World Rivers Day: Through writings on Rivers

Today, on the occasion of the “World Rivers Day”(23rd September 2018) let us take a dip into the diverse writings expressing different moods of Indian rivers and roles of rivers in the lives of Indian people. I have divided the writings into three sections – introductory, case-studies, and edited volumes.



Rivers: A Very Short Introduction by Nick Middleton (2012)

“This book shines a light on numerous roles that rivers have played in the life of our planet and its inhabitants highlighting their importance to facets both oblivious and obscure, ranging from sanitation to ichthyology, via divinity and literary criticism” (Middleton 2012:xv). Through series of themes – Nature’s Driver, Sacred Flows, Liquid Histories, Roads that moves, and Tamed Rivers – the book explores – What roles have rivers played in human history? What is the human impact upon rivers?

Case Studies

1. Seven Sacred Rivers by Bill Aitken (1992)

This is a travelogue exploring the seven sacred rivers of India and their journey through the Indian sub-continent.

2. In the belly of the River: Tribal Conflicts over Development in the Narmada Valley by Amita Baviskar (1995)

This book narrates the struggles of Bhilala adivasis in the Narmada Valley who were fighting against displacement by the Sardar Sarovar Dam. Through intensive fieldwork in the region the author illustrates an intriguing tussle between the development paradigm and lives of tribals.

3. When Godavari Comes: People’s History of a River by R. Umamaheshwari (2014)

This book is also focuses on displacement due to development. The book chronicles the on-ground activism and protests against displacement due to construction of Pollavaram Dam on the Godavari River. In a very interesting way, the book narrates how the river Godavari is intertwined with the lives of these locals.

4. Rage of the River: The Untold Story of Kedarnath Disaster by Hridayesh Joshi and English translation by Vandana R. Singh (2016)

“On 17 June 2013, a normally calm Mandakini came crashing down from the hills of Uttarakhand and destroyed everything in its path – houses, bridges, dams and the town of Kedarnath.” Through everyday environmental struggles of locals before, during, and after the calamity, this book narrates the socio-environmental history of the region that led to this haunting destruction.

Edited volume

1. Waterlines edited by Amita Baviskar (2003)

This book is a combination of classic and contemporary writings on rivers of India. It is a palimpsest of diverse writings reflecting presence of rivers in every aspect of our lives. The book is a tribute that covers writings of authors like Rabindranath Tagore, Agyega, Arundhati Roy, Advaita Mallabarman, Mukul Sharma, Nita Kumar, Anand Pandian, Ruchir Joshi, and many more.

2. An Anthology of Writings on the Ganga: Goddess and River in History, Culture, and Society edited by Assa Doron, Richard Barz and Barabara Nelson (2015)

“This collection explores the length of the river, from its source to its delta, bringing together various perspectives from the mythical, material, and spiritual dimensions…This anthology will serve as essential reading for those seeking to understand the significance of the river in Indian civilization and wanting to engage with exciting debates about the ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’, the ‘epic’ and the ‘everyday’.”

Living Rivers, Dying Rivers edited by Ramaswamy R. Iyer (2015)

“…rivers, although existing as ‘embodied entities’ that can be seen, felt, touched, and traced on a map, and as visible realities with a physical body, are also the products of discourses of what a river is, what it should be, and what needs to be done if, as a ‘resource’, human societies wish to get the most out of the water it carries” (pg. 422)

This edited volume presents case-studies of several Indian rivers focusing on their health and multiple factors affecting them. More importantly the book explores the deeply flawed attitude towards rivers and environment in general.

Let us take a step forward in understanding our rivers better through these intriguing writings.



News Reporter
I am an architect turned anthropologist. After finishing my Masters in Anthropology from University of Pune, I was working with Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune under a project funded by UNICEF and Integrated Child Development Scheme, Government of Maharashtra. During which I was stationed in Nandurbar District of Maharashtra (which is predominantly a tribal region) as a Field Research officer. Currently, I am a doctoral candidate in Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Mohali, India. My current research explores the interaction of the cultural-religious, the political-economic and the ecological dimensions of the river in Nashik city in Maharashtra. Broadly, investigating how the multiple perspectives of a natural resource overlap, contradict, challenge and support each other, thus shaping the urban landscape and producing socio-spatial inequalities.

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