Pushkaram without water?

S. Madhusudhana Rao

The people and governments of the two Telugu states have prayers on their lips for rains not only in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh but also in neighbouring Maharashtra. Unless the three states receive copious amounts of rain, the once-in-12-year Godavari Pushkaram will face the risk of being a dry ritual.

As of now, vast stretches of sand are staring in the face of the devout who are preparing for a holy dip and officials who have been making elaborate arrangements for a hassle-free journey and a holy bath at specially constructed ghats. If there is no water in Godavari, the faithful have to walk on the river bed to find a few pools of water for religious rituals, including the mandatory bath. Or, they have to do with a shower instead of a holy dip.

Barely two days to go, and without any sign of rain, let alone a downpour, in the catchments areas of Godavari, the monsoon sight of a full flowing river is absent. Instead, it presents a pathetic picture all along its course in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

While millions of people waiting for the holy religious occasion are hoping for a last-minute miracle, the Telangana government is lobbying with Maharashtra for release of Godavari waters from that state’s reservoirs to tide over the crisis triggered by a prolonged dry spell. It is not uncommon to see dry weather after an initial bout of heavy rain in the first week of south-west monsoon. But what makes the present situation critical is, besides hitting farm operations, Godavari Pushkaram carries a lot of religious importance and significance for crores of Hindus residing in AP and Telangana and neighbouring states.

Pushkaram of any river without a holy dip is unthinkable and all rituals performed during that period on the river bank are intrinsically linked to water. For many, observation of rites without free flowing river water during pushkarams is anathema. How ritualistic-minded and God-fearing people will reconcile to a situation rarely seen in recent times is difficult to gauge. For them, a pushkaram is an important religious event to wash their sins with a holy dip and to seek salvation. Hindu scriptures say so and legends are galore stressing the importance of performing various rituals during pushkaram days for the benefit of partakers and their departed souls.

According to Hindu sacred books, pushkaram comes once in every 12 years and all the holy rivers of India have these religious festivals. Pushkaram is considered most auspicious because the Guru of Gods Brihaspati enters each of the 12 Zodiac signs (rasis) and stays for one full year. It is believed that the whole gamut of divinity would join Brihaspati during his year-long sojourn. Thus a river which has pushkaram is said to possess immense divine power in its waters.  Those who take a holy dip in the river in the first 12 days beginning with the day the Guru of Gods enters a rasi are supposed to get divine blessings, health, wealth, et al.

For example, the Ganga Pushkaram begins when Brihaspathi enters Mesha rasi, Krishna Pushkaram when he is in Kanya Rasi, etc. This year it is the turn of River Godavari and its pushkaram begins on July 14 when Brihaspati enters the waters along with other deities of Hindu pantheon. Since the first 12 days (July 14-25) are considered sacred, crores of believers perform the relevant rituals as prescribed in ancient Sanskrit texts. Even if they don’t do, a holy dip in Godavari is considered propitious. So is with the last 12 days of pushkaram.

Godavari, also known as Dakshina Ganga (Ganges of South), finds mention in a number of ancient tomes and many important pilgrim centres dot the 1465km-long river. Originating  near Nashik in Maharashtra, the river flows towards east, meandering through Telangana and Andhra Pradesh and finally ending up in Bay of Bengal. In its course, Godavari takes in many rivers and rivulets from neighboring states, turning itself into a mighty river and awe-inspiring during the rainy season.

Not surprisingly, the Godavari Pushkaram, the first mega and mass religious event after the bifurcation, has assumed importance. Both state governments have allotted crores of rupees for pilgrims’ amenities at bathing ghats and made arrangements to minimize problems visitors are likely to face during rituals, stay and commuting.

However, there are major concerns that can’t be simply washed away. The prime  one is water. Even if Maharashtra releases some, it will be insufficient and takes days to flow down thousands of kilometers and by the time it reaches important pushkaram centres — say Bhadrachalam in Khammam district and Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh – most of the water will either be evaporated or absorbed by the dry river bed. The remaining quantity of water will be hardly sufficient for several lakhs of people expected to take a holy dip every day.

In the absence of running river water, bathing and offerings make the remaining water in Godavari most unhygienic and turn it into a cesspool and a breeding ground for all kinds of diseases. Add to that, solid waste strewn around and human waste on the river bed.

It’s a logistic nightmare, given the movement of people, their security, transport, food and water. No doubt, both the Telangana and AP governments have mobilized the official machinery and taken every possible precaution for the smooth conduct of Godavari Pushkaram. After all, it is the first prestigious event for both the governments to prove their administrative efficiency.

Still, water, or lack of it in Godavari, can rob pushkaram visitors of their religious fervor.

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