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Parasuram killed by Arunachal dam

Parasuram Kund is a lake located on the edge of the Lohit river.

ne of the world's most revered pilgrimage sites, named after the mythological sage Parasuram, is being destroyed by a combination of a dam that is being built on the Lohit river of Arunachal Pradesh, one of the major tributaries of the Brahmaputra, and extensive excavation of rocks on the riverbed.

Travellers to Parasuram Kund, a small lake located on the edge of the Lohit river and in the district that bears the river's name, and fabled for its supposedly sacred powers, say that the construction and excavation have ruined the unique geographical features that gave the place its identity. As a result of the work on the dam, as well as a bridge a few hundred metres north of the pond, the pond is virtually dry at Makar Sankranti — the time of the most important festival related to Parasuram Kund.

The sage Parasuram is said to have been healed of the crime of matricide after a dip in the pond. Parasuram is known in Hindu mythology as a fierce sage, whose legends are known across the Northeast, Nepal, Bengal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, and who killed his mother on the instructions of his father. The sin of matricide was such that the kuthar or axe stuck to his hand and it was only the waters of the kund that cleansed Parasuram.

The geographical features of the place are striking: a great rock, said to be the axe, rises to the sky, surrounded by the lower hills of the Lower Himalaya, carpeted with forests, and witness to a steady stream of visitors — religious pilgrims such as sadhus and mendicants as well as tourists, local day trippers and outdoors enthusiasts.

I recall travelling there a decade back and being told one of the many about the kund — that the great sage, stunned by the healing powers of the waters — struck a great blow with his massive axe, cleaving a way for the river through the hills to flow downstream into Assam.

In earlier years, the Lohit, a river so powerful that it smashed several efforts to span it by a bridge with sudden flash floods that devastated building parties, had effortlessly swept aside bridge spans and pillars as well as heavy construction equipment, delaying the completion of the bridge by nearly a decade.

As a result of the work on the dam, as well as a bridge a few hundred metres north of the pond, the pond is virtually dry at Makar Sankranti — the time of the most important festival related to Parasuram Kund.

There are other impacts of the damage to the river: the ruthless excavation of rocks by a construction mafia which sends the material in trucks from the riverbed for buildings in Arunachal and Assam. This has meant, in part, that since the flow of water in the monsoons is unimpeded, huge amounts of sand and sediment rush down into the main stem of the Brahmaputra, diminishing its depth during the dry season (those sailing on its waters downstream say that levels have fallen to as low as two or three feet in parts).

Some blame the lower flows on the dams that China is supposed to be building on the Yarlung Tsangpo, the major stem of the Brahmaputra in Tibet, where the river originates. But few think of the violence that governments of the region and contractors have done, in collaboration and with deliberate intent, on one of the great centres of Hindu pilgrimage.

One is surprised by the silence of the Hindu right-wing, so vociferous when it comes to building temples at Ayodhya or a common civil code or the riots in Gujarat and elsewhere. I suppose the environment is nothing to bother about, even if Parasuram is associated with it. Why is the BJP and its various wings, so indignant about Hindu rights, so disinterested in the matter? It is not as if the party does not exist in Arunachal — in fact, it even ran a government there for a term.

t should be a matter of interest that L.K. Advani, as Deputy Prime Minister, went twice to Arunachal to inaugurate a festival celebrating the Brahmaputra and the Lohit. The Arunachal government is unlikely to do anything in the matter; it is presiding over a determined effort to dam every river in the state and damn the consequences downstream.

In addition, it is either turning a blind eye to or conniving in the destruction of the forests in Lohit district and elsewhere in the state, contributing to the fact that the Northeast is one region where forests are being destroyed at a faster rate than they bare being regenerated. The latest Forest Survey of India says that not less than 550 sq km of forests in the region have disappeared and Arunachal, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland are among the worst offenders.

The Government of India cannot allow this headlong rush of destruction to continue. Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh and his successor Jayanti Natarajan in the Ministry of Environment are outspoken and clear headed figures. Why are they silent about it? Why is the focus always on the dams that are to be, forgetting about the monsters which have in the process of being established and for which environmental clearances have been given unhesitatingly and hastily.

What nature built up over millennia, nourished by faith and legend, has been destroyed by human greed with vast consequences downstream.

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