Someone asked me the other day, “What motivates you to engage in tree-planting projects and river rallies?” The implication was clear: Gurus should stick to imparting yoga and leave ecology to environmentalists! But all this is yoga. All I have ever done in the past 35 years is yoga. Being in a state of yoga — union — simply means doing whatever is necessary in a given moment. This initiative to save Indian rivers is no different: it is simply a spiritual movement with an environmental consequence. Veerashaiva philosophers and poets of southern India often employed the analogy of rivers to describe the spiritual journey. Shiva is seen as the ocean, and individuals as rivers who flow naturally towards the ocean. Today, most people seem determined to reverse this natural process. We allow our rivers to turn dry and desiccated. Instead of thinking of revitalising them, we exploit them. We cannot simply blame government apathy or a faulty education in civics for this. When a large percentage of humanity forgets the very nature of its existence, this is the inevitable result. The one river in the country that did not reach the ocean was the Lavanavati in Rajasthan, which dried up in the desert. But today we have spawned many such rivers that never reach the ocean. The Ganga and Indus are now among the most endangered rivers on the planet. The Kaveri is probably 40 percent of what it used to be 50 years ago. For the last Kumbha Mela in Ujjain, water had to be pumped in from the Narmada to create an artificial river, because there was no water in the Kshipra. Smaller rivulets don’t even reach the main river; they dry up along the way. Rivers like Amaravati are ironically described as “eternal”. When it is all rock, of course it can be eternal! Much can be done if people rally for rivers: ranging from rainwater harvesting to nursery cultivation. The simplest solution is to ensure tree cover on either side of rivers and tributaries. Cultivating forest trees on government land and tree-based horticulture on private land would a significant step that would also benefit our poor farmers enormously. If we addressed this with determination now, we could hope to see our rivers flowing with at least 15 to 20 percent more water in the next fifteen years. But the issue is deeper. It is only a tragically fragmented mind that looks at rivers as ‘an issue for environmentalists’. Water is not a commodity. It is life-making material. The human body is 72 per cent water. You are a water body. And on this planet, rivers are the water bodies with which we have the closest relationship. For thousands of years, we have lived on their banks, deeply nourished by them. The time has come for us to nourish them, in turn.
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