Battle of Haldighat

A fierce battle was fought between Rajput King Maha Rana Pratap and Mughal King Akbar on June 18th, 1576 CE, which has now come to be called the Battle of Haldighat.  Another record says that this battle was fought on 21st June. But these four days from 18th to 21st are commemorated in Haldighat and also at his birth place.

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Akbar’s Ploy

Akbar wanted to extend his Mughal Empire. The ploy he adopted was to take strong Hindu kings under him through friendship. These Hindu kings in turn helped him to defeat other Hindu kings.

Maha Rana Pratap

Maha Rana Pratap was persuaded by Akbar in every way, to come under him, but the Rajput King refused. Akbar soon lost his cool and declared a war on Rana Pratap. Rana Pratap also made preparations for the battle.

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 The battle

The two armies took stage at Haldighat. Akbar’s Army had 200000 soldiers while Rana Pratap had only 22,000.

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Great Valour by Rana Pratap

The lesser numbers for Rana Pratap did not mean that the battle was a cake walk for Akbar. Rana Pratap and his soldiers fought with great valour.

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Chetak Horse

As much as this battle was fought by Rana Pratap’s brave warriors, it was also a story of great versatility shown by his horse, Chetak.

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Even though Rana Pratap was defeated, Akbar’s army could not completely conquer the Rajput king.

Sacrifice of Chetak

Rana Pratap’s horse made a great sacrifice in saving his master. Just as Alexander had a brave horse in Bucephalus, Rana Pratap had Chetak. Chetak was a native breed war horse, a Kathiawari.

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Chetak was seriously injured in the battle, but, to save his master’s life, it crossed over a big canal, to safety.

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As soon as it crossed, it fell down dead. Rana Pratap broke down and was moved by the great commitment his horse had shown in saving his life.

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A statue in memory

He created a beautiful garden at the spot where Chetak had passed away. A statue was later erected in its memory at Haldighat, where it had shown great bravery.

Scooter and Helicopter in its name

The valour of this horse is so ingrained in the Indian minds that the famous scooter in the 1980s and 1990s of India was named Chetak. Chetak is also an inspiration behind the name of India’s indigenously built helicopter. There is also an Express train in the name of Chetak.

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Many statues have been built over the centuries depicting Rana Pratap on his horse, Chetak.

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Popular across land

This battle of Haldighat goes down as one of the greatest battles fought by Maha Rana Pratap.

After this battle, the ethos and valour of Maha Rana Pratap reached far and wide through the country.

In Coin

His valour has been commemorated by the Government in a coin.

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A Serial

A serial on Maha Rana Pratap is being aired in TV, in English, Hindi and other vernacular languages. It is also popular in regions where Maha Rana Pratap has not visited. Such is the spread of his valour all over the land, across languages.

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Rani Lakshmibai

Rani Lakshmibai was born on 19th November, 1828 at Varanasi. She is popularly known in this land as Jhansi Ki Rani, meaning “Queen of Jhansi” as she ruled over the Maratha state Jhansi. She fought against British with the slogan Meri Jhansi Nahin Doongi. She was the rallying spirit behind the 1857 war of Independence against the British.

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Rani Lakshmibai

Birth

Rani Lakshmibai was born into a Maratha family. Her parents Moropant Tambe and Bhagirathi Sapre named her Manikarnika, after the Manikarnika Shakti Peeth in Varanasi.

Chhabili

Her father worked for the Peshwa, chief minister of Bithoor district. The Peshwa was very fond of her and nicknamed her Chhabili, meaning ‘playful’.

Education

She was educated in archery, horsemanship and self-defence at a very young age.

Marriage

In the year 1842, she was married to Raja Gangadhar Rao, the Maharaja of Jhansi. From then on she was called Lakshmibai and also Jhansi Ki Rani.

Son and Adopted Son

In 1851, Rani Lakshmibai gave birth to a son named Damodar Rao. The child was not to live long as he passed away within 4 months. Gangadhar Rao then adopted a child born to his cousin. This child was also named Damodar Rao.
Gangadhar Rao soon passed away in the year 1853, leaving alone his wife and adopted son. Rani Lakshmibai started ruling the kingdom.

British wanting to Annex Jhansi

British had by then annexed many of the Indian states and now wanted to seize Jhansi. Lord Dalhousie was the governor General of British India then. He sent notices to Rani Lakshmibai, rejecting her son Damodar Rao’s right to throne. They said that as Damodar Rao was not the biological son of Gangadhar Rao, he cannot lay claim to throne and that the state of Jhansi now belonged to the British. In this backdrop, Rani Lakshmibai was paid Rs 60,000 as pension and was ordered to vacate the palace at Jhansi fort.
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Meri Jhansi Nahi Dungi

Rani Lakshmibai was however not going to give up easily. She strengthened her defences and enlarged her Army recruiting many warriors of those times like Khuda Baksh, Gaulam Gaus Khan and Dost Khan among others into the army. Her famous slogan was “Meri Jhansi Nahi Dungi”, meaning, “I won’t give my Jhansi”.

First War of Independence

Three years later, in the year 1857, the first War of Independence broke out and there was unrest throughout the country. The attention of British was turned away from Jhansi to other parts of the country. Rani Lakshmibai seized this moment to further mobilize her forces.

The Battle

In the year 1858, after the First War of Independence, the British forces under Hugh Rose decided to lay siege on Jhansi. Rani Lakshmibai and her forces were by then fully prepared to take on the British.
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A fierce battle began between the Jhansi forces and British troops on 23rd May, 1858. Rani Lakshmibai led from the front and gave a tough time to the British, in a battle that lasted for two weeks. Her forces were also joined by the army of Tantya Tope.
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Her army was however not able to hold on against the British Troops who were more experienced in warfare and the British captured Jhansi fort.

Escape and Recoup

Rani Lakshmibai managed to escape from the city along with her few guards, by making a brave jump from the fort, on her horse.
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Rani Lakshmibai and her son Damodar Rao recouped their forces and joined with the other rebel group of Tantiya Tope.

Defeating Gwalior Maharaja

The combined forces of Rani Lakshmbai and Tantiya Tope now moved to Gwalior, where they defeated the Maharaja of Gwalior, who had joined hands with the enemy forces and captured the Gwalior fort.

Death

The British attacked Gwalior in a few days. Rani Lakshmibai passed away on 18th June, 1858, while saving the Gwalior fort.

Praise from the Enemy Camp

The remarkable bravery and courage she had shown all through, made even General Hugh Rose of the enemy camp remark, “Remarkable for her beauty, perseverance and intelligence, she was the most dangerous of all the rebel rulers”.

Legacy

After her death, she became a symbol of bravery and courage and was considered an icon by many freedom fighters who came after her, in the struggle for Independence. Many women were influenced by her life.

Portrait of Queen Laxmi Bai Made During Her Lifetime, Found In 1857 During Capture of Farrukhabad’s Palace Army

Army Female Unit named after her

The first female unit of the Indian Army was named after her.

Statues

Statues of Jhansi were erected in Jhansi and Gwalior, the two places of her glory.
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Post Independence, her statues were built in every nook and corner of the land as people still saw her as an epitome of bravery.
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Stamps

Stamps have been issued in her name by the Government of India.
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Films

Many films and serials have also been made on the life of Rani Lakshmibai.
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Part of school books

Today, every child knows her name as ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’, as her inspiring life has become part of textbooks in schools.
Rani Lakshmibai will remain an inspiration for the women and youth of this country for many more generations to come.

World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought

Nature’s Cycles and Manmade Cycles

Rains have a habit of failing now and then. Monsoons sometimes play truant. But over a couple of years, Mother Nature usually pulls up these truant forces and normalcy descends very soon.
India that is largely dependent on its annual monsoon for its water and food does face difficulties during these trying periods but has never gone into major droughts or famines because of failed monsoons alone.
Hand of man is evident in creating these droughts and famine.
The noted senior journalist of The Hindu, P.Sainath, who was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for his journalism, in his book “Everyone Loves a Good Drought”, cites through examples witnessed personally, how most of the relief work, their planning and execution actually are contradictory to the real situation on ground, the real needs and sustainable living.
His book brings out how it is the agencies, Governmental and Non Governmental, which finally end up profiting from relief work. Infact the very existence of these agencies is dependent upon such relief work.
Inadvertently all these ill planned and unsustainable measures taken as part of relief work, instead of dousing the problems, fuel and keep alive the cycle of droughts.
But manmade droughts and resultant famines do not seem to be a phenomenon of Independent India alone.

The Dreaded Famines of India

When India was under the British administration, famines were a repeated and regular occurrence. Famines became endemic in the 1800s under British rule of India. Famines were never widespread before British came to India.
William Digby, an economist and Member of Famine Commission under the British, records in 1901, the number of deaths in India due to famine in the hundred years between 1800 and 1900.
1800 – 1825 10,000
1826 – 1850 5,00,000
1851 – 1875 5,00,000
1876  – 1900 2,60,00,000
How did these famines come to be in the first place?
Mike Davis, the economic historian has recorded the cause of these famines as an outcome of British policy. In his book “Late Victorian Holocaust” he highlights with details how there were 18 famines in the 24 years between 1876 to 1900 and how 29 Million Indians perished in these famines. He calls it a murder by the British state policy.
These years were witness to the great famines of Bihar, Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Central India and many other parts of India. The numbers of people who were starved to death by these manmade famines, year after year, region after region, running into lakhs, is just too revolting.
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An illustration in a London Newspaper of the famine conditions in India
Hand of Man in Creating Droughts and Famines
If we pit the Industrial Revolution of Britain and Europe against the colonial plunder of India, we will be able to see the larger picture of the economic evolution of Europe and the degeneration of India to its present state.
In the latter half of 1800s, Britain and Europe were caught in the flurry of the industrial revolution. Apart from the large infusion of money, which they got from plundering their colonies, what they needed was large amounts of food to be imported into England to feed their workforce.
They used the wheat fields of North India as their bread basket and forcibly exported the food grains produced in India, to Europe, to feed the industrialization, thus creating a famine among the very people who grew these abundance of food grains.
In a similar situation now, it is this land and the people of India that are generating the wealth but instead of pumping it back to sustain the irrigation projects which in turn can keep agriculture sustained, scam after scam have been siphoning out large amounts of money from India. No great surprise then is the present looming drought in most parts of the country.
For example in Maharashtra in the last couple of years, Rs.70000 crores have vapourised in the name of expenditure on irrigation projects but the increase in the irrigation capability of Maharashtra rose by just 0.1 % only. This figure shows us the stark reality of the scale of this scam.

As Action, So Reaction

For every action there is a reaction. If action is good so will be the reaction. There was a time when waters were revered as Punya Theertha. With all the callous handling of the various water bodies and indifference to rain water harnessing in the last few decades, the reaction as a drought is following on only too quickly, accelerated by corruption.
Use of excess of chemical fertilizers on the soil too has added to the woes. Chemical fertilizers make the soil thirsty. The soil becomes parched much quicker. On one side we don’t harness waters and on the other side we employ unsustainable techniques which increase the thirst of the soil.   It is a double whammy for the hapless farmer.

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Yet another blow to the hapless farmer is when, for the pecuniary interests of a few, he is induced to cultivate crops that are not naturally suited for the topographical conditions of that land. For example, growing water intensive crops such as sugarcane in rain shadow areas such as the leeward side of the western ghats.  This also puts more strain on the limited water resources available.
If you care to notice, soon after Independence, because of benevolent Government policies and sincere implementation of the same in the early days of Independent India, famines ceased.
Droughts are once again rearing their head, for the policies are not oriented towards sustainable living and moreover there is one scam after another in implementing them. It will be inevitable for famines too, to follow soon.
It is this precise fact that we have brought out in our book “You Turn India”.
The current drought in Maharashtra does not come as a surprise. Neither is this going to be the last one.
Let us look at droughts.

Rains and Droughts

It is well known that despite the 4 months of monsoon in India, it actually rains for only about 100 hours in a year.
 drought2But during these 100 hours, it rains enough to make India rank as the second largest rainfall receiving country in the world in proportion to its area.

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 This abundant rainfall has to be saved to be used for the balance 8660 hours of the year. This is precisely the role of the water harnessing projects of the land.

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 Monsoon rains by nature have a cyclical vagary over a 7 to 10 year period. So by nature, we need to expect floods for a couple of years and deficient rainfall for another couple of years in a decade.
It is these small, local but innumerable water harnessing systems that are the balancing factor to harness the rain when it pours in excess and to be used in the times of deficiency.
Hence these water harnessing systems have to be maintained in good condition at all times to have good times.
But does this maintenance need Rs.70000 crores as was spent by the Maharashtra Government?
Certainly not!

Cost of a Drought Vs Cost of Averting a Drought

India was dotted with traditionally designed water harnessing systems suited to the local topography, climate and population needs.
In the 6 lakh villages of India, close to 9 lakh such traditional, local water harnessing systems were implemented. This means an average of 3 such water bodies for every 2 villages.
These water harnessing works were traditionally carried out by the locals themselves and the cost defrayed by the locals themselves again.
What has not been accomplished by this Rs.70000 crores could have been accomplished with a fraction of this amount if the local water bodies had been continued to be maintained by the locals instead of a centralized body
Just a couple of years ago there were very heavy rains in the same Maharashtra leading to floods both in the Narmada river flowing west and the Godavari river flowing east. What happened to all those waters?
If we had harnessed them then, would it not have come in handy now?
So, a drought really occurs not due to a failed monsoon but due to our failure to harness the rain when it rains, where it rains.
Let us take this Maharashtra drought as a reality check to open our eyes to the reality of droughts, famines, scams and the hand of man in creating all of these. Atleast now, let us initiate steps to adopt the time tested water harnessing principles designed by our forefathers that had kept this land fertile and prosperous during their times and until recent times.
It is for us now to realize and act as each individual as well as in unison, for history to not repeat itself, since droughts and famines are manmade and relief works benefit more the Governmental and Non Governmental agencies.
In the end it is the common man who bears the brunt of ill framed policies and non implementation of wholistic relief measures.
The sufferers are the people to whom this land belongs, to whom these water bodies belong, in whose name the policies are made, for alleviation of whose woes the relief measures are meant and finally for whom these rains actually come.
There is a popular saying in the land that even if there is one good soul in a land, the rains will come for all.
Is there not even one such good soul in this land today?
Even if there is one and it rains for all, what is the use if it is not harnessed?
It is time now to seize this opportunity and volunteer for a better India – “You Turn India”.
 More information on water harnessing and its role in the prosperity of India during the past as well as in future, is available in our book, “You Turn India”, a part of the Bharath Gyan Series.

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You Turn India

Vanchinathan

Vanchinathan is an Indian freedom fighter from the state of Tamil Nadu, and is well known for shooting down the British District Magistrate of Tirunelveli, Robert Ashe.

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Vanchinathan and his friends

Born in 1886 at Shenkottai, near Tenkasi, Vanchinathan was just 25 years, when he carried out this brave deed. This act was carried out when Ashe’s train stopped Maniyachi station, on the route to Madras. This station has been since named after this freedom fighter, as Vanchimaniyachchi Junction.

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Ashe as a part of the colonial ploy, had worked against the Swadeshi Shipping Company founded by V.O. Chidambaram Pillai.

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More on V O Chidambaram Pillai and the Swadeshi Shipping Company in our book, Brand Bharat.

Vanchinathan committed suicide, to escape being arrested by the Colonial rulers.

On his death, the following letter was discovered in his pocket.

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The Tamil Nadu Government has built a memorial at his birth place.

His death anniversary is observed every year on June 17th, the day he left his mortal coil in the year 1911.

This young martyr gave British a tough fight during his short stint.

Father’s Day

The third Sunday of June is celebrated as Father’s day.

Initiated by Sonoro

The idea was first initiated by Sonora Smart Dodd in the year 1910.

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Proclaimed by President Johnson

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In the year 1966, after many a tribulations, US President Lyndon B Johnson officially proclaimed Father’s day to be celebrated on the third Sunday of every June.

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Pithru Devo Bhava

In the Indian thought, father is referred to as Divine, Pithru Devo Bhava.

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Pitr Paternal Peter Petra

The word Pitr, meaning father in Samskrt language is etymological similar to the English word ‘paternal’, from which came the word ‘father’. The word is also similar to the European name Peter and the famous archaeological city, Petra in Jordon.

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Ptah

The Egyptian Father God is called Ptah. Here also, the word Ptah is found to be both phonetically and conceptually similar to the Indian word Pitah, meaning father.

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More on this is discussed is our book Creation.

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Father’s name for lineage

In almost all civilizations of the world, their children take on their father’s name or father’s lineage. Even in a matriarchal or matrilineal society, it is the father’s name that is carried forth.

Biological sharing: X and Y

Of the two chromosome, a Father has X and Y chromosomes while the mother has only X chromosomes. A father thus shares both X and Y chromosomes with his offsprings.

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Not just biological

The word Pitr, father is however not be limited to a biological father. Infact the word Father has a more encompassing connotation such as,

• Father to family
• Father to community
• Father to society
• Father to nation

There is a distinctive role for the Father at each of the levels.

Mahatma Gandhi

In case of India, Mahatma Gandhi is referred to as Father of the Nation, for the great role he played in the Freedom of the country.

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God Father

The Italians brought in a concept of God Father apart from the biological father wherein you need a benefactor to progress through life.

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Purusha

Thus, the father is not just a provider for life, but also a benefactor.

In Samskrt, this role is referred to as Purusha. The Sun is Purusha, Father for this Solar System.

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Pitahmahah Brahma

Not only that, even today, the word Pitahmahah in India, is also used to denote Brahma, who is revered as the Father of Creation.

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Bhishma Pitahmahah

In Mahabharata, Bhishma is referred to as Bhishma Pitahmahah, meaning, the great father even though he did not sire any children.

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Encompassing Father

Thus, we see that the word Father has an all encompassing connotation.

On every Father’s day, let us recognize the role that the fathers play in raising his family, for it is the family bond which holds the community, society and a nation together.

Himalayan Tsunami, Waiting to Happen, Happened – Why?

What is different about 2013?

June 2013 has been a month that will be etched in the minds and hills of the Himalaya for the large scale devastation wrought about in the valleys of Kedarnath.

The Himalaya are known to be earthquake prone. But this devastation was not due to an earthquake but floods due to a cloudburst.

The pilgrim towns in the Himalayas that have been devastated by floods this year have been where they are for so many millennia. Would they have come up there if it were so flood prone?

Have these hills not witnessed cloudbursts before, in all these years? What is so different this time around then?

In the last few years, have we been doing something different in these hills?  Something that our predecessors did not?

An Overpowering Situation

The journey upstream along the major rivers Alakananda and Mandakini reveals the answer.

Dotted with more hydel plants than green plants is a barren mountainscape that greets our eyes as we go up along these rivers to the upper reaches of the Himalaya. We see a plethora of Hydel power projects being built on the main river itself at close proximity.

With 42 hydel power plants operational and 203 more in various stages of approval, planning and development, it boils down to one hydel power plant every 5 to 7 kms of the river flow downstream.

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Power Plants being constructed on the slopes

This was not the landscape that was home to the humans, flora and fauna that have been living there since millennia.

The number of Hydel projects in these hilly areas of Uttaranchal have infact prompted these regions to be derisively nicknamed as Urjachal Urja for power, achala meaning mountains.

Aren’t these numbers overpowering? Is this not a sign of overpowering greed?

Could this sudden surge of power plants be the reason for the recently being witnessed disaster in this belt?

Contract With the Hills

Most certainly, for the amount of funds and effort being invested in the erection of each power plant, sufficient attention may have been given to test the soil conditions. The ability of the terrain there to withstand the drilling, blasting and damming needed for the power plant would also no doubt have been analyzed and necessary approvals procured.

But hills being hills and a fragile ecosystem and terrain at that, the effects of such heavy duty construction cannot be expected to stay localized to the ground on which that power plant is being constructed alone. The vibrations would ripple across the hills and valleys causing the rocks and soil to loosen and crack at the slightest cause.

It is like a pack of cards stacked up like domino. It is hard to say which card will cause the pile to cave in.

Who then can guarantee that scooping out of portions of one hill will not cause damage elsewhere?

Do the few government bodies really have the wherewithal to ascertain and rule out such implications?

Imagine the strain on the hills when it is being blown up and drilled every 5 kms.

Little wonder then that a heavy downpour due to a cloudburst can literally pull the ground away from under one’s feet causing breeches, landfalls and flashfloods.

Media had been highlighting this issue for a while, villagers too. Warnings were there for the traditional stake holders of the land to see physically and raise orally. They seem to have got drowned in the channels of power.

Development in this region does not appear to be an ecology based model but more of a contractor driven model.

Worse still, this so called development in this area is not for the people on the hills but to benefit the people living in the plains and cities below.

Does this not seem like a case where approvals hardly have a role to play?

Does this not seem like a free for all or first come – first served or first claimed scenario?

Shifting the Silt

Silting is Welcome Here

Every river by nature has silting. But heavy to very heavy silting is a unique feature of all Himalayan rivers, whether they flow north, south, east or west. These rivers originate in glaciers high up in the Himalaya. As the glaciers grind over the rocks and flow out as these rivers, these rivers bring down mineral rich silt from the hills.

It is because of this silting nature of these rivers, that right from Haridwar where Ganga enters the plains, to Bangladesh, the land is fertile. It is the silt, alluvial soil brought by the waters that has made these lands fertile.

The Gangetic plains of eastern Bihar, Bengal and Bangladesh were formed by such silt naturally filling up the sea bed. The enormity of silt brought down from the mountains, every day, every hour of the river flow, can now be imagined.

This silting has been a boon for the people in the plains. No wonder then, that this belt is one of the most fertile and consequently densely populated regions of the world.

Cost of Silt

Look at the cost of building dams across such silting rivers.

When a dam is built across such rivers, the storage area of the dam will be filled with silt within a few years to a decade. While the cost of desilting is one factor, where can so much silt be manually relocated?

Is sale of silt perhaps anticipated as a byproduct of this power generation?

Instead the better way would be to tap all the excess water flowing over a certain level, which will have lesser silt and take it away downstream through series of canals for other needs. This method has stood the test of time and has been found to be sustainable.

One of the earliest examples, dating back to over 2000 years ago, is the Sringaverapura water diversion system built near Varanasi. While this system is in the plains, this principle is time tested and valid for the Himalayan rivers.

Another drawback of building dams across such heavily silting rivers has been observed by the CAG. As explained in their report, the silt in a river slows down the river as it comes downstream, making it less turbulent. With the construction of hydel projects across these rivers, the river waters are routed into turbines for generating power and then released back into the river stream.

The silt in the river therefore gets withheld upstream due to this. Not only is the downstream flow made devoid of this silt but the turbulence of the water flow also increases downstream due to lack of silt to slow it down.

This makes downstream regions of the river more prone to damage from breaches of river banks and flash floods due to higher turbulence.

In the name of development and supplying power, we are going to impoverish the farmers in the plains by robbing them of the fertile silt that the rivers naturally brought with them for free. We are not far from the times when the farmers may perhaps be asked to buy the silt to enrich their land – just like they have been made to buy seeds and fertilizer, which were earlier available to them from Nature for free.

In this scenario, does it seem a wise option to build not one, but hundreds of dams, across the river flow of such silting rivers?

Footprints on Himalaya

The Himalaya is one of the youngest mountain ranges of the world and is still very fragile and volatile. So what holds good for mountain ranges elsewhere in the world may not necessarily hold good here.

Except for the villages dotting the hills, Himalaya has always been a spiritual destination for people of India. It has been a place to experience spirituality through solitude, meditation, penances, pilgrimage, adventure, art, living with nature and such other pursuits which demand discipline and respect for the space around. Journeys to Himalaya were therefore undertaken with some austerity. As a result this has been a region not frequented by many and infrastructure too was minimal.

This in a way also maintained the ecology of this region and kept it pristine.

All of these activities are different from commercial tourism. There is now an overlap emerging between the two due to various social, economic and technical advancements in society. This to an extent is increasing footprint here but bringing down the pristineness of this mountainscape.

Commercial opportunities have presented themselves in such times and man’s greed to make the most of them without thought, is evident from the way these regions have grown into shanty towns with abysmally low, ill planned and neither human friendly nor eco friendly facilities.

Now to support these towns and the large number of tourists flocking there, other infrastructure such as large scale power plants, roads, garbage disposal, water supply and such others too have had to be setup. We are slowly taking footprints of the plains into the hills and that too delicate hills at that. Not only delicate, but hills which are core to life on the plains below. Hills that have nourished the lives in the plains with waters, alluvium, rains and much more!

By reducing the moutainscape to the landscape of the plains, are we not, in a way, snuffing out the sources for our own sustenance and lives?

Badrinath

The very name Badrinath for this holy pilgrim spot, comes from the Badri tree. Badri is a type of berry. This region used to be a place of Badri trees . Today there is hardly any greenery around. All one gets to see are closely packed lodges, shops and eateries.

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Badrinath

(the building with yellow roof is the temple)

Kedarnath

The word Kedar means a meadow, a flat table of land or water, a flat basin that can hold water.

One look at the terrain around the present day temple of Kedarnath confirms why this place was aptly named so.

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Kedarnath in 1880s (from GSI collection)

This picture brings out lucidly, the strategic location of this temple on a high ground in the flat land amidst many hills.

It is a flat basin surrounded by hills. Naturally when it rains, the water would flow onto this meadow from different heights, different directions. It is both a meadow of pasture as well as a water meadow. In times of torrential rain and floods, this meadow would but naturally be inundated, true to its name.

But have we ever given a thought as to why this land got this name?

In this picture of the Kedar valley in 1880s, we see the temple standing alone and nothing much else other than a few lone huts.

Before this deluge, the whole area around it had mushroomed like a shanty town with very little adherence to organized planning and proper understanding of the heavy water flow or the seismological implications.

Infact the temple seems lost amidst other buildings.

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Kedarnath before the 2013 floods

Soul Searching In These Hills

Does that mean that no development should happen there beyond what was there in 1880?

Development for Yatri, pilgrims is essential. But it should take into consideration both seismological and ecological factors.  While the temple area needs to be pristine, the development area with facilities could have been properly planned, some kilometers away down the valley, where it could have been both ecologically and seismologically safer. Facilties could infact be staggered across different valleys along the route.

This would bring up only small footprints around the temple and not a large shanty town.

The capacity of every piece of land to house anything, be it people, animals or plant life, is defined by its spread, its topology, its environs and natural resources available to it right there, not elsewhere on another piece of land. Stretching things beyond this capacity is bound to cause stress to the land, its environs and its inhabitants eventually leading to an imbalance and breakdown.

This holds good whether the piece of land lies in the Himalaya or on the plains.

Given this, just because we have the technology and economic resources on hand, we cannot create almost city sized towns in the hilly heights. Even though we may think of these pilgrim towns or tourist spots as having only a floating population which stays for a night or two, seen over the few months that these pilgrim and tourist spots are open to public, the average number of people who fill these towns are higher than those on the plains. Also floating people leave behind larger footprints than permanent residents who conserve for future.

It would be prudential on our part to rethink our approach to pilgrimage and tourism in such ecologically and geologically difficult terrain.

For example, even today, access to Gangotri is restricted for those below 15 and above 65. Also the number of people who can trek up in a day are limited. Besides lowering risk of health calamities, this is to limit modern man’s footprints in such highly sensitive ecological places.

Instead of concentrating all facilities near the temple just because it is a flat land and easier to build there, the money and effort could have been put into development of towns with planned infrastructure, lower in the hills, connected by technically advanced, safe mountain roads and tunnels, wide enough to enable quicker, daytrips to and from these pilgrim spots higher up. Food and other provisions could be sent up with the travelers and the waste brought back with them for proper disposal at lower grounds.

This would not only reduce the need for housing, electricity, water, food and other infrastructure at those pilgrimage areas to enable people to stay overnight and return, it would also reduce the amount of pollutants being released in those delicate heights. Environment friendly medium of transport too could be deployed to prevent pollution of the hills.

These wider roads and transport would also be a boon for the locals of the hills enroute in times of emergencies which are not uncommon in this region.

After this catastrophe, it will be foolish on our part, if still we do not learn the meaning of the word Kedar and continue to be deceived by such flat lands in the midst of high, snow clad hills, as they can be equally dangerous as the narrow ridges.

Another point to note here is that while the modern structures have been washed out, it is the traditional architecture of the Kedarnath temple, that has stood this test of Nature’s fury and human’s folly.

Neighbouring Bhutan

The people of Bhutan rate high in their happiness index inspite of their poverty as measured by the western yardstick. So happiness is something that is more than the comfort that comes from  economic wealth.

While in the Paro region of Thimpu, the capital city, most modern facilities are available, the basic structure of all the buildings follow the traditional norms because of which, even under heavy rains or seismological activities, the damages are mitigated. The traditional façade also adds to the beauty.

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Thimpu, Paro in Bhutan

No wonder the people here are high in the happiness index as they adhere to the basic principles of sustainable living based on time tested methods.

Happiness is innately made up of many components and sustainable living, living in sync with Nature figures as one of the high points.

While Bhutan has maintained the core principals of traditional architecture, still attracted tourists in large numbers and given them all modern amenities to live by, in adjacent India, the facilities in the Himalayan circuits leave a lot to be desired.

It is a stark contrast to see, for after all, Bhutan is a neighbour of India.

This perhaps stems from the fact that for Bhutan, Himalaya is their entire country and they have lived there all along.

Whereas for India, Himalaya is at one end of the country. While majority people of India enjoy the benefits that the Himalaya provides such as perennial water supply, rich silt, protection from cold northern winds, to name a few obvious, they are far removed from the realities of what such a ecosystem really means.

The ones who know and value it, are the locals who have been living there all along. But they cannot do anything, for, even though they may live in the heights, they have been forced to bow down to the political and economic power in the plains.

Can those from the plains, unfamiliar with the terrain and ecosystem of the hills, decide what must be done on the hills, with the hills and for the hills?

Have we gone too deep into a centralized model of governance that understanding local field and needs have become peripheral issues?

Barren Without the Banj

The lower to middle Himalaya, has been home to varied species of flora and fauna. One among them has been the White Oak tree, called Banj by the locals. This Banj tree had been pivotal to the ecosystem of Himalaya so much so that the ecosystem of the Himalaya had grown around this tree. Let us look at the roles this tree has played.

Benevolent Banj

banjtree1

Water retention – the broad leaves of this tree retain water and proliferation of this tree meant more water evaporation during summers and so more rain and snow in the upper reaches of the Himalaya and hence more river water flow during summer again.

Water percolation – the falling leaves of the Banj on mulching, created a thick carpet of Humus on the floor of the forests making it conducive for bushes, plants and other undergrowth under these trees, which again contributed to increasing the humus on the floor of the forest. This Humus absorbed the rain water falling and allowed it to percolate slowly into the ground rather than just get washed away down the slopes. This percolation led to increase in ground water and water springs at various places along the slopes.

Preventing Soil Erosion – The carpet of Humus held the soil firmly and prevented it from getting washed away down the slopes along with the waters. This prevented landslides and consequently breaches and flash floods.

banjwithundergrowth

Banj Tree with Undergrowth, Humus

Unfortunately from the times of the British, these massive oaks were felled and instead replaced with Chir Pine trees for their quick commercial value. Chir Pine was suitable for resins and timber and had a quick turn around.

But what no one looked into was that the leaves of the Chir Pine were fine and needle shaped. What did that imply?

Needle Pine, The Sharp Contrast

chir pine

Chir Pine

Water retention – Being fine and needle shaped, the leaves of the Chir Pine, did not absorb and retain water. Consequently they had nothing to offer by way of evaporation and hence did not help rains or snow.

Water Percolation – Being fine and needle shaped, the fallen leaves rolled away and did not mulch below the tree to form humus. Hence there was no undergrowth of bushes and other plants beneath the pine tree. The ground beneath the pine tree was barren without any undergrowth. Hence any rain water that fell on the ground just quickly rolled off down the slopes of the mountains as there was no carpet of humus to absorb the water and allow it to soak into the ground. Consequently there was no percolation of water underground and water springs and aquifers went dry soon.

Soil Erosion – As there was no undergrowth, the soil under the trees were exposed to the falling rains which would wash away the soil as it ran down the slopes. During torrential rains, which these regions are bound to experience, when these rain waters flowed unchecked down the slopes they started creating flashfloods and landslides.

This difference came to light when the local Pahadi, women of these hills started noticing reduction in fuel wood and ground water. Nobody had concerned themselves with the Banj trees and hence the women could use their lower branches as fuel wood.  Pruning the lower branches regularly also allowed more sunlight to reach the ground and aid more undergrowth and humus.

Whereas, the pine trees were part of plantations for commercial exploitation and access to their wood was barred to these women.

The search for the root of the problem subsequently led to the understanding of the pivotal role the Banj tree had played in maintaining the ecosystem of these hills.

Sadly, it was too late. Most of the Banj had gone. The local women who wanted to safeguard the few left behind rallied round under a movement called the Chipko movement during the 1970s. The Pahadi women formed human chains and hugged the Banj trees to prevent them from being felled. The word Chipko means to hug, to stick to.

Chipko

Chipko Movement 1970s – Women Hugging Banj Tree

The barren landscape of the hills today tells us the remaining part of this story as to what happened to these women and their trees.

Were we not shortsighted when we could see the money in Pine but not the boon in Banj? Did we make a mistake, when we felled all the Banj trees off the Himalaya?

Insignificantly Small Yet Significant Benefactors

There is a significant phenomenon which is slowly coming to the light of the scientific world.

It has now come to be accepted in the scientific community that one of the key inducers of rainfall, snow is an insignificantly small organism – a  bacteria called “pseudomonas Syringae”.

Rain falls when water molecules in the clouds gather around particles of dust that have risen into the atmosphere, to form ice crystals which then melt and fall to the ground as rain. It has been found that the bacteria pseudomonas Syringae, which are found on the green cover of forests, rise up into the air in large quantities. They act as nuclei around which the water molecules crystallize as ice and then condense into rain, snow.

The difference in crystallization by these bacteria versus that around dust is that the bacteria cause freezing of ice crystals at higher temperatures causing rains, snow to fall earlier than otherwise.

This singular ability of the bacteria is now being exploited by ski resorts to make snow at will. It is shot as cannons into the atmosphere with water to cause snow to form and fall.

These bacteria grow where there is healthy green cover and mulching leaves.

In the case of the Himalaya, sadly, the disappearing Banj and consequently the disappeared undergrowth and Humus, should have caused a fall in the population of these bacteria – both growing on the ground as well as those risen into the atmosphere with the potential to make rain fall.

Without knowing their role in entirety, these bacteria, seen as pests, are also being destroyed by the heavy use of pesticides.

What is the significance of this rain making bacteria in connection with the flashfloods at Uttarakhand?

What typically causes flashfloods in the Himalaya?

Flashfloods occur commonly in the Himalaya due to cloudbursts which bring down torrential amounts of rain in a short span of time. Being a hilly region, the voluminous amounts of rain waters from the cloudburst, cascade down the hills with tremendous force causing landslides and flashfloods.

But the major and root cause for such damage is the cloudburst.

Cloudbursts occur when huge columns of monsoon clouds, heavily laden with water molecules are triggered by either a physical barrier or other dynamics in the atmosphere to discharge their heavy payload in a rush. This leads to rapid and voluminous rainfall in a short duration.  It is like a Tsunami but from the skies.

Here is where the rain making bacteria comes into act.

The presence of this rain making bacteria in the atmosphere causes ice crystalization in the clouds earlier and rain to fall sooner. This prevents huge build up of clouds, causes precipitation then and there in many places, reducing the potential for formation of conditions that can lead to heavy cloudbursts. Basically it acts to decentralize the clouds and distribute the rains rather than converge into a huge cloud capable of bursting.

So, when the green cover in the Himalaya was more healthy and conducive for the bacteria due to the presence of the Banj trees, these rain makers were many and they were busy making rain and preventing cloudbursts.

With the disappearance of the Banj, its undergrowth and the humus on the floor of the hills, we have driven the rain makers away and clouds are bursting uncontrolled.

The sheer fact that many of the old shrines and old settlements have survived so long in these hills in the same places that are reporting frequent landslides, flashfloods, cloudbursts and casualties today, is an indication that these hills were perhaps not so perilous even till a few centuries ago. Man, flora, fauna and the elements had struck a perfect chord and were in harmony with each other.

How can we engage this rain maker again?

Power of Energy, Shakti

The guardian deity of the Uttarakhand region is Dhari Devi, a goddess, whose idols stood near the village Dhari, named after Her. This temple stood on the banks of the Alakananda in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand.

This Dhari Devi temple was not some new temple that had come up in the last 50 to 100 years. It was a Shakti Sthal, one among the 108 Shakti Peeth, a seat of Shakti,  which means it has been there and venerated continuously by the majority people of the land for more than a couple of millennia. Shakti Sthal are places where the Shakti Tattva, subtle energies are considered to be manifest.

The Dhari Devi temple had a subtle connect with the temples of Kali Math and Kedarnath. These temples were designed and installed at specific angles with each other to balance the Shiva – Shakti energies. Shiva in Kedarnath and Shakti in Dhari Devi and Kali Math.

DhariDevi

Dhari Devi

One day prior to the deluge, the idol of Dhari Devi was removed from its consecrated, long standing location to make way for a dam to be constructed there.

Angles were well known in this land for it was the ancient Indian science of Trikonamiti which gave rise Trigonometry, a branch of modern mathematics. Kona means corner, angle. Trikona is a triangle. The east coast town of Konarak, famed for its ancient Sun temple was also built in specific angle to the Sun, which is why it was aptly named as Konarak.

Angles denote alignments. Concept of angles, their meanings and the powers in alignments, whether of planets in the sky or objects on the ground, was well known to this civilization.

Without realizing the meaning, the purpose of these angles and the precision with which these temples had been located where they were, the Dhari Devi temple was shifted consequent to Supreme court order.

While development should happen around such ancient and honoured places, here development has been ordered by overturning the places of honour.

While the Shakti Peeth has been there beyond human memory and would have continued to be there for some millennia more, these modern dams have a life of just 100 – 200 years.

These dams can be built in this valley or the next.

“Can structures of timeless nature, which form the heritage of the land, be moved in the name of short term development projects?” is the question that a full bench of the Supreme court has to analyze now.

In Conclusion – Acts Cause Impacts

Tampering with the Shakti Peeth could well have been the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back, inviting the wrath of Shakti, the power in the fury of Mother Nature, for the cumulative destruction that we have caused to her over the last 300 years.

That the shifting of the Dhari Devi temple could have invoked the wrath of Shakti to cause such a catastrophe, can be a faith based reason, which the modern rational mind would not be willing to agree upon as a point of argument. The underlying fact however is that the Chardham Yatra, the pilgrimage to all these temples, the whole trek and experience is founded on the same faith that has come down from eons and millennia.

So, dismissing the shifting of Dhari Devi as one of the causes for the catastrophe, as just a faith based or an irrational reason, would not be looking at this incident from a wholistic perspective. The whole system there is faith based.

Now we are left with the faith that perhaps atleast this Uttarakhand disaster, even at the cost of so many lives and damage, will shake us out of our apathy towards environment and tendency for quick and dirty, ill planned solutions that bear ill effects.

It is a lesson on how not to be overpowered by greed. It is not that we in present times have discovered new technologies or commercial avenues. Our ancients had known many too. But they had discovered something more … how to live sustainably with Nature – when to use technology and when not to. Technology and commerce go hand in hand and shape lifestyle. It is easy to discover new technology. The difficulty is in deciding when, where and how much to use. The difficulty is in limiting it to catering to needs and not greeds.

It is a lesson on how to respect ancient traditions. It is not that they do not work, we do not understand them well enough to make them work.

It is a lesson on how not to tamper with Nature. It is easy to cut a tree, a forest even. But is it possible for a man or a machine or even another type of tree to substitute for its function the same way, from the very next moment? Even if a sapling of the same type of tree is planted, who can perform the functions of that tree for the interim years till this sapling can grow into another tree?

It is a lesson to tell us how every being on this planet has a role to play, be it a human, a tree or a bacteria. How each of us – humans, trees, organisms and natural elements like rain and earth are all part of one single eco system.

Acts of each, impact the others. It may not show in the short term but over time it will and when it does it will seem like the hand of fate and then it will be too late.