One country, 3,271 rivers... and an encyclopaedia that maps it all


Sharatchandra Manohar Bhalerao’s extensive travels to rivers throughout India during his career may have been restricted to fulfilling his role as engineer and consultant with various irrigation and water projects. But it was his love and deep sense of awe for the country’s rivers and their influence on the Indian consciousness that became the final inspiration for his lifetime’s work: perhaps the first ever Encyclopedia on Indian Rivers in Marathi.

Bhalerao did not live to see his dream through to its logical end. He died in February 2006, leaving behind him 16 years of painstaking research and an unpublished encyclopedia. But his research associate Anuja Joshi carried his work forward and today, the book is in its final stages of publication. Brought out by the city-based Diamond Publications, the book is slated for release by the end of the year, complete with rare maps and photographs.

The Bharatiya Sarita Kosh, as it is called, includes detailed information on all scientific, cultural, historic and even spiritual aspects of the country’s 3,271 rivers. From detailed descriptions and classification of rivers and their tributaries to their earliest references in the Rig Veda, the encyclopedia contains everything one needs to know about rivers.

The first section of the book deals with the scientific and statistical information on rivers, including the origins, length, tributaries and the states through which they pass. A unique aspect of this section is the diagrammatical classification of each river, giving a hierarchy of its tributaries. “This highly scientific data brings together information from various sources including the irrigation department, state government gazettes, and even rare maps. This makes it a vital source for research, and at the same time is given in a language that is simple and easy to understand for the common man,” said Joshi.

Information on the bird, animal and plant biodiversity found along these rivers can also be found in the encyclopedia, as are geological facts on the soil and rock variety in the river basins. Modes of transport used to ferry goods along rivers since ancient times are also detailed in the encyclopedia. Apart from this, the book also lists the irrigation projects and dams undertaken on these rivers, including any controversies or conflicts that may have arisen from them (like the Narmada Dam project).

Rivers hold a special significance for Indians in all states, and many temples and religious places are built on their banks. What’s more, the rivers themselves are revered as goddesses in many places like the Shri Krishnabai Mandir at Karad in Maharashtra (Krishna River) or the Godavari Devi Mandir (Godavari River) in Nashik. Festivals are also celebrated in some parts of India to pay tribute or express gratitude to the rivers. All this and more has been dealt with in the cultural section.

In the historical section, all references to rivers in classical Indian texts like the Rig Veda have been recorded, as are historical tales like that of ‘River Ganga: Myth and Reality.’

In his foreword, Bhalerao talks about how rivers held the nation together and forged a feeling of respect and patriotism among Indians for their own land. “Through this book he wanted to underline how the rivers, which passed through various states, forged a sense of oneness in the country,” said Joshi.

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