A section of the freshly demarcated course of the Saraswati river in Haryana
A River's Sutra
A born-again Saraswati is dug for Haryana
Haryana's Congress government has demarcated 52 km of the Saraswati river's presumed ancient course from Gajnala to Pipli
Rs 10 crore has been sanctioned, with plans to constitute a Saraswati Development Authority
Huge benefits are linked to the project
When the BJP-led NDA government launched a project to revive the ancient—some say mythical—river Saraswati in 2002, it attracted much flak for wasting public money in an attempt to rewrite history. But six years later the Saraswati project has sprung back—this time with the blessings of the Haryana government, now run by the Congress which was once critical of it. And collaborating closely with the state government is Darshan Lal Jain, president of Haryana-based Saraswati Nadi Shodh Sansthan (SNSS) and RSS state president till 2007.
Last month, Haryana's irrigation department finished digging up and demarcating 52 km of what it claims is the ancient river's course in Kurukshetra. "Saraswati is a sacred river of great importance," says state irrigation minister Captain Ajay Singh Yadav. "Satellite images have shown its course runs along with the Ghuggar river. Our goal is to develop it as a proper river. " The department even organised a national seminar last month—where Jain shared the dais with Yadav—on Saraswati's revival. The reasons behind the project are twofold: recharge plummeting groundwater levels and develop religious tourism around the river's course in Haryana. Ground water levels have touched as low as 150 feet here. Therefore, unlike many brick-lined canals, the walls of the new river's course would be left untouched to allow water to permeate into the ground and recharge nearby water levels.
The 'spiritual' and electoral benefits of the project could be enormous in Haryana, where the river is often described as the "poor man's Ganga". "The river exists for us here. All people want is its revival and proper upkeep. Even the state government did not doubt its existence. All they asked us was how its revival would benefit the state," says Jain. The official acknowledgement from the government with a plan to revive the Saraswati has encouraged groups like SNSS and the Chennai-based Saraswati Research Centre, who have been campaigning to revive the river they claim once flowed a thousand years ago from Mansarovar to the Rann of Kutch.
The evidence presented to the state include Survey of India maps, British-era revenue records with the river's course, satellite images showing existence of palaeochannels (dried beds of ancient rivers) and geological proof of an ancient Himalayan river flowing southwest through Haryana. "We found very angular dense minerals found in the Himalayas from riverbed soil samples in Haryana. Since they are sharp it means they were carried in suspension by a turbulent volume of water," says A.R. Chaudhri, professor of geology at Kurukshetra University. Subsequently, Vedic references to the river's locations were mapped to show how they correspond with the satellite images of the river course.
Denying any knowledge of D.L. Jain's link with the RSS, Yadav says the river's revival is not driven just by Jain or the RSS. "There are many others who have been campaigning for its revival. We are working on it only because we are convinced of the benefits," he clarifies. Jain, says his goal is to see the Saraswati flow, at least across Haryana, before his death. With a cooperative government at the state, that dream is apparently closer to reality than ever.