Varuna and Assi, the two tributaries of the Ganga that gave Varanasi its name and together defined the original extent of the city are fighting for survival
Varuna and Assi, the two tributaries of river Ganga that gave Varanasi its name and together defined the original extent of the city are fighting for survival in the face of unbridled pollution and encroachment of their flood plains and the river beds
Mein yehan na aya hun (I have neither come here), na kisi ne mujhe yehan bheja hei (nor has any one sent me here), mujhe to maa Ganga ne bulaya hei (I have been called by mother Ganga). Thus spoke Narendra Modi, to charm the city of Varanasi, as he announced his candidature in the ancient city, for election to the nation’s Parliament.
It is now history that Modi after leading his party to a resounding victory in the national elections, has become the 15th Prime Minister of India. He has also retained Varanasi as his preferred constituency in preference to the city of Vadodara from his home state of Gujarat, wherefrom too he has won resoundingly.
Is there a subtle message here that deserves highlighting?
A city that legends claim to have been found by Lord Shiva and which the celebrated author Mark Twain opined to be older than history itself, ‘Varanasi’ is also often known as Benaras or Kashi. Perhaps the oldest of the continuously inhabited cities in the world, and the cradle both of Hinduism and Buddhism, it is amongst many other things, known best for its silk sarees; benaras gharana of music; temples, ghats, university and of course the river Ganga on whose bank, it stands.
So, what is missing? It is the very origin and significance of the name ‘Varanasi’ which is not as much known or appreciated.
Varuna and Assi are the two tributaries of river Ganga that together defined the original extent of the city (hence the name Varanasi). Clearly if Ganga is the mother (Maa) then both Varuna and Assi are the mother’s sisters (Mausi).
River Varuna (after Varun, the god of rain) is the bigger of the two. Rising near the town of Phulpur in Allahabad district it meanders eastwards over some 100 km before meeting the river Ganga at Sarai Mohana in Varanasi. In comparison although Assi is more of a rivulet, yet it’s point of confluence with Ganga, called the ‘Assi ghat’ has immense religious and mythological significance, finding mention in puranas like Matsya, Agni, Kurma and Padma.
Unfortunately today both Varuna and Assi in Varanasi are fighting for survival in the face of unbridled pollution and encroachment of their flood plains and the river beds. While there are groups like Hamari Varuna Abhiyan in the city of Varanasi working to restore the two rivers, their voices is often ignored.
Prime Minister Modi has declared that his government is ‘of’ and ‘for’ the poor and the downtrodden and that the latter’s voice and needs shall not go unheard and unmet.
In a similar vein although in a riverine context, it is the voice and needs of unsung tributaries like Varuna and Assi that deserve as much attention and follow up, for not unlike the role of masses in nation building it is the tributary’s contribution that make up what the better known and better sung, mighty rivers, finally become!
We thus hope and wish that Prime Minister Modi and his firebrand Minister for rivers, Ms Uma Bharati, shall heed not just the call of maa Ganga, but also of mausi’s Varuna and Assi, which together have given life and meaning both to the river Ganga as well as to the city.
*Manoj Misra is the convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan
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