Yamuna River India
Marisela Trujillo, May 23, 2012
Let us restore the holy waters of Yamuna
Each month we draw attention to endangered bodies of water around the world with the intention of bringing broader awareness of the critical state of health of these life-giving waters. This month our focus is on the Yamuna River in India. As with Lake Victoria in Africa last month, we can readily see that although Yamuna’s rapid decline as a life-sustaining body of water is associated with practices of the human species, all forms of life depend on it. We need to ask ourselves, what is it that we’ve done in such a short period of time to greatly diminish its life-giving force? Followed by, is it too late to save it? Read on as we navigate the waters of this once magnificent river.
From a frozen glacial lake high in the Himalayas in northern India issues forth the sacred Yamuna River. From its inception at the Yamunotri Glacier at an elevation of 6,387 meters (20,995 ft.), considered to be the seat of the Hindu Goddess Yamuna, until it merges with the similarly sacred Ganges River in Allahabad after traveling for 1376 km (885 mi), the Yamuna blesses and nurtures all forms of life; in fact, the river is revered as the Goddess. And since time immemorial the holy Yamuna River has provided not just life, but abundance and prosperity to the recipients of its gifts.
Yamuna begins her providential journey in the state of Himachal Pradesh, which means “in the lap of the Himalayas,” where she is a showcase of the area’s pristine natural beauty. The region has become quite prosperous from the river’s gifts of hydroelectric power, agriculture and tourism. Then she veers southeast into the state of Harayana, enriching this region with water-supported agriculture, manufacturing and refineries. Then it flows into the National Capital Territory of Delhi, an area that has been continuously inhabited since the 6th century BCE. The largest commercial center in northern India and home to a population of almost 22 million, Delhi would not exist without the bounty of Yamuna’s waters. South of Delhi the Yamuna flows through the idyllic forest town of Vrindavan, where a young Lord Krishna accomplished various heroic feats in the holy forests and on the sacred banks of the river. Yamuna continues through Agra, site of the Taj Mahal, and ends her course merging with the sacred Ganges River in Allahabad. The confluence point of these two sacred bodies of water is considered one of India’s holiest places, drawing tens of millions of pilgrims every 12 years for the Kumbh Mela festival.
It is estimated that 57 million people depend on the Yamuna River. Along its 885 mile course she sustains people, animal life, agriculture, industry, vegetation and spiritual practice. What will happen to all of these life forms when the river dies? And there is no doubt that Yamuna is dying. Why? Because all along its course man has been mindlessly drawing and benefiting from its waters and replacing them with unimaginable filth, all the while living with the illusion that the waters will continue to be an endless resource. In 1909 the waters of the Yamuna were described as being “clear blue,” as were the waters of the Ganges. Indeed, the Yamuna emerges from the glacier in a pristine state and for the first 375 km (233 mi) - from its source to Delhi - is still of reasonably good quality today. However, by the time it reaches Delhi very little of Yamuna’s waters remain. Up to 85% of the river’s flow has been pumped out to meet the various needs of the society and replaced by a river of sewage - lifeless and ghastly.
Sources of the deadly pollution are:
- leaching of tens of thousands of tons of pesticide residues into the river
- daily introduction of millions of liters of human waste because of inadequate sewer capacity or the lack of sewage infrastructure altogether
- dumping of untreated wastewater from the industrial sector - electronics, textiles, leather, metals, pharmaceutical and home consumables – directly into the river
- daily use of the waters by millions of devotees for religious ceremony in which offerings of milk, flowers, and other puja offerings are made, adding to the pollution
How can we continue treating this Goddess of life and abundance in this manner? It is very clear that unless measures are quickly taken to restore Yamuna there is little hope for her recovery. One might ask, isn’t there awareness of the severity of the problem and, if so, what steps are being taken now to save Yamuna? Yes, there is awareness of the dire status of the Yamuna at all levels and it has been there for some time. But it is not at all surprising to know that political morass makes it very difficult to change the status quo. Although the Indian government has spent $500 million to try and mitigate the damage to the river, its efforts have been insufficient and ineffective, with no discernible improvement. What has become evident lately is that changes that will truly restore Yamuna to health will be brought about by the efforts of a coalition of local government, holy men, small farmers, environmental activists and villagers along the banks of the Yamuna. These efforts are happening now, with an increased level of grass roots participation bringing pressure upon the government and sectors that contribute to this environmental disaster. These are some examples.
- In October 2011 the Allahabad High Court ordered the closing of more than 100 tanneries that pour tons of chemicals into the river each year.
- This same court stopped the construction of a six-lane highway in the Yamuna-Ganga corridor and mandated the construction of new waste treatment plants in cities along the banks of the river.
- A union of religious leaders and concerned citizens is initiating and supporting litigation fighting development along the river.
- Many sadhus (holy men) now take sand baths instead of bathing in the river, thereby setting an example for devotees.
- In 2011 73 villages along the river joined in a public initiative to clean the Yamuna, setting and following guidelines for improving the river’s health
- A Bring Yamuna Back campaign initiated in 2012 is organizing a whole year of protest and lobbying by holy men, devotees and environmentalist. For the entire year thousands of participants will conduct Keertan for 24/7. Hundreds of thousands are expected to participate in protest marches.
Earth Healing Day joins in these efforts to bring healing and restoration to the sacred Yamuna River, helping to return her to her former and true glory. Throughout the month of May let us add our intentions and efforts to cleanse and purify this beautiful and sacred river.
Click here to listen to and join in a healing meditation for Yamuna.
May 27th from 12 -1pm your time zone is our dedicated time when we join with each other, throughout the world, to create the wave of love, prayer, intent… for the healing of the Yamuna River.
Please join us at that time, and bring your friends!
And please go to these links to learn about efforts to save the Yamuna, as well as a way to make your voice heard by signing a petition.