s beloved by hovering around her ceiling on some kind of a helicopter. For courtship, one has to remain on ground and as near as possible. So, I let that box on the ropeway slide past me much above the ground.
As I had already understood that river Narmada communicates through thoughts. It is like hypnotherapy. So, while I was brooding over detachments and passions, she understood and led me to a place where I could see her in her sensuous avatar. Actually, I walked over her left bank to a large distance till I reached by her side. When I turned my face towards her, I felt that she was lifting her veils made of small droplets. She was dynamic and in a great flow of strength. Her voice resembling a deafening roar was already shaking the earth and also my heart. Her body was gleaming under the impact of the sun-rays of the afternoon sun. Amidst such a beautiful sight, can someone tell me how to regain my composure, which turned weak with the passionate intensity of the beloved?
Then, the desire to see it from the most vantage point overpowered me and it became impossible to wait any longer. But, impatience, that too at her Ghat is not acceptable to Narmada. When she realized that I was being impatient and all, she did what she had to do. Suddenly, I saw that my uncle and aunt, who were standing at some far distance upto now, were coming near me. They were comparing it with the Niagara Falls and wanted their picture to be clicked in front of the fall. Seeing the elders of the family, all my impatience vanished and soon we all stood for the picture. Narmada went in the backdrop. It was always a moment of self-realisation for me. How ironical it was that the most beautiful and picturesque natural beauty had to slip to the background, while the human beings came to the front. But, even if I look like a monster in front of the exalted beauty of my beloved, it is the only picture available to me in which I am standing in front of my beloved.
After the picture session, my elders went away to admire the nature from some other view-points. Ultimately, I got the opportunity to be at ease with the dancing Narmada with love in heart. The entire view of the ox-bow cliff was in front of my eyes. Here she was at least 10 meters in height and flowing with great force. The falling water was forming numerous whirls-pools in its down course through the dolomite rocks. From here she will flow to her another world-famous location of Marble rocks. No doubt she was at her best that day and presented herself in the form which is even liked and regarded by the Gods, what to say about a humble mortal like me. Standing there in her presence, overwhelmed but resolute, I was searching for a blessing from her. And suddenly, the blessing came in the form of the sprinkles of water droplets that carried upto me with the flow of the breeze and drenched me from head to toe. She had blessed me in her own way. How can I say that she can not communicate? It is really a different world altogether when a mortal can communicate with the nature. Was I satisfied? No. I can never be satisfied with river Goddess Narmada.
With heavy heart, however, I had to retrieve myself from the charms of the river. My Uncle and Aunt were calling me to return. What should have I done then? I was remembering the advice of the old man, whom I had met a few years ago. Though I returned from the proximity of my beloved river Goddess Narmada, I am still under her spell. To express my state of mind after coming back, I would like to mention the lyrics of Majrooh Sultanpuri, from the film “Abhiman”:
नदियाँ किनारे हेराये आयी कंगना
ऐसे उलझ गये अनाड़ी सजना
काहे पनघट उपर, गयी थी चलके अकेली
मारे हँस हँस ताना, सारी सखियाँ सहेली
गोरी और जाओ, ना मानो कहना